In Defense of Yasir Arafat
Jude Wanniski
September 8, 2003


Memo To: Website Fans, Browsers, Clients
From: Jude Wanniski
Re: He IS the Palestinian Leader

With the resignation of Mahmoud Abbas as the Palestinian Prime Minister, it is an inescapable fact that the Palestinian people consider Arafat their leader, and it does not matter that President Bush would like that not to be true. It was Bush and Ariel Sharon who insisted that Arafat, who has spent several decades representing the Palestinian cause, stand aside because he was not trustworthy, a bad guy who does not keep his word. Yet I’ve never seen a list of his broken promises that has not been matched tit-for-tat by Sharon, with a cloud over the question of who broke first. This is what the “Road Map” was supposed to have dealt with, and it is hard for anyone to argue that Sharon did not fudge his way along that road in ways surely designed to provoke the militants.

I've not always admired Arafat, but in the last decade – from the Oslo accords of 1993 onward – I have believed he has been prepared to lead the Arab/Muslim world to the acceptance of Israel as a sovereign state. It was in those accords that Arafat committed himself to doing just that, accords openly opposed by Likud and their neo-con friends in the U.S. defense establishment.

When the Arab League in Beirut last year voted 25-to-0 to end all claims to the contrary, the ball was in Israel’s court to move toward a Palestinian state. Sharon insisted he would not deal with Arafat. Somehow surviving the Israeli bombings of his compound in Ramallah, Arafat gave way to Sharon when the Bush administration also insisted he do so. As it appears to the Arab/Islamic world -- and most every other nation on earth, only if you are the leader of Israel can you demand the President of the United States hand-pick the Arab leader with whom you choose to deal. The Palestinians have no say in the matter. Now that Arafat has appointed a man to succeed Abbas, the Israelis are saying they will not deal with anyone who enjoys Arafat’s favor.

The fact remains that Israel's Likud Party has never accepted the idea of the two-state solution that President Bush "thinks" his administration has as a goal. The Party met last year and in an almost unanimous vote rejected the very idea of a Palestinian state. The Likudniks know they have President Bush surrounded by their friends in his Cabinet and National Security Council, and that he is too blind to see what's going on. If you are a friend of Israel, as am I, you must eventually see that the only chance for peace in the Middle East is one negotiated between Sharon and Arafat, or their "seconds." Try to imagine Arafat having the upper hand with an American President -- demanding that Sharon step down and the Knesset appoint a prime minister acceptable him.

More than a year ago I wrote a memo in this space trying to get this issue into some sort of perspective, with the headline: "Yasir Arafat is a Good Guy." In the most pertinent paragraph I noted:

"There are Republicans in Congress who make no bones about wanting to kick all the Palestinians out of the West Bank and Gaza. As a lifelong supporter of Israel, I frankly would support any measure the Palestinians would be able to accept in peace negotiations. But after years of watching Israel grab the best pieces of land in the West Bank and Gaza for their settlers -- the oases with fertile land and water -- the Palestinians are clearly fed up with the peace process to date. I’m even surprised there is so much support for Arafat among them, when he has allowed himself to be snookered time and again by the Greater Israel advocates."

If there is to be a renewed attempt to get back to the Road Map, President Bush has to take off his blinders and let Sharon know in no uncertain terms that there will be no more tilting of the scales in his direction… with the settlements, with the “fence,” and with helicopter gunships blasting away entire neighborhoods in Gaza in the hopes of killing a bad guy or even a friend of a bad guy, which is what the Israelis are now doing. Because policy is personnel, the clearest signal the President can give is to ask for a few neo-con resignations on his national security team and give a blanket franchise in the Middle East to Secretary of State Colin Powell.

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Here is a related piece by Paul Craig Roberts in today’s Washington Times that ties in the UN and Iraq: