April 4, 2001

April 4, 2001 | Commentary on Middle East

Arafat's Duplicity Killed the Peace Process

The election of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in February prompted much hysteria in the Arab world -- and hand-wringing in Washington -- over Sharon's "commitment" to the "peace process." Ever wonder why the same standards don't seem to apply to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat?

Although he rarely gets criticized for it, Arafat has violated many of the pledges he made in the much-heralded 1993 Oslo agreement. This history of broken promises has convinced Israelis that Arafat is an untrustworthy negotiating partner who reverts to the "war process" when he doesn't get what he demands in the "peace process."

Begin with what many consider the cornerstone of the Oslo agreement: Palestinian renunciation of terrorism in return for recognition by (and negotiations with) Israel. Today, Palestinian gunmen shoot Israelis almost on a daily basis. One of their most recent victims was a 10-month-old child.

Under the Oslo accord, Arafat agreed to apprehend, prosecute and punish terrorists, but even before the onset of the current spasm of violence, he often failed to do so. Indeed, rather than crack down on radical Islamic fundamentalists opposed to peace with Israel, he has worked closely with them.

The few prosecutions that do occur are mainly for show. In early 1996, for example, Islamic radicals perpetrated four terrorist bombings that killed 61 Israelis. This forced Arafat to temporarily clamp down by arresting 1,500 militants, but nearly all were released quietly within months. This "revolving door" imprisonment policy undermined Israeli trust in Arafat long before Sharon took office.

Arafat's Palestinian Authority (PA) also broke its Oslo commitments to confiscate all illegal arms, permitted known terrorists to roam freely inside PA-controlled territory, and has taken no action against more than 200 suspected terrorists identified by the Israeli government. It has failed to extradite terrorists wanted by the Israeli government for crimes against Israelis, including at least six who continue to serve in the Palestinian security services.

Besides failing to suppress terrorism, the PA has failed to provide full security cooperation with Israel as mandated by the Oslo agreement. Worse, Palestinian police have launched terrorist attacks against Israelis. Even before the uprising that began last fall, Israeli police arrested Palestinian security police participating in a terrorist operation against Israeli West Bank settlers. In the most recent violence, Arafat's personal bodyguard unit, Force 17, helped plot attacks against Israelis and has been targeted for reprisals by Israeli forces.

Arafat also has expanded his police force far beyond the 30,000 permitted by the Oslo accords. The PA police, together with various internal security forces, now form an armed militia of up to 50,000 men. Although the Oslo accord stipulates that these men be armed only with light weapons and machine guns, the PA has smuggled mortars, rocket-propelled grenades, and heavy machine guns into the areas it controls. Last month, the Palestinians used mortars for the first time to attack Israelis in Gaza.

Another Oslo commitment violated almost on a daily basis is Arafat's pledge to prevent the incitement of violence within his jurisdiction. His own bellicose rhetoric raises strong doubts about his peaceful intentions. He has called repeatedly for a "jihad" (holy war) to liberate Jerusalem and describes slain Palestinian terrorists as martyrs.

Consider what happened in September 1996 when Israel opened a second exit to an archaeological tunnel in Jerusalem. Arafat falsely charged that the exit defiled Muslim holy sites located 250 yards away, and official Palestinian television and radio stations dutifully incited his followers and helped orchestrate a new round of political violence.

Yet these riots were only a dress rehearsal for the current violence wracking the Palestinian territories. Once again, official Palestinian media are delivering inflammatory rhetoric designed to incite violence against Israelis.

More Israelis have died in terrorist attacks since the 1993 Oslo agreement was signed than in the decade before Oslo. This continued terrorism, combined with Arafat's dismal record of abiding by his commitments, has killed the Oslo peace process.

There's little point blaming Sharon for the latest wave of violence when it clearly stems from the fact that Arafat has returned to his old terrorist ways with a vengeance. As long as he remains the leader of the Palestinians, the prospect for a stable Israeli-Palestinian peace appears dim indeed.

James Phillips is a research fellow specializing in Middle Eastern affairs in the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation (www.heritage.org).

About the Author

James Phillips Senior Research Fellow for Middle Eastern Affairs
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy

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