Israel Report

June 2001         

The Madness of Yasser Arafat

By Zalman Shoval
June, 10 2001

- After the massacre at the Tel Aviv Dolphinarium, the world's horrified eyes were once again on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. Lately, some of the world's leaders had tended to regard Arafat's behavior, to put it mildly, as somewhat eccentric, having lost all touch with reality. Assessments of this sort were reportedly made during the extensively leaked recent meeting between US President George W. Bush and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and their respective teams.

"Loss of touch with reality," perhaps, but it would be a dangerous mistake to regard Arafat as some sort of madman. It would be even more misleading to emphasize the sometimes clownish aspects of his behavior - as Hollywood did in the late 1930s and early 1940s with regard to Hitler and the Nazis. In fact, Arafat knows exactly what he wants, and everything he does - including his actions before and after the massacre - is guided by his long-held and long-planned strategic designs.

In simple terms, Arafat's strategic aim is the disappearance of Israel as an independent Jewish state - if not immediately, then some time in the future. He, therefore, never had an interest in final and permanent peace-agreements which would create two states in Palestine, one Arab and one Jewish, though over the years he has had considerable success in anesthetizing most of the world, including the naive Israeli Left which wanted to believe anything Arafat said into believing that the latter was his aim.

The Oslo Accords, from his point of view, would serve as the legal and political framework to attain the first stage of his strategy, i.e. to get control of all or most of the territories which had been in Israel's hands since 1967, at the same time according him the international legitimacy he craved. He also hoped that the internal debates which the Oslo agreements were bound to bring forth inside Israel would fracture Israel's much-vaunted unity and sense of common purpose - features which he correctly saw as important factors in Israel's ability to overcome its enemies in spite of its numerical inferiority.

Interestingly, PA minister Faisal Husseini, who died last week in Kuwait, had told a Palestinian audience in Amman more than 10 years ago, that Arabs should support a peace process because this would, over time, lead to Israel's implosion.

Arafat thus never saw "Oslo" in the same light that Israel's previous leaders or former US president Bill Clinton did: for him it was not a formula of compromise to bring an end to the 100-year old conflict between Arabs and Jews, but a strategem to advance his ultimate aims. This is also the reason why Arafat, in violation of all his written and oral commitments (including his letter to Israel's late prime minister Yitzhak Rabin), never considered giving up the option of violence. Quite to the contrary, from day one he made strenuous efforts to build up his offensive military capabilities under the guise of various security organs, using the subterfuge that he needed arms (which Israel promptly provided) in order to bring the terrorist organizations under control.

In fact, many of Israel's security and intelligence experts had predicted all along that, towards the end of the "Oslo" interim period, the Palestinians would unleash a wave of violence and terror, (as indeed happened in September 2000) in order to extract from Israel - whether directly or by means of international pressure - additional, far-reaching concessions which would ultimately weaken its internal and external positions to such an extent that it would no longer be able to withstand a large-scale Arab onslaught in the future.

The main reason Arafat rejected the very generous proposals which former prime minister Ehud Barak had made at Camp David and Taba - offering him practically 100 percent of the "territories," including most of east Jerusalem - was that this would have required him to declare that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict had ended.

Nor, of course, was he prepared to discard even partially the so-called "right of return" of the Palestinian refugees, in spite of the fact that Israel's representatives at Taba, according to a recent article by senior Palestinian negotiator Nabil Shaat, were ready to admit to Israel's partial responsibility for the refugee problem - even agreeing to a formula which could have led to Israel being flooded by tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands of so-called "refugees."

So what makes Arafat tick? The answer to that question is that he belongs to that same category of dictatorial, self-centered leaders, well-known from history (of whom Slobodan Milosevic was a recent example), who, as a result of either stupidity or hubris - or both - brought upon their own peoples as well as on others, wars which logically and rationally they never had a chance to win, without being able or willing, however, to draw the necessary conclusions - often not even to themselves.

There could, of course, be another explanation - that, although Arafat himself understands only too well that he can never be victorious in his war against Israel, he prefers to enter the annals of Arab history as the man who never gave in and never compromised. It is the Palestinian people who will continue to pay the price of his obstinacy and self-delusion.

(The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to Washington and an ex-Likud MK.)

©2001 - Jerusalem Post

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