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Jewish World Review May 28, 2002 /17 Sivan, 5762

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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Back to Reform School

Aid to the Palestinians in the past subsidized corruption and terror. What makes us think this time will be different? | In the wake of the latest bouts of Palestinian terrorism and Israeli counterattacks, the buzzword for America's Middle East policy is "reform."

Reform, that is, of the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat, the murderous international celebrity who is the king without a crown of the Palestinian Arabs.

It is nearly nine years since the Oslo peace accords were signed and several years since Arafat and his cronies were given the territories on a silver platter to govern as he liked.

The disastrous results of his reign of terror, graft, misappropriation of aid, treaty breaking, peace rejection and finally war, is all too apparent to all but those who deaf, dumb and blind to reality.

But despite this, Arafat has come once again to the world, asking for handouts and promising he will "reform" his little kingdom, even promising free elections, provided that Israel lowers its own defenses against his terrorists by pulling troops back from checkpoints attempting to stop suicide bombers.

Everyone involved in the debate acknowledges that pouring more money into the pockets of Arafat's cronies or groups that engage in terrorism is a nonstarter. Everyone also seems to agree that the Palestinian state should not be yet another Arab dictatorship.

Aid programs to the Palestinians discarded everything we should have learned from half a century of similar efforts around the world. Aid and investment that strengthens local elites doesn't trickle down to the people or create democracy.

Nevertheless, the assumption is that the world will respond with more aid to Arafat, whether negotiations toward peace proceed or not. The reason is that the Palestinian Arabs he governs are suffering and their economy was ruined by his war on Israel.

But before the aid starts up again, it is worthwhile remembering all of the effort that this country and American friends of Israel poured into making the P.A. a going concern.


During the height of Oslo, the P.A. sent over, with much fanfare, a contingent of "policemen" who received training from the highly regarded police department of the City of Philadelphia. But you won't find the Palestinian grads of this program walking beats in the West Bank or Gaza. Instead, they turned out to be part of the army Arafat used to wage war on Israel.

At the same time, Jewish philanthropist and hedge-fund tycoon Kenneth Lipper set up a program to send Arafat's underlings to Harvard, where they could study good government. While those involved enjoyed life in Cambridge, there is little indication that the recipients of this Jewish largesse used their education to prevent the widespread theft and corruption that characterizes Palestinian self-rule.

The European Union contributed to purchase new textbooks for Palestinian schools that would teach co-existence and peace, only to discover that the new books they paid for themselves taught hate.

While these examples of efforts to make the P.A. a responsible entity seem almost as comic as they do tragic, the blame for Palestinian corruption is not Arafat's alone. Israel played a part, too.

In an effort to create a viable economy for the Palestinians, Israel encouraged its own business sector to invest in the territories. But the result was not a vibrant free economy. Instead, Israeli companies partnered with some of Arafat's cronies and were silent partners to the corruption and graft of the Palestinian kleptocracy. The Israeli government itself provided Arafat with cash and other resources, all in the hope that by keeping him well lubricated with baksheesh, or "bribes," he would keep the peace for Israel.

In fact, the hopelessly utopian rhetoric of Foreign Minister Shimon Peres notwithstanding, that was the plan all along. The late Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was openly cynical about the nature of Arafat's regime. He hoped that controlling terror would be easier for Arafat because his government would not be a democracy like Israel.

That was a mistake.The only trustworthy peace is one between democracies. Arafat took the money, and paid Israel back with blood and terror.

The coming months will, no doubt, bring us more examples of goodwill programs designed to "reform" Arafat's regime. The CIA itself has been volunteered to oversee the consolidation of Arafat's security services.

As some on the left are quick to point out, Oslo skeptics and those who are not sympathetic to Palestinian Arab "aspirations" (like this writer) are not in a good position to persuade the Palestinians to play by the rules of democratic etiquette. Indeed, most Israelis and friends of Israel don't really care that much about the Palestinian right to the pursuit of happiness. All they want is for the Palestinians to cease trying to kill Israelis.

But to forget that past aid to the same people only made the situation worse is worse than willful blindness. Arafat's war policy is actually popular with the Palestinians whom we want to give self-government. Encouraging this trend would make us complicit in the blood to be shed in the future by Arafat or any of those likely to succeed him.

Is the United States really interested in creating another rogue terrorist state that will pose a threat not only to Israel, but to the rest of the region and the United States itself? Despite the lack of alternatives to Arafat, this is no time for a revival of Oslo and its fantasies.

Unless the Palestinians discard Arafat's reign of terror and adopt a democratic mode of government, the chances for peace with Israel are nil. Unless the donor nations make this a condition for future aid, there is no chance that Arafat, and those like him, will be deposed.

And unless the Palestinians - the people in the street as well as those with Swiss bank accounts - give up their desire for war on Israel, more aid will only prolong the violence.

It is true that it is not up to us to determine the Palestinians leaders or tell them how to live. But we can determine whether or not we wish to subsidize terror in the name of Palestinian reform.

Call it paternalism, imperialism or naked self-interest, but without a complete change in the way Arafat and company operate and think, there should be no American money for the Palestinians and no pressure on Israel to accommodate them.

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JWR contributor Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Philadelphia Jewish Exponent. Let him know what you think by clicking here.

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