April 15, 2002 | Commentary on Middle East
Here's a better question: Why do they seem to think that talking
to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat will -- somehow, miraculously,
after all these years -- lead to peace?
There's no getting around the fact that the ongoing spasm of
Israeli-Palestinian violence is the logical conclusion of Arafat's
dual policy of talking about peace while preparing for war. For
many years now, Arafat has paid lip service to peace negotiations
in English, while calling in Arabic for a jihad, or holy war, to
Since September 2000, he has stepped up the violence. Official
Palestinian media have incited Palestinians to riot, and Arafat's
own group, Fatah, has joined Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad in
launching suicide bombings against Israeli civilians.
As long as Arafat believes that terrorism advances his cause,
there is little the United States can do to stop the violence, let
alone jump-start peace negotiations that were derailed by
Palestinian violence. The Bush administration can't save
Palestinians from bad leadership.
As long as Arafat remains the leader of the Palestinians, there
is no chance of a genuine peace. He has a long history of
terrorism, which he has used to cement his control over the
Palestinians, to attack Israel, and to attack other Arabs,
particularly in Jordan in the 1970s and Lebanon in the 1980s.
He was, after all, expelled by the Jordanians after he tried to
overthrow King Hussein. He was expelled from Lebanon in 1982 after
he used Palestinian refugee camps as bases for cross-border
terrorist attacks against Israel. Nobody should be surprised that
he has returned to terrorism after gaining a foothold in the
He has rarely passed up a chance to court violence. 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
By negotiating the 1993 Oslo Accord, the Israelis gambled that
Arafat was ready to renounce terrorism and seek a genuine peace.
That gamble has failed. Arafat is clearly a large part of the
problem -- not the solution. He already has been given numerous
opportunities to end his policy of violence and return to
negotiations. But he has spurned repeated American efforts to
resolve the crisis: the Mitchell Plan, the Tenet Plan, and three
diplomatic missions by U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni.
Along the way, Arafat has compiled a long record of broken
promises. Under the Oslo Accord, for example, he agreed to
apprehend, prosecute and punish terrorists. But long before the
current wave of violence began, he was failing to do so. Indeed,
rather than crack down on radical Islamic fundamentalists who
oppose peace with Israel, he has worked closely with them.
The few prosecutions that did occur were 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
Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon took office.
It's time for the United States to abandon the wishful thinking
that has allowed Arafat to continue his double game. It should
encourage Israel to expel Arafat and shun him in exile. The only
hope for peace in the long run is for a new generation of
Palestinian leaders to realize that Arafat's cynical dual policy of
negotiating via terrorism will not earn Palestinians a state, but
will only assure continued misery. They must realize that their
interests are best advanced through negotiating in good faith, not
James Phillips is a research fellow specializing in Middle Eastern affairs in the Davis Institute for International Studies at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based public policy institute.
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