By James Klurfeld, March 28, 2002
EXCUSE ME, but did I miss something? All this hand-wringing over whether
Yasser Arafat should be allowed to attend the Arab summit meeting in Beirut
has me baffled.
This is the same Arafat, is it not, who not only turned down the most
far-reaching peace offer ever made by an Israeli government, a peace offer that
would have given the Palestinians a state, a peace offer that came awfully
close to the much lauded but far more vague peace plan that Saudi Arabia’s
Crown Prince Abdullah has now floated.
This is the same Arafat, is it not, who began the second intifada against Israel
and has day after day launched suicide attacks against Israeli civilians, a tactic
known as terrorism.
This is the same Arafat, is it not, who either cannot or will not agree to a
cease-fire requested by Vice President Dick Cheney.
And yet the headlines this week are about how Arafat is somehow being
unfairly treated, indeed, oppressed, because he has been confined to his
headquarters in Ramallah and was not given a free ticket to travel to Beirut.
I feel as if there is a reel missing in this movie I’ve been watching. The
conclusion at the end of the first reel was that Arafat was hopeless, that when
he turned down not only the Ehud Barak peace offer at Camp David in August
of 2000 but also failed to follow up on the even more generous offers made by
President Bill Clinton later that year, he had finally revealed, after all these
years, that he was not the one who could make peace in the Mideast. In fact,
there were many who concluded that, based on his behavior and support of
terror, Arafat’s goal wasn’t a two-state solution but to drive the Israelis out of
the region altogether.
And yet here we are again, watching Arafat being made into something of a
hero, and the victims of his attacks into the villains. I don’t get it.
Now, I don’t believe I’m naive about what is happening in the Mideast. Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has always been public-relations challenged, to be
kind. He probably should have allowed Arafat to go to the Arab summit just to
avoid the circus this has all turned into.
But Sharon, a democratically elected leader, has been trying to find a
way to protect his population, innocent woman and children included, from an
unending series of terrorist attacks.
The latest outrage occurred yesterday in Netanya, where, at last report,
19 were killed and more than 100 injured. Just imagine how President George
W. Bush would have reacted if the United States had been under similar attack
What I object to is the tendency to treat Sharon and Arafat the same, as if
there is some kind of moral equivalence between Arafat’s use of terror and
Sharon’s use of his armed forces to defend against terrorist attacks.
Sure, Israel is much stronger than the Palestinians. There is an imbalance
of power. And Israel – and Sharon – does not always use that power wisely. But
that does not justify the use of terror. After Sept. 11, there is a bedrock
conviction in the United States that terrorism can never be justified. That ought
to be the first principle.
There have been reports from the Palestinian territories that Arafat and his
lieutenants actually believe they are beginning to win the second intifada
because in recent weeks they have been able to kill so many Israelis. There is a
belief that the Israelis will eventually make a better deal or give up altogether
just as terrorism in southern Lebanon eventually drove Israel to unilaterally
withdraw from that territory under Barak. That is, the Palestinians seem to
believe the use of terrorism is helpful and justified.
This is a terrible misreading. Barak believed Israel should leave southern
Lebanon because he concluded holding that territory was not a vital interest to
Israel. It was also meant as a gesture to show that Israel was prepared to take
the initiative to create an atmosphere for peace in the region.
Instead, it has been interpreted by the Arabs as a show of weakness.
But Lebanon is a false analogy to what is happening now because the questions
involved with the Palestinians are a matter of vital interest to Israel.
Sharon’s condition that Arafat must make an effective effort to stop the
violence before there can be a real attempt at negotiations is not unreasonable.
The evidence, for 18 months now, is that Arafat does not want to do that, no
matter what his rhetoric.
Public memory is short. I understand that. But to be treating Arafat as if
his rejection of Camp David never happened, and his launching of a terror
campaign is irrelevant, is to have no memory at all. And that is unacceptable.