By Tom Rose, January 21, 2002
If new proof were needed that reforming Yasser Arafat is a lost cause, the
Israeli navy’s pre-dawn seizure of a cargo vessel destined for
Gaza City and packed with 50 tons of weapons supplied by Iran should have
provided it. The ship was registered to Arafat’s Palestinian Authority, paid for
with PA funds, and skippered by a lieutenant colonel in the PA Navy who told
investigators his assignment was to deliver his secret cache directly to the PA.
At least 7 of the 13 crew members belonged to Arafat’s private militias.
The Israeli government called it the largest and most dangerous illegal arms
shipment ever attempted.
Had it reached its destination, every inch of Israel would have been in
range of its cargo, which consisted of long- and short-range Katyusha rockets,
LAW and Sagger anti-tank missiles, long-range mortars, sophisticated mines,
nearly two tons of hi-tech semtex plastic explosive many times more deadly
than what the suicide bombers currently use, hundreds of high-powered sniper
rifles, thousands of rocket-propelled grenades, anti-tank grenades, and, most
dangerous of all, an undisclosed number of SA-7 (Strella) anti-aircraft missiles
capable of imperiling commercial air service into and out of Tel Aviv.
On the other hand, Arafat has been leading one terrorist organization or another
for four decades. Why should a little Katyusha-running change anything? As it
turns out, it won’t. Israel seems to view the episode as just another public
relations opportunity to be milked; the United States as a public relations
challenge to be managed. Neither regards it as reason to begin the process of
replacing Arafat’s regime with one less malign.
Not only did the State Department refuse even to discuss breaking with Arafat,
but Washington’s special Middle East envoy issued no rebuke to Arafat.
Quite the contrary. Retired Marine general Anthony Zinni concluded
avisit to Israel two days after the boat was seized by telling reporters that he
saw “a real opportunity for progress.” A State Department official traveling with
Zinni said bluntly, “Our mission will go on, ship or no ship.”
That passing comment explains why recent American and Israeli efforts at
Middle East peacemaking have so miserably failed. Excusing Arafat’s criminality
only insures more. If it takes the United States five days to so much as criticize
the most brazen attempted violation of the Oslo Accords, what crime could ever
justify Arafat’s ouster?
The obstacle to peace between Israel and the Palestinians is not the inability to
resolve particular issues, but the violent, oppressive, and unstable nature of the
Arafat regime. Until U.S. and Israeli policymakers realize that peace depends far
more on the nature of a future Palestinian state than on its borders, Israelis will
not know peace and Palestinians will not know freedom.
If a future Palestine were free, nonviolent, and committed to bettering the lives
of its people and to living in peace with Israel, it wouldn’t threaten Israel. But a
Palestine that resembled the corrupt and dictatorial Palestinian Authority would
be a mortal danger.
Dictators make bad neighbors, and before he is an Arab, or a Palestinian, or
even a Muslim, Yasser Arafat is a dictator. When he founded the Palestine
Liberation Organization in 1964, there was not a single ‘Jewish settlement’ to
oppose nor an ‘Israeli occupation’ to resist, because the West Bank was ruled
by Jordan and Gaza was ruled by Egypt.
Arafat created the PLO to destroy Israel. He learned that first he had to
consolidate his power over a fractious and scattered people. He chose to do
that by killing those who challenged him and oppressing the rest.
It took an inarticulate Israeli general turned prime minister to lay bare the fatal
mindset from which Oslo was born. The PLO leader, said the late Prime Minister
Yitzhak Rabin, was the ideal partner precisely because he was a dictator. Arafat
could crack down on terrorists, Rabin said, because, “unlike us, he doesn’t
have to worry about elections or human rights groups.”
Thus, Israel itself was midwife to the terrorist-supporting tyranny now in
its midst. Rather than requiring that the Palestinian Authority have an open
political system, Oslo gave Arafat both the time and the resources to
consolidate his rule.
Like other dictators, Arafat has to worry not about losing an election, but about
losing his life, and those most likely to take it are the extremists he has armed,
funded, and trained. The notion that Arafat could ever crack down on the very
organizations he needs to survive is preposterous. For Arafat, upsetting Colin
Powell carries little risk. Upsetting Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or even his own
private militias carries the ultimate risk.
But there’s another, more important reason why Arafat isn’t going to crack
down on terrorists — namely, that they help him. In fact, these groups provide
his regime with the best insurance stolen American aid money can buy:
They keep the national focus on fighting the external enemy rather than
on the failings of their leader.
If Palestinians could vote, things might be different. Arafat might have to
defend his record. And quite a record it is.
Many people think Arafat’s refusal to rein in the terrorists demonstrates his
weakness. But Arafat is far from weak when it comes to dealing with those
Palestinians who clamor for an end to corruption, a freer press, religious liberty,
or even elections. With these opponents, his retribution is swift and merciless.
While the number cannot be known for sure, Arafat’s PA is almost certainly
responsible for the murders of dozens of political opponents, none of them
Since its creation in 1994, his Palestinian Authority has presided over the
collapse of the Palestinian economy. He was given billions in aid, and
squandered what he and his cronies didn’t steal. With GDP down nearly 70
percent, Palestinians have seen their collective national net worth reduced by
more than two thirds. Virtually nothing remains of a once reasonably vibrant
private sector. Corruption exists on a scale that even the normally approving
Europeans cannot abide. Public infrastructure has disintegrated. Public health
standards, just seven years ago the highest in the Arab world, are among the
lowest. And the disastrously self-destructive terrorist war against Israel that
Arafat started last year has reduced Palestinians to the most desperate
conditions they have seen since the creation of Israel in 1948.
