The Magazine

The Stolen Car Process

Try getting your Ford Taurus back from the Palestinian Authority, and you will learn why Oslo failed

Apr 16, 2001, Vol. 6, No. 30 • By DANIEL DORON
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So I called Dr. Ahmed Tibi, a personal adviser and close confidant of Arafat. He is a member of Israel's parliament, representing a radical Arab nationalist party that advocates the transformation of Israel into a state without affiliation to its Jewish past or present; that is, its eventual conversion into another Arab state. Dr. Tibi has kindly assisted several Israeli movers and shakers to retrieve their expensive stolen cars through his good offices with Chairman Arafat, who lays down the law in the Authority even among thieves. But Tibi has been forced to stop performing this service, he explained, lest he spend all his time retrieving stolen cars. He graciously referred me to his parliamentary assistant, who also knew the ropes, he assured me.


The assistant confirmed that he could arrange things, especially after I informed him that my car had been seen in the hands of his close friend Abu Awad, the commander of Ramallah's Force 17.


But right after my call to parliamentarian Tibi, our gentle middleman disappeared. It turned out someone higher up had requisitioned the car. Arab friends reported seeing it emblazoned with the Palestinian Authority's official red plates. It sported blinking lights and a siren, as befit its elevated status. I almost felt proud.


But then Israel encircled Ramallah, to prevent Abu Awad and his Force 17 guys from delivering a car bomb. I gave up and bought a new car. I also prayed that our Taurus would never be brought into Israel, as car bombs generally are, under the immunity of its Israeli license plates, its spacious baggage compartment stuffed full of explosives, nails, and cooking gas containers, the better to tear apart and incinerate as many passers-by as possible.


Oslo has conditioned Israelis to be "reasonable," that is, to make dangerous concessions even when the other side is not reasonable. In pursuit of an elusive peace, Israeli leaders, egged on by State Department peacemakers, kept ignoring Arafat's continued support for violence. And they turned a blind eye to Arafat's complicity in a huge transfer of wealth from Israel to the Authority through robbery and theft.


Income from crime has become a significant part of the earnings of the Palestinian Authority's inhabitants, impoverished by Arafat's undeclared war on Israel. Crime enriches the middle level bosses of the Authority's agencies and security services (the top guys get to steal millions in U.S. and European Union aid), and supplements the small salaries that the Palestinian Authority, by far the largest employer, pays its 140,000 employees, who include 70,000 soldiers and "security personnel" (masquerading as policemen), many thousands of bureaucrats, and Arafat's army of sycophants and hangers-on. The Palestinians who have become criminals are more dependent than ever on the Authority and afraid of its nine security services. Uncertainty about their livelihood binds them in absolute loyalty to the source of all authority and funding, the boss of bosses, Yasser Arafat. By incessant indoctrination and hate-mongering, Arafat redirects all their frustration against Israel.


Since the current Intifada started last September, Palestinian wages have fallen to around $ 100 a month, and unemployment has risen to about 50 percent, especially among youths (which explains why so many are available for demonstrations). So stealing cars has become a desirable occupation. It is practically risk free. When caught, car thieves are slapped with a small fine and given probation by Israel's liberal judges, hardly a deterrent considering the rewards.


Our story, then, is all about how criminal activity, when it becomes the norm, erodes the standards that make life in society possible (indeed, crime and misrule now terrorize most Palestinian Arabs, who live under a regime of protection rackets). It looked eminently reasonable to pay a small sum to the thieves and get our car back rather than spend a large sum on a replacement -- just as it looked eminently reasonable to give Arafat some territory and let him establish a state, however oppressive and corrupt, so that peace at last could reign. But in both cases, it turned out to be foolhardy to think that criminals suddenly will keep their word, respect agreements, and refrain from violence.