Though there's been much talk about terrorism's "root causes" following the London bombings, I have yet to hear anyone mention the most important cause of all: the fact that terrorism has thus far proven extremely effective – thereby encouraging more terrorists to continue.
If you accept the West's formulation of the terrorists' goals, that may sound counterintuitive. The Israeli "occupation," for instance, could have ended in 2000, when Israel offered to uproot most settlements and establish a Palestinian state, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, in some 97 percent of the territories. But since the Palestinians responded by launching a terror war, not only is there still no Palestinian state, but Israel has reconquered areas it vacated in 1995. Thus, the terror would seem to have been counterproductive.
The same is true of the Sept. 11 attacks. At the time, Al Qaeda's stated grievance against America was troop presence in Saudi Arabia. But not only did American troops not leave Saudi Arabia after 9/11, they invaded two other Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq. Again, this would seem a defeat for the terrorists.
But if you examine their real goals – as opposed to the West's starry-eyed interpretation of them – it turns out that terrorists have scored tremendous achievements over the past five years.
In the case of Hamas, which pioneered suicide bombings inside Israel, it has never concealed the fact that its goal is Israel's eradication. And many Palestinians share this goal: Opinion polls repeatedly found that while 40 percent to 50 percent of Palestinians viewed the intifada's goal as expelling Israel from the territories, the other 40 percent to 50 percent viewed the goal as "liberating all of historic Palestine," including pre-1967 Israel.
A rephrasing of the question produced even larger majorities: In a June 2003 Pew Research poll, some 80 percent of Palestinians said their "rights and needs" cannot be met as long as Israel exists.
Toward this goal, terrorism has produced substantial progress – because a necessary precursor to eradicating Israel is destroying its international legitimacy, which is precisely what has been occurring over the last five years.
For the first time since Israel's founding, the question of whether Israel has a right to exist has become an open and acceptable topic of debate in the West. And even when not discussed explicitly, the idea of Israel's illegitimacy is gaining ground implicitly – as in the Christian divestment campaign, or the famous December 2003 poll in which 59 percent of Europeans deemed Israel the greatest threat to world peace.
And this change in the West's view of Israel has occurred not despite, but because of the terrorist attacks against it: Israel is viewed not as the victim, but as the cause of the violence. Hence, Israel, not the terrorists, is the major threat to world peace; hence, Christian churches are divesting from Israel rather than from the Palestinian Authority, which has consistently refused to act against terrorists.
In fact, as polls, media reports and diplomatic pronouncements reveal, Israel is viewed as the cause twice over. First, it provoked the terrorists via "the occupation" – that the violence erupted in response to Israel's offer to end the occupation appears to have been completely forgotten. Then, it provoked the terrorists again by responding to their attacks with military action that succeeded in drastically reducing Israel's body count.
While these intangibles are their greatest success, the terrorists have also reaped some tangible achievements. One, obviously, was the upset victory for Spain's socialists and the subsequent withdrawal of Spanish forces from Iraq produced by the 2004 Madrid bombings. Another is Israel's withdrawal from Gaza without getting anything in exchange, which 72 percent of Palestinians rightly deem a victory for terror.
But no such concession will ever end terror, because new grievances can always be found. Individuals may be irrational, but organizers and leaders are not: They launch attacks to serve their goals.
And terrorism will continue to serve their goals for precisely as long as the world, despite its lip-service condemnations, responds by blaming the victims and seeking to address the terrorists' "grievances."
Evelyn Gordon is a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.