By Abdul Rahman Al-Rashid, ArabNews (Saudi Arabia’s first English language
daily), January 20, 2002.
Was it not a false and ill-advised step on the part of the Palestinian Authority
(PA) to deny outright that it had links with the ship whose cargo of weapons
was seized recently by Israel?
Israel’s public relations machinery has converted the incident into a big
propaganda weapon. Though most Arab writers rallied round the Palestinian
Authority and emphasized its lack of involvement in the arms shipment, Israel,
on the other hand, is bent on using the matter against the Palestinians.
The mistake on the part of the PA was not that it bought the weapons
and made an attempt to bring them to the Palestinian homeland. On the
other hand, its hurried denial was a gross mistake. The denial made the PA fall
into the trap laid by Israel’s public relations officials who wanted to capitalize
on denial by PA officials rather than the actual capture of the weapons.
The Israelis were desperately seeking an opportunity to establish that the
Palestinians, including their chief, were a bunch of liars. Soon after the capture
of the ship, the Israelis announced the seizure of a lesser quantity than what
was actually seized. This was apparently a calculated move on the part of Israel
which was sure that the PA would deny. The next Israeli move was to reveal
the full details of the seized weapons while the Palestinians held fast to their
denial. The evidence produced by Israel was strong enough to pose serious
challenges to the Palestinian Authority’s credibility.
The issue would not have become so complicated if the PA had not attached so
much importance to the seizure of the ship. Arafat should have handled
the issue as the former American President Bill Clinton did regarding his
involvement with Monica Levinsky. While admitting that he had some
kind of relationship with the girl, Clinton denied having had illicit relations with
her. Thus he brought half the issue under control. He did not deny all the
charges but neither did he tell the whole truth.
Instead of making a total and complete denial, it would have been safer for
Arafat to have said that he was awaiting a full report on the issue. After a week
or month, he could have clung to the denial if he were sure that his position
was secure. The other option open to the Palestinian leadership was to
announce that the weapons belonged to the PA but that the ship was in
international waters and had not entered Palestinian waters when it was seized.
Or the leaders could have said the ship was being sent to some other place
where the Palestinian police were being trained.
The Israelis exhibited the captain of the ship, an official of the PA, who
admitted his role in importing the weapons. His statements were extremely
embarrassing to the PA leadership. Thus, the Israelis got a golden opportunity
to show that the Palestinian leadership was lying. Nobody can deny the
Palestinians their right to defend themselves. There are several methods to
establish that right, however, instead of resorting to outright lies. In the
worst-case scenario, and if the half-truth failed to produce the desired effect,
the whole truth could be told.
It would have been much better if Arafat had stated that the shipment belonged
to him and that he was forced to import the weapons in the face of the Israeli
challenges and moves which aim at destroying his authority in the region. If he
had made such a statement, Israel would not have been able to make use of the
situation so powerfully against him.