By Robert L. Pollock, July 9, 2001
In 1970, Palestinians, both citizens and refugees, were almost as numerous in
Jordan as King Hussein’s own Bedouins. Mr. Arafat used the estimated 20,000
Palestine Liberation Organization fighters in Jordan to exercise control over
much of the Palestinian population. In many parts of the country, he was the de
facto government. The king had grown increasingly worried that Mr. Arafat
posed a threat to his regime, and cross-border attacks into Israel and other acts
of PLO terror had put intolerable strains on his relations with the West. The last
straw came on Sept. 6, when the PLO hijacked four civilian airliners…
The Jordanian response became known as Black September. An
estimated 2,000 PLO fighters and several thousand more Palestinian civilians
were killed within 10 months they were driven out of the country.
As the world waits to see whether the current, fragile ceasefire will put an end
to nine months of low-level warfare between Israel and the Palestinian
Authority, the past may prove instructive. For, in essence, we’ve been here
history, wherever he has gained a territorial foothold, has not
been that of a reliable or even rational partner, even with potential Arab allies.
His history is one of pushing too far.
… Within months of their expulsion from Jordan, Mr. Arafat and the PLO were
setting up shop in Lebanon and tearing at the fabric of that country too.
Lebanese Christians, particularly, resented suffering the Israeli retaliations that
the PLO’s cross-border raids provoked.
In April 1974, for example, the PLO killed 18 at Kiryat Shmona and 20,
mostly schoolgirls, at Maalot, both in northern Israel. The early ’70s were also
boom years for PLO terrorism on the international stage. The year 1972 alone
saw PLO groups blow up a West German electricity plant, a Dutch gas plant
and an oil refinery in Trieste, Italy; kill, in conjunction with the Japanese Red
Army, 24 at Israel’s Lod airport; and massacre 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich
Flush with money from his Arab and Soviet sponsors, as well as an income tax
levied by the Gulf states on Palestinian workers, Mr. Arafat quickly built up a
state in much of Lebanon. By 1975, he had some 15,000 troops under his
command, with many more associated paramilitaries, and was acquiring tanks
and anti-aircraft guns. PLO-affiliated conglomerates, including one controlled by
Ahmed Qurei , who would later negotiate the Oslo Accords,
monopolized everything from shoes to baby food.
Billions of dollars flowed through the PLO, the only thorough record of which
seemed to be a small notebook Mr. Arafat carried on his person. His underlings
levied arbitrary taxes on the Lebanese, and practiced other forms of extortion,
car theft and racketeering. 1975, Christian rage boiled over, and Lebanon’s
long civil war began… 40,000 had been killed.
And in subsequent years, PLO attacks into Israel continued, provoking
more Israeli retaliation. The endgame began in June 1982, when renewed PLO
attacks on Israel coincided with an assassination attempt on the Israeli
ambassador in London. Prime Minister Menachem Begin ordered Defense
Minister Ariel Sharon to send Israel’s armed forces into Lebanon to drive out the
On Aug. 30, left for Tunis, while his forces dispersed to other
Arab countries. The Lebanese would suffer eight more years of the civil war he
… pressing question is what the future holds for the little war now going
on in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank. Mr. Arafat’s history in Jordan and
Lebanon suggests this is headed for no good end. From internal corruption and
abuse of power, to the repeated breach of agreements, to the apparent use of
territory as a base for terrorism, the situation of today’s Palestinian Authority is
strikingly similar to those two prior episodes…
If Prime Minister Sharon soon feels compelled to act decisively against
Mr. Arafat, as he did in 1982, and as King Hussein did in 1970, it would
behoove the world to think carefully about where blame for the continuing
Palestinian tragedy really lies.