Despite the absence of remorse for a long history of bloodshed, Arafat's rehabilitation into polite society goes on and on ...

When Yasser Arafat accepted an invitation to attend the 47th national prayer breakfast organised by the US Congress in early February, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem added its voice to other Christian and Jewish groups critical of the invitation.

"From the standpoint of both the congressional sponsors and key evangelical organisers of this event, there ought to have been better foresight in making such a questionable decision," the ICEJ said in a statement. "After taking the time to sort through all the facts and the stated purposes behind this event, [the ICEJ believes that] the decision to invite Arafat appears to be a poorly-conceived gesture in light of its disturbing downside."

The Christian Embassy cited major reservations in Arafat's post-Oslo conduct which it believed should have disqualified him from a place of honour at a US government-sanctioned prayer function with substantial Christian backing.

Our stand prompted a large number of appreciative letters and messages, but also a few responses from Christians who felt we'd made a mistake. Labelling us "reactionary", "scandalous" and "pious", these detractors maintained that Arafat needs to hear the Gospel and expressed the hope that, in the words of one, "the members of the prayer breakfast greet Mr Arafat with open arms and begin to show him the true definition of Christian relationship with God …"

Now we have no argument with Arafat's need to "see the light". We simply think this was not the time nor the place. Already, at least three leading evangelical ministries have proclaimed publicly that they personally met Arafat, shared the Gospel with him, and even led him in the "sinner's prayer". The Scriptures say "repent" and "show forth fruits of repentance". We have to say we have seen no evidence of such fruit. To this day, there has been a complete absence on Arafat's part of any expression of remorse or regret for his role--direct and indirect--in the PLO's long record of terrorism.

Christians, too, have been victims of that terrorism. In The Rise and Fall of the PLO, Gillian Becker documented the 1976 destruction of the mostly-Christian community of Damour in Lebanon, at the hands of Arafat's PLO. Almost 600 men, women and children were massacred over a two-week period. Witnesses told of gang-rapes of hundreds of women and girls, of children being forced to watch as their fathers and brothers were murdered, and of the mutilation of the bodies of the victims. The surviving townsfolk were driven out, and the PLO turned their churches into armouries and firing ranges.

Even today, despite the scrutiny of the international community, the Christian Arab minority faces serious hardships under Palestinian rule. We and other media have reported at length on discrimination suffered by Christians living in the self-rule areas, particularly converts from Islam.

On a wider front, Arafat has repeatedly failed to honour his commitments incorporated in agreements signed with Israel. He has continued to call for jihad (Muslim holy war) and to incite violence. His record on security obligations is dismal. Just last month, he ordered the release from custody of dozens of Islamist militants, including some linked to the terrorist killings of Israeli and American innocents.

Invited to breakfast, Arafat was quite prepared to exploit Christians and Congress for political ends. Among his aims: to create the appearance US-Palestinian relations are stronger than US-Israel relations at this time, and to present himself as a trustworthy guardian of Christian and Jewish holy sites in Jerusalem.

A final point: The National Prayer Breakfast, which has been around since the Eisenhower presidency, seems to have wandered off the track in recent years. Organisers have been criticised for inviting despots and terrorists and including the reading of the Koran in related events during a two-day programme.

This year's stated rationale for inviting Arafat, Syria's Hafez el-Assad, officials of the Sudanese regime, and other controversial figures was to promote world peace and tolerance in an atmosphere of prayer.

For "tolerance", read compromise and appeasement.

When first organised more than 40 years ago, America's national prayer breakfast was probably an excellent idea. Many political and religious leaders have doubtless been touched by attending, leaving strengthened in their resolve to maintain the highest standards in public life.

Unfortunately, however, the event appears to have degenerated into a star-studded, watered-down exercise in interfaith relations, rather than an opportunity for much-needed, prevailing prayer for America and the world.

(David Parsons & Patrick Goodenough)

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