All Writings
December 9, 2001

Arafat Must Go

It is time for the United States to realize that the Palestinian leader, Yasir Arafat, has outlived his usefulness and continuing to support him will be to the detriment of Israeli-Palestinian peace. The notion that he is the lesser among evils and that the chaotic conditions within the Palestinian community make him indispensable is simply unfounded. Arafat himself has brought about the current mayhem, and only his departure will offer the possibility of restoring sanity to Israeli-Palestinian relations.

The first and foremost victims of Arafat's misdeeds are his own people. It is ironic as well as sinister that Arafat, many of his lieutenants and ordinary Palestinians claim that only Israel's withdrawal from the occupied territories will bring about peace. Why then did he reject former Prime Minister Barak's historic offer at Camp David which provided the Palestinians with almost exactly what they say they are seeking today. By refusing Barak's formula, Arafat has for the past fifteen months subjected his people to untold suffering, loss and destruction. As a result he has shattered the hopes of yet another Palestinian generation without any prospect of achieving peace on better terms with either the current or a future Israeli government. Arafat has so profoundly betrayed his people that he must now step aside to make way for a more sensible leader who can bring an end to the Palestinian plight with dignity.

In collusion with Hamas and Jihad, Arafat's main political and security organization, Fatah, has been behind the new Palestinian uprising that has led to horrific and indiscriminate violence. All the confidence-building measures undertaken between Israelis and Palestinians since the 1993 Oslo agreements have been destroyed. Consequently, Arafat's strongest constituency in Israel– the center and left-of-center political parties–that supported a two state solution, has become extremely disillusioned. Intifadah II has obliterated the last residue of Israeli trust in him to negotiate in good faith. Moreover, although Arafat has fathered the Palestinian national movement, his inability and unwillingness to rein in Hamas and Jihad has appreciably diminished both his credibility and legitimacy. A majority of Israelis continue to support peace along the lines of Barak's proposals, they do not believe, however, that it can be achieved under Arafat¹s watch. Only a new Palestinian leader who can assure the Israelis that the Palestinians have no designs against Israel proper (e.g., repatriation of the Palestinian refugees as demanded by Arafat) will be seen as an acceptable negotiating partner.

SharonArafat has failed to assert his authority, fearing defections and attempts on his life. Rather than uniting his people and striving toward a dignified agreement with Israel, he has chosen to maintain an inherently factional community while making Israel the scapegoat for his failure at peace. By promoting a second Intifadah, he has emboldened extremists such as Hamas and Jihad to commit heinous crimes against the Israelis. As a result, these groups have gained in public support while eroding his own. Recent polls in the West Bank and Gaza show the popularity of Hamas has risen from 23% in September 2000 to 31% today, whereas support for the Palestinian Authority has dropped from 33% to 20%. A growing number of Palestinians obviously feel defrauded by Arafat¹s colossal failure to deliver on his promises. They also blame him for the corruption that permeates his administration.

By President Bush's own definition, those who aid, support, harbor and collude with terrorists are themselves terrorists. Arafat's collaboration with Hamas and Jihad is indisputable. Why then do we choose to continue to deal with him when he no longer enjoys the confidence of either the Israelis or many of his own people? History does not seem to be instructive for us. Throughout the Bosnian war, despite his obvious crimes against humanity, we continued to deal with the former dictator of Yugoslavia, Milosevic. And while his security forces were pillaging and systematically destroying Kosovo, we still sought him out as the interlocutor for a negotiated settlement. It took the war on Serbia to force Milosevic's hand leading to his subsequent indictment for war crimes. {Our dealings with Marcos of the Philippines and Noriega of Panama provide examples of similar shortsightedness.}

Our concerns about whom might succeed Arafat are not grounded in the reality of the West Bank and Gaza. Although according to the polls Hamas can rival in influence the organizations behind Arafat, support for Hamas is not only soft but subject to substantial fluctuations, depending on the prevailing socio-economic and security conditions. The majority of Palestinians remain secular and are more concerned with bread and butter issues like jobs than with blind fanaticism. They are sick and tired of shedding their blood for a goal that was within their grasp but lost because of misguided leadership. Many who gravitate toward Hamas do so because it offers some sense of relief and hope. What have failed them are Arafat and his corrupt regime.

To change the political course in the territories toward moderation, the United States must now push for new Palestinian leadership through democratic elections or appointment by the Palestinian National Council. The new leader must commit to (1) the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza to exist side-by-side with Israel; (2) the willingness to make minor territorial adjustments on an equitable basis; (3) the sharing of Jerusalem (with control of the Arab quarter reverting to the Palestinians), with each side controlling its own holy shrines; (4) a solution to the Palestinian refugees problem, primarily through compensation and resettlement, as was recently articulated by Dr. Nusseibah, the Palestinian Authority's new appointee in charge of Jerusalem affairs. Finally, forsake once and for all any future claims against Israel and its territorial integrity.

All of what was offered by Barak and can eventually be reinstated. What it will take to do this is decisive Palestinian leadership that by appealing to the Israeli people will regain their trust. Such a leadership must be willing to fight for what is possible instead of pursuing pipe dreams that bring nothing but pain and suffering. President Bush must now demonstrate the same boldness he has shown in Afghanistan and rid the Palestinians of their bin Laden before a greater tragedy befalls them.