A gaffe, as the old line goes, is when a politician speaks the truth. If so, Yasser Arafat’s long awaited passing from the scene occasioned few gaffes. Only Australian Prime Minister John Howard spoke with customary bluntness, "I think history will judge him harshly," he said.
Besides Howard, President Bush alone among major world leaders could think of nothing good to say about Arafat. The best he could offer was the ambiguous (particularly as it was offered before Suha Arafat and the Palestinian Old Guard had finished their monetary negotiations and pulled the plug), "May G-d rest his soul." Rest is surely the least likely post-mortem fate for Arafat’s soul.
True to form, French President Jacques Chirac called Arafat "a man of courage and conviction." Will he say the same of Osama bin Laden when the time comes? After all, Bin Laden learned the efficacy of terrorism from Arafat. Bin Laden must be wondering whether he too is the candidate for a public relations remake as he listens to the encomiums being heaped on the pioneer of modern terrorism.
One suspects that Chirac was green with envy contemplating the way Arafat managed to divert more than a billion dollars of Palestinian money to his private bank accounts while Chirac and his political cronies have had to content themselves with mere millions from the Oil-for-Food scam and other escapades over a long public career.
Hapless Jimmy Carter described Arafat as "a powerful human symbol" – of what, the depths of human evil? -- and credited Arafat with "forging a peace agreement with Israel in 1993." He neglected to point out that the peace agreement left the Israelis and the Palestinians farther away from peace than ever.
But it was left to Tony Blair and Kofi Annan to tell the biggest whopper. According to Annan, Arafat "led the Palestinian people to accept the principle of peaceful coexistence between Israel and a future Palestinian state," and according to Blair, to a "historic acceptance of the need for a two-state solution."
There are lies, and there are dangerous lies. The myth, perpetrated by Blair and Annan, that Arafat led his people to a historical acceptance of a two-state solution belongs in the latter category. For if it were true, there would be no reason not to resume negotiations right where they left off in 2000, now that Arafat is no longer around. And voila, that is precisely what the Europeans propose.
But, of course, Arafat never accepted Israel’s existence – not when he formed Fatah in the late ‘50s, long before Israel came into possession of Yehuda, Shomron, and Gaza, not when the PLO Covenant, thirty of whose 33 clauses call for the destruction of Israel was signed in 1964 (and never subsequently revoked), not in 1993 at the signing of the first Oslo Accords, and not at Camp David.
At most, Arafat accepted the reality that he could not expel the Jews from their homeland by military means alone. He soon learned that by cunningly alternating diplomacy with terrorism he could put the Palestinians in a far more favorable position for their ultimate confrontation with Israel. Oslo allowed him to wrest a series of territorial concessions from Israel in return for the constant repetition of the same Palestinian undertakings (which were never kept).
Nor were those promises ever meant to be kept. Speaking in a mosque in Johannesburg, shortly after the famous handshake on the White House lawn, Arafat compared the Oslo Accords to the truce signed by Mohammed with the Qureish tribe, which the former unilaterally abrogated two years later en route to wiping out his former peace partners. At Camp David, he told a shocked President Clinton that the Jews have no historic connection to the Temple Mount or to Eretz Yisrael for that matter, in effect laying claim once again to the entirety of the land for the Palestinians.
By the time Arafat breathed his last, perhaps the only Israeli who still clung to the myth that Arafat ever reconciled himself to a two-state solution was Shimon Peres, who still cannot face the fact that he had won the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize for being duped. Those sighing about how sad it was that Arafat never lived to see the fulfillment of his dream of a Palestinian state should spare us. Had Arafat been interested in a state, rather than just in denying the Jews theirs, he could have had it at Camp David. Instead he walked away without even putting a counteroffer on the table.
Dennis Ross, the leading American intermediary for nearly twelve years, concluded that Arafat was too wedded to the image of himself as revolutionary fighter to have any interest in the humdrum work of building a functioning state. Certainly he made no effort to provide the Palestinian Authority with the infrastructure of one. As Palestinian pollster and political scientist, Dr. Khalil Shikaki observed the day of his death, it makes no difference to whom authority over the major Palestinian institutions is transferred since effective authority has long since passed to those who have their own militias and send the suicide bombers.
As long as every penny designated for the Palestinians passed through Arafat’s hands, and the dozens of militias and terrorist squads all supped at his table, he showed little concern that rival armed militias had produced anarchy within the Palestinian Authority. Meanwhile none of the new leaders appointed to divvy up Arafat’s power command more than 2-3% support among the Palestinian public.
Some said that Arafat walked away at Camp David because he feared that he would be assassinated if he accepted Clinton’s offer. Yet if the most powerful figure likely to arise within the Palestinian Authority any time in the foreseeable future could not sell the most generous offer that any Israeli government will ever put forward, then it is clear that none of his successors will be able to do so.
Over the twelve years of Oslo, Arafat used the Palestinian media and school system to whip the coming generation into a frenzy of murderous fury perhaps unknown in the annals of mankind. What other entire society has ever been built on a cult of martyrdom? How can a generation who have had drummed into them morning, noon and evening that every inch of Eretz Yisrael belongs to them and will one day return by force of arms be expected to make the compromises necessary to live side by side with Israel?
As Arafat’s coffin was being carried to his grave, all the silk suits to whom his power has nominally transferred fled the scene, leaving only terrorists shooting off guns wildly in the air to accompany him. He began his career with hands dripping in blood – the blood of 22 schoolchildren at Maalot, the blood of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics, the blood of Leon Klinghoffer, the blood of American ambassador to Sudan, Cleo Noel, and the blood of more than 1200 Israelis murdered since the beginning of Oslo by terrorists financed by Arafat. And in the end, he had only men of the same bloodthirsty predilections to accompany him.
Perhaps it was that final scene of pandemonium that convinced President Bush not to bite when Tony Blair flew into town to push a resumption of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. Bush left the ball squarely in the Palestinians court just where he placed it on June 22, 2002: Create a decent, free society and there is something to talk about with Israel: until then, nothing. And it was Blair who ended up signing on.