Israel Report

August 2001         

End Arafat's Double Game

By Gerald M. Steinberg - August 10, 2001
For the past eight years since what was once called "the historic Oslo breakthrough," Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian leadership have played a double game. While signing agreements and talking about peace to diplomats and journalists, they used the language of jihad and hatred before their Arab audiences, and created a terrorist state, equipped and trained for murder.

The various sponsors and supporters of Oslo, including the American, Israeli and European governments, allowed Arafat to walk on both sides of the street, instead of forcing him to choose between the two paths. The Palestinian "police" force that was explicitly created to prevent terrorism, remained the arm of the PLO's "armed struggle," providing protection and assistance in suicide bombings and drive-by killings. While formally establishing a proto-government, in the form of the Palestinian Authority, Arafat continued to function underground as the head of the PLO terrorist organization.

This double strategy worked well in the short term, allowing Arafat to avoid making a choice. Armed with a Nobel Peace Prize, he was hailed as a statesman and peace-builder in world capitals, and successfully shifted all the blame onto Israel. The press reprinted the handouts and adopted the images of Palestinian victimization and "excessive Israeli use of force" uncritically, and from there, the myths spread to the diplomatic community, particularly in Europe.

Few paid much attention or cared about the strategic use of terrorism and the careful preparations for the war that he began at the end of September, and many provided excuses and rationalizations. Ignoring his central commitment in the peace process, Arafat never confronted Hamas, the Islamic Jihad and terrorist groups within his own Fatah organization, primarily because the use of violence to pressure Israel was part of his strategy, also reflecting Arafat's fundamental weakness as a leader unable to make the necessary choices. Another factor was his fear of paying the costs of internal confrontation.

The time has come (in fact, it is long overdue) to put a firm end to this double game. Arafat and the PA that he heads must decide whether they seek war or peace, and act accordingly. There is no more room for walking on both sides of the street, and pretending to seek peace while planning and waging war.

A peace option is still open, barely, and the difficulties grow continuously. With every brutal terror attack, Palestinian words about peace become even less believable. The scenario used after the attack in Tel Aviv in June that killed more than 20 young people, and wounded dozens more, has run its course. Following that suicide bombing, the US and European Union, with the personal intervention of German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, twisted Arafat's arm, and received a verbal cease-fire statement. For a few days after, Arafat reined in Hamas, but it was another cosmetic move, and the killing soon resumed.

CIA Director George Tenet followed and negotiated a detailed cease-fire agreement, but then left the area and allowed Arafat to walk away from his commitments, once again. Instead of ending the killing, the focus, particularly from the US State Department, shifted to dispatching a small force of monitors to observe an invisible cease-fire. The old double game of talking peace and making war was allowed to continue, but this strategy has now reached a dead end.

If Arafat decides to back away from the cliff, a confrontation with Hamas and the other groups is unavoidable. The Mitchell Commission report, which has been officially accepted by the Palestinians and also by the Israeli government, is the only path forward. Arafat's words have been totally devalued, and only clear sustained actions will have any impact.

The Mitchell formula states clearly that the violence must end, and the terrorist infrastructure must be rolled up. The tens of thousands of weapons used to kill Israelis in drive-by shootings must be collected, and the use of hate language and incitement in Palestinian media and officials must stop, to remove the justification and motivation for terrorism. Clear, continuous and visible actions by the PA in all three dimensions can still prevent war, and start a process of reciprocal Israeli measures as specified by the Mitchell report. However, this will take exactly the kind of leadership that Arafat has consistently failed to demonstrate.

Without these fundamental changes, Arafat is choosing a terrible war whose dimensions he cannot control, and whose outcome is unpredictable. Israelis, as well as ordinary Palestinians, have already paid the costs of war, and these are increasing daily.

The Israeli government, which is obligated, like all other governments, to protect its people, provide security, and ensure survival, must use the military force necessary to put an end to terrorism

This is not an easy decision - even after yesterday's atrocity in Jerusalem - and the risks, including the possibility of a wider regional confrontation, cannot be ignored, but the alternative of an unending war of attrition and daily terrorist attacks has become unacceptable.

(The writer is director of the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation in the Department of Political Studies, Bar-Ilan University.)

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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