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Jewish World Review Dec. 16, 2002 / 12 Teves, 5763

Jonathan Tobin

Jonathan Tobin
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An end to the deception

Israeli scandal points to the bitter truth about a vision gone bad | There was bad news from Washington last week for the dwindling minority of true believers in the Oslo peace process.

The announcement that President Bush had selected Elliot Abrams to be the National Security Council's director for Near East and South Asian Affairs was yet another yet shock to the system for the school of thought that holds that the key to Middle East peace is more American pressure on Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians.

Rather than fill this post with another State Department Israel-basher or Clintonesque Jewish left-winger, Bush chose someone who is already on record as seeing the Oslo process for what it is: a dangerous illusion that served only to divert American policy-makers from the truth about Yasser Arafat. Abrams is a remarkable individual who combines able foreign policy experience in the service of freedom in Central and South America with a serious career a s a Jewish thinker and author.

He is also a highly controversial figure due to his being dragged into the Iran-Contra scandal by an out-of-control special prosecutor during Abrams' service in the Reagan administration. Many commentators will howl at his promotion and can be counted on to dredge up that sorry chapter just as they did when he was first appointed to the NSC by Bush last year.


But this time the ones who may be screaming the loudest at this brilliant choice are not the aging hippies still carrying torches for the Sandinistas. Rather the real losers here are those Palestinian sympathizers and Jewish leftists who have been hoping that Bush's June 24 speech was just a mirage. That statement outlined American rejection of Arafat as a peace partner and imposed strict conditions of financial accountability and renunciation of terror by the Palestinians before they could even hope to limp back to peace talks to take what Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is prepared to give them. The June 24 speech was the centerpiece of a new realistic American foreign policy towards the Middle East.

Abrams' appointment also should serve as a warning to both America's feckless European and Arab allies and the U.S. State Department - which has behaved at times as if it disapproved of Bush's policies - that he means business. But even as the United States was turning even further away from the foolhardy appeasement of terrorists that Oslo represented, another story revealed this week in Israel should really put a stake in the heart of the peace-process vampire.

The Israeli daily Ma'ariv reported that Yossi Ginossar, the former senior official in Israel's Shin Bet security service and a key envoy of Prime Ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak to Arafat, was deeply involved in shady business transactions with the Palestinian leader.

It turns out that Ginnosar was pocketing million-dollar commissions from the old terrorist to set up secret bank accounts at Switzerland's Lombard Odier Bank for Arafat and the rest of the Palestinian kleptocracy.

According to Ma'ariv, Ginnosar helped squirrel away $300 million in Switzerland for Arafat in exchange for lucrative commissions. In addition, Ginnosar operated in the open as a partner to other Arafat stooges in various legal business deals, such as the now-defunct Jericho Casino, which raked in millions from Israeli gamblers for the thugs running the Palestinian Authority.

What was the source of the funds Arafat trusted Ginnosar to invest in the safe deposit boxes of the Alps? You guessed it - aid money donated by foreign governments who hoped it would be used to benefit impoverished Palestinians. Of course, much of this graft was an open secret even in the heyday of Oslo. Israeli officials confirmed numerous times in off-the-record conversations with curious journalists that a lot of money (including funds coming from Israel itself) was going straight into the pocket of Arafat and Co., Inc.

This criminal behavior was justified as a necessary price of making peace. Yet what did Arafat really do with the money Ginnosar put aside for him? Up until now, it was assumed that the funds were simply to be used as rainy day money for Arafat's friends and family such as the shopping expeditions of Arafat's wife Suha, who has been camped out at a luxury refugee camp in an exclusive section of Paris.

But according to Ezrad Lev, one of Ginnosar's Israeli business partners, in August of 2001, some of the Swiss money went missing. It turns out that Mohammed Rashid, Arafat's financial consigliere withdrew some $65 million from Arafat's 401(k). A year after the beginning of Arafat's terror war on Israel, the P.A. was running short on cash to conduct terror operations, and Lev began to suspect that the money he and Ginnosar had laundered for Arafat was subsidizing terror, not Suha's taste in French couture.


Realizing that the Swiss account was now going for payments to suicide bomber families or to Iran to buy arms to kill Israelis, Lev finally succumbed to his conscience and dropped the dime this month on both Ginnosar and himself. To those familiar with with the unrepentant Ginnosar's checkered career in the Shin Bet, none of this should be a big surprise. But the idea of an Israeli serving as Rabin and Barak's private diplomatic emissary to Arafat at the same time that he was operating an illegal scheme with the P.A. boggles the mind.

Yet, as horrifying as this is, the real story here is not about a corrupt Israeli. Rather it is about a corrupt process.

Oslo was a bright dream of peace, understanding and prosperity. Even those, like this writer, who scoffed at former Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres' vision of a "new Middle East" had to admire the idealism it represented. Peres did all that he could to facilitate business deals with Arafat and the P.A. In particular, Israel encouraged American Jews to invest in the territories in the name of peace.

It was a nice idea, but given the nature of the partners whom Peres and the Oslo crowd had embraced, it was always a fool's errand. Indeed, rather than Oslo turning out to be merely a noble idea that failed, the peace process is now starting to look like a scam so enormous that even Tony Soprano wouldn't have had the chutzpah to try it.

We understood that well-meaning Israeli and American Jewish businessmen were pouring money into the pockets of their mafia-style Palestinian partners.

Unfortunately, now we must assume some of them were also unwittingly paying for the infrastructure of terror that would subsequently take the lives of hundreds of their fellow Jews.

The revelations of such crimes should serve as a reminder and a warning against repetitions of this folly in the future.

As with the appointment of Elliot Abrams in Washington, the Ginnosar scandal should reinforce a new spirit of realism about the Palestinians in Jerusalem. Long may it continue.

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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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