By Michael Kelly, April 3, 2002
On July 1, 1994, Yasser Arafat entered Gaza to establish the Palestinian
Autonomous Region – betwixt-and-between creature of the Oslo peace process
that was supposed to become, under the guiding light of the Oslo peace
process, the physical base of another ambivalent notion, the Palestinian
I went as a reporter to Gaza a few hours before Arafat arrived, and I
stayed there for about five weeks, observing the early days of life and
governance under the Palestinian Authority.
Arafat’s entry into Gaza was an object lesson: a purposely uncaring display of
brute power. He arrived from the Sinai in a long caravan of Chevrolet Blazers
and Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs, 70 or 80 cars packed to the rooflines with
men with guns. The caravan roared up the thronged roads and down the
mobbed streets, with the overfed, leather-jacketed, sunglassed thugs of
Arafat’s bodyguard detail all the time screaming and shooting off their
Kalashnikovs to make their beloved people scurry out of their beloved leader’s way.
This was the whole of the Palestinian Authority from the beginning, an ugly
little cartoon of Middle East despotism. There was never any pretense of
democracy, of rule of law, of a free press, of a working system of taxes or
courts or hospitals.
There was never any real government. No one ever bothered to build an
economy or create jobs or even pick up the trash or pave the streets. There
were only security forces – many, many of these – and villas by the sea for
Arafat’s cronies, and millions of dollars in foreign aid that seemed to always
turn up missing, and prisons and propaganda.
And in the middle of it all: “President” Arafat sitting in a room –
surrounded by waiting sycophants and toadies and respectful ladies and
gentlemen of the press – and complaining.
That summer, I saw only three serious efforts at establishing functioning
government: the imprisoning of free-speakers and potential democrats, which
began immediately, the likewise prompt establishment of daily anti-Israel
broadcasts and a British-run program to train handpicked members of Arafat’s
Fatah group in riot control.
Of course, there was never any peace.
Arafat had promised to disarm Hamas, Hezbollah and his own Fatah
gunmen. No evidence exists that he ever seriously tried. The terrorists resumed
lethal operations against Israel within a month of Arafat’s arrival.
Between the day Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed the deal that was to
buy peace for Israel and the day Arafat and Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize
for that accord, Palestinian terrorists killed 90 Israelis.
In five years after Oslo, Palestinians killed more Israelis than in 15 years
preceding the accord.
Meanwhile, Arafat’s government has exploited Israel’s permission to establish a
police force to instead build a guerrilla army.
Several months ago, some of Arafat’s most senior lieutenants were
identified as the architects of an attempt to import an entire shipload of rockets,
arms and high explosives into Gaza.
In occupying Palestinian Authority offices this week in Ramallah, Israel
plausibly claims to have discovered two container-loads of prohibited SAM-7
antiaircraft missiles and more than 200 LAW anti-tank missiles.
Much can be conceded in the issue of Israel and the Palestinians: The
Palestinians have, in their lost land, a great and real grievance; as a moral and
practical matter, Israel should admit this, and it should be willing to trade land
for peace with its neighbors.
But this is precisely the point: Israel did concede these questions. It has been
nearly two years since Israel offered the Palestinians nearly all of the territories
occupied in 1967.
Arafat’s response has redundantly proved his harshest critics right. There was
never any honest intent on the Palestinian part for peaceful coexistence with
Israel, any more than there was ever any honest intent to establish a
government in Gaza that would function toward that end and toward the
creation of a decent life for the Palestinian people.
What the Palestinians seek – what Arafat has encouraged them to seek –
is, as is now beyond dispute, the defeat and surrender of Israel.
Arafat and the Palestinians decided to gamble the peace process on a bet for
bigger gains through war. They bet – are betting still – that Israel, pushed
beyond endurance by an unprecedented level of civilian deaths, would
surrender to, in essence, the destruction of the Israeli state.
This is an insane bet. It will end in the destruction of the experiment Arafat
subverted from the very first day.