The Magazine

The End of Oslo

Yasser Arafat is an obstacle to peace

Jun 18, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 38 • By TOM ROSE
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

THE LONG-RUNNING ARGUMENT in Washington over Yasser Arafat’s responsibility for the terror campaign against Israeli civilians should have been settled on June 2, the day after a Palestinian suicide bomber murdered 20 Israelis, mostly teenage girls, outside a Tel Aviv disco. That day, the Palestinian dictator publicly called for a cease-fire—for the first time ever—and by and large the violence ceased, laying bare before the world Arafat’s heavy responsibility for creating it. By June 8, as this was being written, the Israeli army was reporting a "significant" reduction in Palestinian terror incidents, justifying the relaxation of some security restrictions imposed on the movement of Palestinians.

With Arafat thus exposed as a deliberate orchestrator of the region’s conflict, there is no longer any denying the error at the heart of the Oslo process. In 1993, Israel and the United States consciously chose to resurrect Arafat, discredited by his Gulf War alliance with Saddam Hussein, and make him their interlocutor for peace. Ever since, Washington has operated as if there were only two alternatives in the Middle East, Arafat and war. But for Israelis, the Arafat option is war, and as such is untenable. Even Israelis on the left now see this. Defense minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer, a member of the pro-Oslo Labor party, made history of sorts when he said on June 6 of Arafat, "His time is past. For Israel it is time to seek new partners and a new path to peace."

Washington may be slower to recognize this. Indeed, it still clings to a ruinous approach, urging Israel to "exercise restraint" in response to the murderous attack on innocent teenagers, and dispatching yet another high-ranking official, this time CIA director George Tenet, to the region to "talk" to the parties. In so doing, the United States is extending Arafat’s life and granting him another chance to plunge the Middle East into war.

For both Israel and its principal ally, it is time to withdraw the mantle of legitimacy from Arafat, to stop funding his police state, and to start thinking beyond Oslo.

Consider: For the past eight months, Arafat has used the tightly controlled media of the Palestinian Authority to unleash a flood of blood-curdling anti-Semitic incitement, urging Palestinians to support ever more brazen acts of terror against Israeli civilians. One spot that aired on Palestinian Authority TV for weeks featured the image of Muhammad al-Durra, the 12-year-old Palestinian boy whose televised death in a firefight between Israeli soldiers and Palestinian gunmen last October shocked the world. In the ad, al-Durra implores other Palestinian children to join him in paradise by becoming child martyrs. The spot was pulled only on June 2, the day after the disco bombing.

Another typical illustration of state-sponsored anti-Semitic incitement was Arafat’s personally blaming Israel for the death of Faisal Husseini, a Palestinian Authority official. Husseini, 60, died of a heart attack on May 30 in his Kuwait City hotel room. He had long suffered from asthma and high blood pressure. This could hardly have surprised Palestinians, who have been served a steady diet of anti-Semitic vitriol ever since the United States and Israel gave Arafat his own media empire in 1994. As recently as May, the Palestinian Authority reported that the Israeli Air Force was air-dropping poisoned candy into Palestinian schoolyards and conspiring to destroy Jerusalem’s Al-Aksa mosque, for which Arafat’s latest war, the "Aksa Intifada," is named.

As history has shown again and again, violent words are the prelude to violent actions. In the last eight months, Arafat’s lieutenants and allies have recruited and deployed dozens of suicide bombers, planted hundreds of roadside bombs, and engaged in thousands of shooting attacks. These were all part of a carefully planned, publicly stated strategy—seldom reported outside the Arabic-language press—to kill enough Jews to provoke an Israeli response that would goad Arab states into fighting yet another war against the Jewish state. This war would either succeed in destroying Israel or would serve Palestinian interests by provoking the intervention of an international force that would give legitimacy, aid, and protection to the Palestinians. Thus would the Palestinians secure their goals without having to make the one concession Israel demanded at the negotiating table: a formal end to the conflict with Israel and a renunciation of all future claims against her.