The Blog

Lost in the Shuffle

Several truths have been forgotten in the rush to restart the "peace process." We would do well to take a moment to recall how Yasser Arafat got us here.

12:00 AM, Apr 11, 2002 • By FRED BARNES
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

A WAVE of forgetfulness has engulfed the issue of Middle East turmoil between Israel and the Palestinians. Arab moderates whom Secretary of State Colin Powell visited this week, European leaders upset by Israel's conduct, the international media (including American reporters), United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan, even Powell himself--all have been hit by memory loss. What they've forgotten is practically everything that preceded Israel's military incursion in the West Bank. They've forgotten the context for today's events, a context that illustrates why the world's sudden concern for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is at best misplaced, at worst likely to lead to more terrorism and violence.

Forgotten item one: Only two things were asked of Arafat to justify a meeting with a top American official, and President Bush has publicly urged Arafat to do both. One is to give a speech, in Arabic, to the Palestinian people denouncing terrorism and pleading for its cessation. The other is to crack down on Palestinian terrorist organizations. Arafat has done neither. Yet while Vice President Dick Cheney declined to meet with Arafat because of this, Powell now says he will meet with Arafat. Meanwhile, terrorism continues to be practiced against non-combatant Israelis by the Al-Aksa Brigades, which are part of Arafat's own political faction. Does Powell's session with Arafat amount to rewarding terrorism? Yes it does. So does Powell's decision to discuss "political" issues with Arafat and abandon the Bush administration's insistence that a cease-fire be arranged and implemented first.

Forgotten item two: To listen to Israel's critics and the press, you'd think the issue at stake today is the Palestinians' quest for statehood and the Israelis' refusal to grant it. Au contraire. At Camp David in July 2000 and in later discussions that year, Arafat was offered a Palestinian state that would include 97 percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza, 3 percent of what's now Israel, and a land-and-bridge connection between the West Bank and Gaza. On top of that, the Palestinians would get half of Jerusalem. Arafat turned the offer down without making a counteroffer. Instead, he responded with a new intifada that quickly changed from rock-throwing to terrorism to suicide bombers who target innocent civilians in Israel. If Arafat wants a Palestinian state, all he has to do is say yes--and stop terrorist attacks on Israel.

Forgotten item three: The real trouble between Israel and the Palestinians began two weeks ago when the Israeli prime minister sent tanks and troops into the Palestinian-run West Bank. At least that's what Arab leaders, Europeans, and others act as if they think. In an op-ed in the Washington Post, the long-time Saudi ambassador to the United States, Bandar bin Sultan, wrote of "terrorist Israeli aggression" but never conceded even the existence of Palestinian terrorism. At the recent Muslim summit in Malaysia, the delegates refused to admit any link between terrorism and the Palestinians. For their part, the Europeans don't pretend the suicide bombings in Israel weren't carried out by Palestinians. But they insist Sharon has wildly overreacted and that his response, not Palestinian terrorism, is the problem. Yet what's overlooked is that for the past three decades Palestinian terrorism against Israel is the one enduring fact of life in the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians under Arafat's leadership. Arafat was implicated in the 1972 killing of 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. He ordered the killing of the American ambassador and others in Sudan in the 1970s. He was behind hijackings and killings in the 1980s. And the terrorism has continued except for the three years when Benjamin Netanyahu was Israel's prime minister. It all but stopped then because Netanyahu sent word to Arafat he would be "taken out" if terrorist attacks persisted.