Small World

Jewish World ReviewOct. 19 , 2000 / 20 Tishrei 5761


Ah, the good ol' days


Once a terrorist ...



By Richard Z. Chesnoff

http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- NEVER, NEVER underestimate President Clinton's prolific powers of persuasion. And maybe, just maybe, that 13th-hour truce agreement the President patched together at the emergency summit at Sharm el-Sheikh means that the wisdom of peace, not the madness of war, will still prevail in the Mideast.

Ultimately, I'm sure it will. Despite recent bloodshed, I remain convinced that the two sides — Israeli and Palestinian — will reach a compromise co-existence deal. Their only other choice is regional suicide. The real question now is whether Yasser Arafat has the will or the ability to lead his people into a lasting peace with Israel.

The past few weeks have underscored growing doubts about just how "reformed" a terrorist Arafat is. It's more than a question of old distrusts and suspicions. Whatever changes he seemed to have made, the facts indicate that the Palestinian leader has slid back into his old ways of negotiating by force. And in that process of flexing what he thinks are muscles, Arafat may have all but eliminated himself as a meaningful partner for peace — at least at this juncture.

Look at Arafat's most recent record. For starters, the man who fancies himself "president of Palestine" turned down Israel's remarkable Camp David peace plan — the best and only real offer for sovereignty that the Palestinians have had since 1947. Then, using Israeli opposition leader Ariel Sharon's ill-timed visit to a shrine holy to Muslims and Jews as an excuse, Arafat unleashed a not-so-mini-intifadeh.

The Palestinian leader may have spent a lot of time at Sharm el-Sheikh self-righteously demanding international investigatory commissions into the violence and weeping crocodile tears for the Palestinian children killed in street battles with Israeli troops. But the fact is that without Arafat's go-ahead, the riots and attacks that claimed more than 100 lives would have subsided long ago.

Eager to appear tough to the street mobs who both support and ultimately threaten him, it was Arafat who literally called the shots. The result was a steady stream of riots and violent attacks to which Israel had no choice but to respond with force.

Even when he agreed to be dragged to the desert summit, Arafat refused to publicly call for calm. Instead, the aging Palestinian leader gave his people orders to "show your rage." And it was the much-televised view of his militias parading through the West Bank and Gaza shouting for holy war against the Jews that raised the doubts of some of Israel's hardest-core doves.

Veteran Palestinian spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi, whose hyperbole makes her sound more and more like a hack propagandist, has been quick to claim that the people of the West Bank and Gaza are "enraged" by the Clinton-orchestrated ceasefire accord. But what about the Israelis whose soldier sons were lynched by a mob while Palestinian police stood idly by? And what of the reaction of Israelis to Palestinian boasting that Arafat's forces have managed to smuggle in some 200,000 semiautomatic weapons in defiance of hitherto reached accords and that many of these illegal weapons have been distributed not to the Palestinian police, but to "various Palestinian elements"?

Just who is in charge here? Arafat or the street gangs? The same question might be asked of Israel's northern neighbors in Lebanon, where Hezbollah terrorist gangs not only kidnap Israelis, but then boast of their deeds at public meetings attended by the Lebanese prime minister.

Israel withdrew from Lebanon to give peace a chance. But unless the Lebanese themselves, and the Syrians who pull their strings, can guarantee control over their own people, then it is they — not Israel — who will destroy that chance.

And what now? Arafat and his fellow Arab leaders are gearing up for a summit of their own at the end of this week. Here is an opportunity for true Arab moderates not to play to the street mobs, but to insist that Arafat live up to his public commitments to cease violence and move on with the peace process.

Two Arab leaders are especially qualified to do that: Jordan's young King Abdullah (who will) and Egypt's President Hosni Mubarak (who should). Mubarak was the host of the Sharm el-Sheikh summit. But he, too, has played a less than noble role in recent weeks — refusing to urge Arafat to accept the Israeli offer at Camp David and being bitterly critical of Israel at yesterday's summit. Maybe someone ought to remind Mubarak that the $3 billion a year Egypt receives in U.S. aid is based on its commitment to Mideast peace.

Leaders come and leaders go. If the likes of Mubarak and Arafat can't pull their socks up, then real Mideast peace may have to wait for new, more reasonable Arab leaders.


JWR contributor and veteran journalist Richard Z. Chesnoff is a senior correspondent at US News And World Report and a columnist at the NY Daily News. His latest book is Pack of Thieves: How Hitler & Europe Plundered the Jews and Committed the Greatest Theft in History.


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