By Charles Krauthammer, February 8, 2002
“Chairman Arafat must . . . choose, once and for all, the option of peace over
violence,” testified Secretary of State Colin Powell before Congress on
Tuesday. If you had a dollar for every time an American official, from the
president on down, has said this during the past eight years, you could fund the
A few days earlier Powell had called this “a moment of truth for Chairman
Arafat.” Was not the moment of truth supposed to be Sept. 13, 1993, when
Arafat shook hands with Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn and solemnly
committed the PLO to peace?
Yet, after the bloodiest Palestinian violence in a half-century, in the midst of
Arafat’s now 16-month campaign of calculated terror, here we are again,
importuning him to promise peace just one more time.
This is Lucy and the football. How many moments of truth does a liar get?
Arafat has no intention of making peace. He may be talking truce now, but only
because he is desperate. With the latest wave of terror in Israel, followed by
the interception of the Karine A (the ship carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the
Palestinian Authority), he sits in Ramallah, isolated, surrounded and friendless.
So he starts talking peace, precisely as he did in 1993, when, after he backed
Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, he sat in Tunis isolated, friendless and
penniless (Kuwait expelled its Palestinians; Saudi Arabia totally cut Arafat off).
Arafat’s expressions of peace were phony then. They are phony now. Everyone
knows that as soon as he is back on his feet, he will be back again at war.
But for the United States, the issue is more than just the current violence. It is
one thing to tolerate a man whom American negotiators privately call a liar and
a terrorist, so long as the consequence of his lying and his terrorism is simply
local violence in a faraway place — a serious problem for the United States, but
not a strategic threat.
The Karine A, however, demonstrated that the Palestinian Authority had
developed a military relationship with Iran, the country the State Department
calls the single worst source of terrorism in the world.
Hence, the awful outcome of the Oslo “peace process” finally becomes
clear: not peace, not a demilitarized Palestinian state living side-by-side with
Israel, but an Iranian client-state — a new member of the “axis of evil,”
well-armed, terrorist and violently anti-American — planted in the heart of the
Middle East, destabilizing not just Israel but Jordan, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.
That the United States cannot tolerate.
The Bush administration has responded to this strategic threat by freezing out
Arafat. But it is reluctant to cut him off completely. He is the devil they know.
They are afraid that what follows will be worse.
For an administration that has courageously broken new ground in
confronting strategic threats in the region, this is a rare lapse into passivity and
This is a decisive moment. America’s demonstration of strength in Afghanistan
has changed the entire psychology of the Near East. Leaders everywhere are
lining up with the Americans, having witnessed the cost of being on the wrong
side of history.
Not Arafat, however. He remains incorrigible. (His personal letter to President
Bush claiming no knowledge of the Karine A was beyond embarrassing. It was
insulting.) What happens if Arafat goes? There are two likely outcomes.
First, the mantle of leadership passes to some of his commanders and
associates, such as Mohammed Dahlan, Jibril Rajoub, Abu Ala and Abu Mazen.
Whether out of inclination or out of a realistic reading of the new power
relations in the region, these men see the intifada as going nowhere. They may
be willing to end it.
Alternatively, after Arafat there may be no national leadership. After all, the
Palestinian Authority is an alien exile entity superimposed upon the West Bank
and Gaza in 1993. It turned out to be corrupt, oppressive, economically ruinous
and congenitally violent.
Arafat leaves behind no lasting national institutions except for his myriad
security forces. These forces, and the strongmen who control these private and
separate armies, could well inherit the kingdom.
In this alternate scenario, the Palestinian polity fractures. There will be
strongmen running different areas, Dahlan running Gaza, Rajoub running parts
of the West Bank. Other towns will have their rulers. Each will have to make his
deal, his arrangement, his peace, with Israel.
That will be the interim. And that interim will end when the Palestinians decide
to produce new national leadership ready to make real peace. At which point,
Israel (and the United States) will welcome a true peace partner.
But none of this can begin to happen until Arafat is gone.