October 31, 2000 Special Dispatch No. 144

Peace Camp Figure Calls Arafat a 'burden to The Process'

October 31, 2000
Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 144

Because of the continuing clashes between Palestinians and Israelis - clashes which have reached levels of hostility exceeding those of the pre-Oslo Intifada (1987-93), Israelis across the political spectrum are becoming disillusioned with the Palestinian leadership in general and with PA Chairman Yasser Arafat in particular. Many in Israel now question previously held convictions regarding Arafat's intentions concerning resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In an October 18, 2000 op-ed in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, entitled "Arafat is no longer a partner," Gay Behor - a prominent, left-leaning, Israeli expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict - describes this sense of disillusionment. Following are excerpts from Behor's article.

"Up until the time when the Al-Aqsa Intifada started, Yasser Arafat was, in my view, a worthy partner for the process of reconciliation with Israel. The [recent] Intifada revealed a completely different person."

"Already in the years that preceded the Oslo Agreements, Arafat and his Fatah movement projected a clear vision of pragmatism and willingness to enter into a political process [with Israel]. In his actions, Arafat reinforced the belief that between the option of choosing messianic, Pan-Arabic interests and more focused Palestinians interests - he would always opt for the latter."

"Ten years ago, in order to introduce the PLO to the general Israeli public, the level of its pragmatism, and the concept of "the independent Palestinian decision" I wrote and published the book The PLO Lexicon. In this book, I assessed that Arafat could provide an able Palestinian associate, [and that] he would prefer to make political use of the [pre-Oslo] Intifada for the betterment of his people."

"Contrary to others in the PLO, who depended on Arab countries, Arafat always advocated authentic Palestinian activism, avoiding other Arab countries who, he thought, only exploited the Palestinian cause for their benefit. Salah Halaf (Abu Iad), Arafat's deputy and his closest confidant, used to say: 'All the revolutions, which were conceived in Palestine, were aborted in Arab capitals.'"

"Arafat's approach during the Oslo years strengthened my assessment. However, the Intifada of the last few weeks is shedding a completely new light on Arafat. He is no longer fighting for the pragmatic Palestinian interest, but rather [he is fighting] in order to advance his image in the infinite open space of Arab, Islamic and Palestinian history pages, in that order. His vision's capacity changed to a Pan-Arabic and Pan-Islamic one, a vision for which at times he sacrifices the more limited Palestinian interests - stability and an independent state. According to Arafat's [current] evaluation, his signature on an agreement with Israel, any agreement, will earn him the title of an enemy-collaborator, a traitor in the eternal Islamic, pan-Arabic and Palestinian cause, and as the one who will forever be remembered for selling out Al-Aqsa."

"It seems that a declaration of independence and its consequent chance of making Arafat more or less a governor of a pathetic quasi-state - surrounded and marginal - is now less attractive to him than his current tremendous glory in the Arab and Islamic world. In other words, he no longer acts like someone who has an interest in establishing a Palestinian state, which will live alongside Israel, but rather as one who espouses establishing a hostile and inciting state. Evidently, in the moment of truth, Arafat, just like [former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel] Nasser and [former Syrian president] Hafez Al-Assad, is conditioned by the anti-Israeli and arrogant [Pan-Arabic] rhetoric of the 1950s and 1960s, and thus is unable to reach a final reconciliation with Israel. Instead of nourishing the Israeli-Palestinian coexistence, Arafat is choosing to preserve his historic competition with Nasser and Saddam Hussein as the originators of Pan-Arabism. These are historic intra-Arabic rivalries which have nothing to do with Israel or with the bilateral dialogue Oslo logic."

"This means that the continuation of the current process with Arafat the man, and with [the constraints of] his cultural world, represents not only a waste of time but also [is likely to] harm the very delicate dialogue between the Palestinian and the Israeli people. Israel cannot dictate who will lead the Palestinian people, but Israel can wait for the changing of guard in the Palestinian camp, a change that is likely to take place in the very near future."

"A new Palestinian leader will be a native to the [occupied] territories, devoid of the empty pan-Arabic rhetoric of the 1950s and the 1960s, one who knows Israel, its institutions, its approach, its people, and one who understands the concept of coexistence alongside it. A leader shaped by our common reality, one who experienced the common suffering of both people, does not owe anything to [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak and for whom the Arab summits' lounges and the inter-Arabic rivalries are foreign concepts. As the Chairman of the PLO, Arafat is obligated to the cause of the Palestinian refugees in Arab countries. A local leader will not be nearly as obligated [to this issue]."

"During the Oslo process, Arafat made the impression of a pragmatic Palestinian leader, mundane, and businesslike...who is aware of the limits of possibilities. During the last few weeks, Arafat looks more like a messianic, maximalist, and an unrealistic leader. Arafat looks more like a leader who chooses the historic Arabic and Islamic perspective... In simple words...the man has turned from an asset to the peace process into a burden to the peace process."

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