The Magazine

Arafat and the Saudis

May 27, 2002, Vol. 7, No. 36
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THE SAUDIS VS. ARAFAT?

The terrorism documents captured on the West Bank by the Israeli Defense Forces contain fascinating details about the friendly relations between Saudi Arabia and Hamas, and consequent tensions between the Saudis and the Palestinian Authority. The documents seem to confirm the long-circulating rumor in Arab and Muslim circles that the Saudis want to displace Arafat in favor of Hamas, and have used their financial and political resources to that end. The reason: to supplant the secular nationalist politics of Arafat with the Wahhabi ideology favored by Riyadh.

Referring to correspondence between the Palestinian Authority and the Saudis in December 2000 and January 2001, the IDF commentary notes: "In these documents, Arafat complains about the fact that the Saudi aid is not transferred to the PA areas via the PA, and it does not reach the Fatah, but is given to Hamas and radical Islamic groups associated with Hamas, thus weakening the PA. The documents concern discussions held in Riyadh between the Palestinians and the Saudis on this issue. In hindsight, it can be stated that Arafat failed in his attempt to persuade the Saudis to channel the financial aid via the PA, and the phenomenon of transferring Saudi funds to Hamas elements continued and continues until the present."

If there is anything to be learned from the captured documents, it is that the Saudis must remain suspect as partners for either the Israelis or the Palestinians in any resumption of peace negotiations. If their funding of Hamas makes their peace gestures to the Israelis two-faced, it makes their standing as supporters of the Palestinians--the vast majority of whom are non-Wahhabi, given local traditions of secularism and the influence of Arab Christians in the nationalist movement--even more dubious. Indeed, it only reinforces the suspicion that the Saudis' gambit in publicly injecting themselves into the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation has a sole aim: to divert attention from their involvement in the events of September 11.

CATO ENTANGLED

The lavish 2001 Annual Report of the Cato Institute--which doubles as a celebration of the 25th anniversary of the eminent libertarian think tank--has just landed in The Scrapbook's in-box. Much of it is unsurprising, including the advocacy of a "principled noninterventionist approach to foreign affairs." Not content to leave things at the level of aspirational generality, however, Cato's president and chairman, Edward H. Crane and William A. Niskanen, go on--in the report's jointly signed introductory "message"--to assert that "the dangers of accepting the role of the world's policeman are clearly evident" right now, in particular, what with this al Qaeda terrorist business and whatnot.

The Scrapbook confesses that it was a bit unsettled by the America-sorta-had-it-coming atmospherics of this little lecturette. Maybe, we hoped, we were reading a little too much into it.

But no--there's an astonishingly tasteless two-page spread later in the report. Over a full-color photograph of the second September 11 jetliner exploding with a giant ball of flame into the World Trade Center, Cato has superimposed its favorite George Washington quotation: "It is our true policy to steer clear of entangling alliances with any portion of the foreign world." So not only did we sort of have it coming to us for ignoring Cato's foreign policy wisdom, but there's a particular villain. The United States, after all, has but a single "entangling alliance" in the Middle Eastern "portion of the foreign world." That would be with Israel--American friendship for which, the Cato Institute apparently believes, is somehow responsible for the deaths of 3,000 New Yorkers.

A SHARPE STICK IN THE EYE

If there's one thing reporters tend to enjoy most--even more than, say, free stuff--it's a nasty political fight. And political fights haven't come much nastier than the Newark mayoral race--a classic "machine" versus "reform" collision, in which the machine last Tuesday prevailed.

Typically, national media outlets don't pay close attention to most mayoral races, let alone Newark's. But because of the downright dirtiness of the campaign, in which four-term Democratic mayor Sharpe James defeated Ivy-league upstart Democrat Cory Booker, there was a lot of coverage. From the Associated Press to the Daily News, from the New York Post to ABC World News Tonight, every detail was lovingly recounted: the campaign poster theft, the vans blaring sound at each other's campaign events, the nutcake allegations by Sharpe that Booker was a "closet Republican," who was "aligned with the Jews," and who took money from the KKK and the Taliban.