Arafat denies responsibility for the actions of extremists he cannot stop. Yet he
alone controls the state media, whose endless torrent of incitement to murder
creates the climate in which young men embrace the vocation of terrorist. A
central character on Palestinian television’s leading children’s show is a
7-year-old boy who aspires to become a suicide bomber.
The people’s cry for blood, which Arafat purposely foments, Hamas and
Jihad can answer, creating in the process new martyrs to fuel the cycle. Arafat
and Hamas aren’t enemies or rivals, they are co-dependents. Arafat needs
Hamas and Jihad to divert the people’s hatred, while Hamas and Jihad need
Arafat to provide “moderate” cover for their murderous acts. Arafat needs
terror much more than he needs Colin Powell.
It seems worth asking why neither Jerusalem nor Washington ever sought to
democratize the Palestinians. Particularly in the early stages of Oslo, when
Arafat was dependent on American and Israeli support, the Palestinians would
have had an excellent chance to build the first democracy in the Arab world. A
democratic Palestine would have been a landmark achievement. If only
someone had bothered to insist on it.
But it wasn’t without reason that no Israeli, American, or European government
ever made such a demand. It’s just that the reason is a dirty little secret. The
truth is that virtually no one in either government believes Arabs to be capable
of — or even worthy of — democracy.
In Israel, it is the supposedly enlightened left that most passionately
rejects the notion that Palestinians could govern themselves democratically. The
only reason the right hasn’t rejected the idea is that it has never considered it.
With the exception of Natan Sharansky, the deputy prime minister who spent
nine years as a prisoner of Zion in the Soviet Gulag, not a single political figure
has made the case for Palestinian democracy.
How else can one explain that when Secretary of State Colin Powell finally set
out his much anticipated ‘vision’ for reaching peace between Israel and the
Palestinians, he never mentioned ‘freedom’ or ‘democracy’?
Secretary Powell used a November 19 speech at the University of
Louisville to endorse an independent Palestinian state more emphatically than
any U.S. official ever had before. But he devoted not even one sentence of his
43-minute address to what kind of state he thought Palestine should be.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is less about land, borders, or even refugees than
it is about the inherent inability of dictators to be peaceful. It is dangerously
premature to focus on where the borders of a future Palestinian state will be
drawn before determining how it will be governed.
For until someone gives them a chance to develop a more open political
culture, the Palestinians will never taste the fruits of freedom, and peace will
never come to the Middle East.
Arafat must go
By Tawfiq J. Al-Ghussein, Jerusalem Post, January 25, 2002
The writer is a businessman, resident in Abu Dhabi. His father, Jaweed,
was chairman of the Palestinian National Fund, and as such ran the PLO
finances. He resigned in 1996, and retired to Abu Dhabi. Last year he was
accused of financial crimes by the PA and abducted to Gaza. Jaweed was held
incommunicado without trial. He became ill and was transferred to a Cairo
hospital. He was again abducted back to Gaza earlier this month.
As a Palestinian, I feel it is now time for change. Yasser Arafat and his Palestine
Authority are bankrupt of ideas, devoid of moral courage and their continued
presence will bring us closer to civil war than any time since they acquired
Arafat has proved himself to be a catastrophe for the Palestinian people and a
burden to the Palestinian cause.
The Palestine Authority has not been able to protect the children of Palestine,
the first duty of legitimate and responsible governance. Instead of applying the
law, they choose to subvert it and utilize tyranny as a tool for their perverted
grip of self-preservation. Instead of truth they choose to deceive with false
statements and hollow gestures.
The traits of genuine government are neither apparent nor present in
Arafat and his authority. They have failed in all aspects of leadership.
The Palestinian people deserve better.
It is now time for national unity to avert this disaster. Arafat must go and free
and fair elections be held.
The case for a Palestinian state is simple and compelling and rests on two
One we choose just like any other human beings and are entitled to the
same equality of treatment as any free and independent people of the world.
The second principle is that this has always been and will always remain
our country. We are here of right and not on the strength of the Oslo Accords
or any other favors granted. Our people have been here for millennia and, by
the grace of God, for millennia to come. Our love for our country is in our
hearts and in our souls.
A myth perpetuated by Arafat and his authority is that he is the only man
capable of delivering peace. This is a fallacy. If there is equity and justice in the
peace accords, then any Palestinian can sign with the knowledge that every
decent citizen would defend its implementation. If not, then no one can nor
should they. We have suffered far too much to swap our shackles for a paper
Our desire for peace and security is no less than that of Israel. We are destined
to be neighbors and our destiny is intertwined. Israel will only have peace when
Palestine has peace.
If dialogue is the means through which we achieve that peace, then we
negotiate without fear and fear not to negotiate. There can be no military
solution; however, if confrontation is the only way to attain peace then we
stand shoulder to shoulder with our brethren as one, united in cause and goal,
prepared to defend what we hold precious.
As the world looks on, it is tragic to see Palestinians, who must so often
condemn arbitrary detentions and other deprivations of human rights, engage in
exactly the same conduct towards other Palestinians.
Now is the time for change in order that we build a nation founded firmly
in the principles of law and democracy without trepidation or indecision.
With illusions of hope, we have for too long shut our eyes to the painful truths
of occupation, which are slowly transforming us into beasts. A government
with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear is not one that is worthy of
If we remain silent, for fear of offending Arafat and his national
authority, then we become guilty of committing treason on the Palestinian
people as well as performing an act of disloyalty to God. When good men
remain silent, evil succeeds.