Arafat's Strategy

In order to permit Yasser Arafat's low-intensity war against Israel to continue, the Persian Gulf oil states have pledged a (US)$700-million aid package to the Palestinian Authority, now verging on bankruptcy. Proponents of the scheme say the ongoing Israeli "siege" of PA-controlled territory, which prevents inward investment, obstructs the passage of Palestinian labourers into Israel and withholds US$75-million in tax revenue, is unfair and cruel. Moreover, they say, the resulting chaos undercuts the Arafat regime's ability to negotiate a peace treaty with Israel.

It is true that per-capita income in the PA has dropped from US$2,000 to US$1,400 and that unemployment has quadrupled from 11% to 45%. However, this depressing slide started months before Ariel Sharon's government imposed travel and financial restrictions on the PA. It began in earnest last summer, when the PA initiated the intifada after Mr. Arafat decided he could gain more through violence than painstaking negotiation.

The endemic corruption of the Arafat regime -- evidence of which even the PA-controlled press cannot hide any longer -- is also greatly to blame. Only two weeks ago, the European Union announced it would "closely monitor" funds it transfers to the PA so that they do not disappear. Even the Arab countries are opting not to give money directly to Mr. Arafat, but instead prefer to establish projects under their own supervision. Mr. Arafat's personal wealth, accumulated by shifting donations to the PLO into his private bank accounts, is estimated to be worth billions of dollars.

Given these circumstances, it would make sense for the Palestinians to call off the intifada and return to the negotiating table. But that is not what Mr. Arafat and his advisors want. In fact, Mr. Arafat prefers keeping his fiefdom poor and rowdy to gain international sympathy. In an op-ed piece published earlier this month, Natan Sharansky, the Deputy Prime Minister of Israel, made this point clear. "As minister of industry and trade during Benjamin Netanyahu's administration," he wrote, "I saw Mr. Arafat reject countless projects that would have bettered the lot of his own people simply because they would have served to decrease tensions between Israelis and Palestinians. He continually spurned my efforts to help the Palestinian Authority establish an industrial park in Gaza that would have encouraged investment in Palestinian areas, created tens of thousands of jobs, and alleviated poverty. Similarly, he rejected a proposal to create joint ventures in the West Bank in existing industrial zones that would have fostered co-operation between Jews and Arabs and generously redistributed municipal tax revenues to depressed Palestinian areas."

Moreover, it is increasingly apparent that the intifada, which PA spokesmen and their sympathizers in the Western press claim is a "spontaneous popular uprising," is nothing of the sort. As a senior PA minister declared recently, the intifada was planned from Day One by Mr. Arafat, who was disappointed that not every single one of his demands was accepted at last summer's Camp David summit. As the forthcoming U.S. State Department Patterns of Global Terrorism report is expected to note, there is no other way to explain the central role in fomenting violence and terrorism played by Mr. Arafat's Force-17 presidential guard, Muhammad Dahlan's "Gaza Preventative Security Service" and Tanzim activists, who act as the strike force for Mr. Arafat's PLO Fatah faction.

In recent weeks, the Sharon government has eased restrictions owing to U.S. pressure and its realization that Mr. Arafat and his accomplices, not the Palestinians themselves, are the problem. As a matter of general principle, however, why is it assumed Israel must transfer $75-million in tax revenues the PA claims it is owed, or that imposing restrictions on travel and investment is morally and legally wrong? The PA is instigating war against Israel, and it hardly makes sense that Jerusalem be required to finance its enemy's armoury and facilitate the movement of terrorists.

Mr. Arafat keeps on telling the world the Palestinians deserve an independent state. But the example of the Palestinian Authority -- regarded by many as a sort of nation in embryo -- does not inspire confidence. The PA is a corrupt, warmongering dictatorship whose economy has been ravaged by a terrorist war it started last year and prosecutes to this day. Israel can hardly be faulted for building walls between itself and this banana would-be republic. For the PA's economic woes, Mr. Arafat has no one to blame but himself.

©2001 - National Post

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