German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer called Prime Minister Ariel Sharon on Christmas Eve and asked him whether he would consider changing the decision of the Israeli defense cabinet and permitting Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat to travel from Ramallah to Bethlehem.
"All that Arafat has to do for us to permit him to travel this evening to Bethlehem," Sharon replied, "is to arrest the two Palestinian murderers of tourism minister Rehavam Ze'evi and extradite them to Israel. They and those who sent them," explained the prime minister, "are staying in the region of Ramallah. Until now Arafat has taken no serious steps to halt the terrorism, violence and incitement."
The rest of the phone conversation between Sharon and Fischer centered around the results of the war against extreme Muslim terrorism in Afghanistan, where the German foreign minister was about to visit.
The Israeli media, with the participation of several apparatchiks from the Labor Party and the Left and some officials in the Foreign Ministry, tried to create the impression that a catastrophe was about to overtake Israel because of its refusal to permit Arafat to leave Ramallah and visit Bethlehem, but simply drew a false picture. Even those diplomatic remarks siding with Arafat were spoken in a minor key.
This demonstrates the downgrading of Arafat's status in the world. In December 1994, together with Shimon Peres, he was unjustifiably awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. In December 2001 he was returned to his natural and real position as the head of a terrorist authority who also grants asylum to the two murderers of an Israeli minister despite knowing their hiding place.
Only six months ago the world was still prepared to accept his declarations and promises, despite the terrorist campaign he initiated 15 months ago. The American administration and even some of the EU leaders now know that Arafat is a pathological liar. The process of delegitimizing Arafat, who succeeded in persuading the world that he was a real partner for peace for Israel, is now bearing fruit.
It seems that only in Israel does Arafat still have uncritical supporters, led of course by Foreign Minister Peres and his director-general, Avi Gil. If the more than 1,000 Israeli and Palestinian fatalities and the thousands of injured on both sides have not succeeded in convincing this pair, as well as the politically blind Yossi Sarid and Yossi Beilin, that Arafat by any standards is a war criminal, nothing will convince them.
Therefore they, together with the Israeli media, put pressure on Sharon to permit Arafat to travel to Bethlehem in the name of "freedom of worship." Nothing could be further from the truth. After all, Arafat is a Muslim and no one will stop him from going to pray in a mosque in Ramallah. It is clear that in the state of siege in which Arafat finds himself in Ramallah ever since - despite Israel's secret warnings - he did not prevent Palestinian murderers slaughtering 10 Jews in a bus near Emmanuel, Arafat has been looking for a way to escape from Ramallah. After the Israeli government declared that he was irrelevant, Arafat intended to turn his announcement about the Christmas prayers in Bethlehem into a great political act: Here I am, in Bethlehem, as free as a bird. I have ignored all Israel's demands to combat terrorism and arrest the murderers.
Arafat hasn't missed a single trick in his efforts to turn the Christmas prayers, a Christian festival as everyone knows, into a political instrument to serve his image. He asked Jordan to send him two helicopters and when this didn't work he thought of finding asylum in the car of the Latin patriarch Michel Sabbah when he came to bless him in Ramallah. "I shall reach Bethlehem even if I have to go on foot," Arafat boasted on Radio Palestine. "We shall meet this evening in Bethlehem," taunted his spokesman, Yasser Abed Rabo.
In private conversations with Israeli friends, Christian Palestinians expressed their pleasure at Arafat's humiliation and that he remained trapped in Ramallah.
"For the first time since the intifada in December 1987, we are gloating over Arafat," a Christian Palestinian friend from Beit Jala told me. "More than 50,000 Christians left Beit Jala when the Tanzim made our situation worse when they decided to attack Gilo from positions in our town," he explained. "Already in the first intifada in 1987 Palestinian thugs exploited the situation in order to persecute us in Beit Jala, Bethlehem, and Beit Sahur. The millions of dollars that we put into the development of the tourism infrastructure for 2000 went down the drain during the current intifada."
In other words, many Christian Palestinians have felt themselves to be a threatened minority ever since the Labor government handed over Bethlehem to Arafat six years ago. The Christian population of the town, sacred to Christianity, which then numbered 50 percent, has now decreased to 20%.
The stories of maltreatment perpetrated by Arafat's thugs against the Christian population are many and hair-raising. Ataf Abayat's gang, for example, raped two young Christian girls a few months ago, during the period of the firing on Gilo. The scandal was so great that Arafat was forced to fire the governor, Muhammad Jabri. The same gang only stopped running wild after Israel killed the leader of the murderers, Abayat himself, last October in Bethlehem.
It is therefore clear that the attempt of blind Israelis to help Arafat to reach Bethlehem was for many Christians adding insult to injury.
Sharon, who remembers that not only Ze'evi's blood cries out from the ground but also that of hundreds of innocent people who have been killed because of Arafat's strategy, decided to put an end to this horrible and terrible game, Murder Inc., that Arafat has been playing since Peres brought him to the White House on September 13, 1993. For the first time in many years the head of the PLO encountered an Israeli iron wall. He will have to realize that the rules of the game have changed. His place is not in the Church of the Nativity, but in the mosques of the West Bank and Gaza. There he will have to break up the suicide organizations of the Hamas and the Islamic Jihad with the aid of Muslim imams, not Christian priests.
©2001 - Jerusalem Post