ARAFAT: A MAN OF THE PEOPLE
There's an illusion Americans need to be disabused of. They don't really know what "ordinary" Arabs think or want. The polls tell us that the Arab Street tends to be more militant than its leadership, a propensity the Arab-American scholar Fouad Ajami is wise to. "It is a peculiarity of the Arab political order," he writes in the Wall Street Journal, "that many of the rulers and the dynasties are more moderate than the populace."
Nobody in their right mind would accuse ordinary Palestinian moms and pops, the kind that encourage their kids to go out with a bang, of moderation. They've supported the terror campaign against Israel and have derided Arafat when he took action, however symbolic, against homegrown terrorists.
Contrary to President Bush's Pollyanna-like admonitions, Yasser Arafat has not let his people down, but has faithfully kept abreast with their lust for blood. This is not to say that Arafat's promises to destroy Israel—a 1996 speech in Stockholm, where he vowed to "eliminate the state of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state," comes to mind—were purely for political gains. Judging from his actions, the man's heart has always been in his work.
Still, who's to say one can't mix business with pleasure? Keeping his finger on the racing Palestinian pulse has been as much about his survival as a relevant leader of a radical people as it has been about personal avarice: The size of Arafat's bank account is rumored to approximate the size of the Palestinian Authority's deficit. Indeed, for Arafat, staying current has meant staying violent. To this end, he has throughout his "career" practiced a skilled triangulation game, reaching agreements with the most radical Arab leaders and factions while stringing the Israeli and American camps along.
In a 1997 policy paper, Yoseph Bodansky, an internationally renowned military analyst, points out that the 'peace process' has always been a function of the "self-delusions of politicians," something Arafat implicitly understands. According to Bodansky, Arafat's "peace" juggle resulted in his 1996 green light to Hamas, allowing the terrorists free reign in the PA. Attention to regional strategizing saw Arafat, circa 1996, commit to collaborating with Syria in destabilizing Israel—the Palestinians would take aim at Israel's belly and the Syrians at her northern periphery. Working closely with Damascus and Tehran provided Arafat with a buffer against radical Islamists, who might have sought to topple him. The fact that they never did attests to Arafat's congruity with the aims of the radicals.
Under Labor governments, Israel believed that if she committed to returning to pre-'67 borders and relinquished control over Jerusalem, peace would prevail. "The Right of Return"—which will entail absorbing millions of Arabs into Israel proper, and is, in effect, a euphemism for the destruction of the Jewish State—was more contentious, but not entirely off the Israeli negotiating table. But no sooner had Prime Minister Ehud Barak given away the keys to the store than Arafat walked away from the agreement. To Arafat, Camp David and Oslo were no more than instruments "for eliciting unilateral concessions and withdrawals from Israel." If anything, Arafat's bait and switch tactics were aimed at using the "peace process" as a strategy to guarantee his survival as a leader.
After rejecting Barak's offer of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, Arafat was free to act on the growing acceptance of radical Islam among Palestinians. Late in 2000, he released terrorists from PA prisons and set about escalating the situation with Israel. Under his shifty peepers, Arafat's own Fatah Tanzim and the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade evolved into full-fledged jihadist outfits that have claimed responsibility for well over 300 terror attacks since September 2000. The al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, members of whom receive salaries from Arafat, has also made it onto the State Department's list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Yasser Arafat's longevity, finally on the wane, can be chalked up to his knack for keeping abreast with the man on the street cum common suicide bomber. Both want a Palestinian state that stretches from the River (Jordan) to the (Mediterranean) Sea, with Jews relegated to the sea.
Well aware of how petulant and trigger-happy Americans become when their dreams about peace are shattered, Arab leaders have, in the past, kept up the "peace process" facade, whispering sweet nothings in American ears. Given their people's extremism, the specter of moderate Arab leaders playing footsie with Washington is ultimately misleading.
©By ILANA MERCER
April 10, 2002