Israel Report

February 2002         

Terms for Keeping Arafat

by Neill Lochery - February 17, 2002
Lately there has been much speculation over the question of whether or not Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat should be permitted to play a part in any future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Those who argue there should be no future role for Arafat highlight his increasingly direct use of violence against Israel (it is no longer the case that only Hamas and Islamic Jihad are attacking Israeli cities), the corrupt regime he leads, and the worrying number of human rights abuses that his security forces perpetrate against the Palestinian population.

This argument is right in terms of morality - there should be no role in any peace process for a man who has violated so many past agreements, and who abuses his own population in the name of nationalism. Sadly, in terms of realpolitik, the evidence suggests there is no viable alternative to the rehabilitation of Arafat.

On the ground, Arafat has been strengthening his control over Palestinian militias in preparation for a Palestinian state, and developing some kind of joint Palestinian defense force. Arafat closely subscribes to the notion that, in order for any new state to be viable, the leadership needs to hold a monopoly over the means, and use, of violence. In short, Arafat's position among the Palestinians is being strengthened, not crumbling as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon had hoped. To be fair, Sharon is no fool, and much of his actions against Arafat is designed to weaken him internationally, but not replace him.

Accepting the reality that Arafat is here to stay (with the proviso that he may die suddenly from natural causes), then ways have to be found to bring him in from the cold. This still sticks in the throat, particularly as his recent speeches in Arabic are becoming extremely hard-line, and worryingly cranky.

As a result, redlines and pre-conditions for his potential rehabilitation need to tightened:

1. No negotiations under fire. The US should not act as the umpire here, as its definition of quiet is far too subjective.

2. A commitment by Arafat to disarm all Palestinian armed factions, other than uniformed Palestinian Police officers, who should be allowed to carry only light weapons (as specified in the Oslo Accords) This process is to be heavily supervised by the US or another third party.

3. Arafat to end all military contacts with thirds parties, including Iran.

4. An independent audit of the accounts of the PA, to be undertaken by a group of renowned international bankers. This group is to publish a report, including the introduction of safety devices to avoid such systematic corruption in the future.

5. Improvement in Palestinian human rights. The removal of the death penalty (often carried out within hours of sentencing) for those accused of collaborating with Israel.

It is worth noting that, although much attention is correctly focused on 1 to 3, numbers 4 and 5 are vital if a healthy Palestinian economy and political society is to emerge from the ruins of the current situation. Both are important prerequisites for the health of a newborn state, particularly in terms of attracting investment from a Palestinian diaspora that remains very suspicious of the PA.

Arafat would no doubt claim that the five points amount to surrender. In order to avoid this, the US and Israel are likely to offer to fully recognize an independent, demilitarized Palestinian state in what is today Area A of the West Bank and Gaza Strip (areas under Palestinian civil and military control). For Arafat, however, this would be something of a poisoned chalice. He would no longer be able to directly blame Israel for the ills of the people that live in these areas.

To sweeten Arafat a little more Israel would have to make an additional withdrawal from Areas B and C and transfer more land into Area A. This is risky, but should serve Israel's interests if, in exchange, Israel were allowed to annex about 7 percent of the West Bank, which would allow around 80 percent of Israel settlements, including those around Jerusalem, to come under full Israeli sovereignty. From here, Israel could start to implement a process of separating from the Palestinians; a short-term solution, but one that could reduce the number of terrorism victims.

As there is no real viable alternative to Arafat, the preconditions for his reentry into the process need strengthening. In short, there should be a correct balance between the carrot and the stick if Arafat is not to make political gain through the continued use of tactical violence. This must be the bottom line for both the Israeli government and the international community.

(The writer is the director of the Center for Israeli Studies, University College, London.)

©2002 - Jerusalem Post

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