A new Settlement Moratorium?/The Legacy of Yasser Arafat

Nov 19, 2010 | AIJAC staff

Update from AIJAC

Nov. 19, 2010
Number 11/10 #04

As readers may be aware, Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu is reportedly taking to his cabinet a deal put on the table by the American Administration in exchange for an additional three months moratorium on construction in West Bank settlements, and it is expected to narrowly pass. However, there has been some last minute bargaining over the exact terms of the American incentives on offer – see here and here. Meanwhile, the Palestinians and Arab League are reportedly saying the deal is inadequate to allow direct peace talks to resume – though the Palestinians are reportedly seeking an incentives package of their own.

This Update leads with the Jerusalem Post view on Israel’s interests vis-a-vis the proposed moratorium deal. The paper argues acceptance is a necessary step, not primarily to gain the incentives the US is offering, but out of Israel’s interest in doing whatever it can to reach a negotiated peace with the Palestinians. The editorial argues that an additional moratorium should serve to create a situation where Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas comes “under pressure to compromise – and to take positions that give his people, and ours, the opportunity for genuine reconciliation and a secure future.” For the rest of the paper’s argument, CLICK HERE. Also commenting intelligently on the US Administration’s strategy of offering incentives in order to gain another three month moratorium on construction within settlements, and the Israeli response, is the Washington Post,  Jerusalem Post editor David Horovitz, former American official Elliot Abrams, and Israeli columnist Yitzhak Binhorin.

Also in this Update, Dr. Barry Rubin looks at the legacy of Yasser Arafat, six years after his death in November, 2004. Rubin, who wrote one of the first and best known biographies of Arafat, notes Arafat’s history of rejecting compromise and fostering violence, and also corrects some myths about Arafat’s popularity both amongst Palestinians and in the Arab world upon his death. He argues that Arafat’s actions and his legacy are the main reason there is no Palestinian state today. For Rubin’s full retrospective on Arafat’s significance, CLICK HERE.

Striking some similar themes is Arab Israeli journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, who says interest in the anniversary of Arafat’s death is dwindling amongst Palestinians, and he is being remembered by many as the man who led them from disaster to disaster. He recounts how Arafat’s decisions in Jordan, Lebanon, Tunis and eventually, the West Bank, had disastrous consequences for Palestinians and their aspirations. He argues money being spent on an elaborate mausoleum for Arafat in Ramallah would be better spent in state-building or a centre to promote tolerance and coexistence. For the rest of his argument, CLICK HERE. Meanwhile, in the Gaza strip, Hamas banned commemorations of Arafat’s death.

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Editorial: Over to you, Mr. Abbas

Jerusalem Post, 14/11/2010 22:33

 The Israeli government is moving toward accepting the Obama administration’s request to renew the building freeze in Judea and Samaria for another three months.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s support for the measure and Shas’s willingness to abstain in a vote would likely yield an approval of the plan in the appropriate cabinet forum.

This is a necessary step, not principally because the US has sought the extension in return for a package of security incentives, various unspecified understandings relating to Iran and to Israel’s nuclear policies, and fighter jets worth $3 billion. One would have liked to believe that the central elements of this package, though far from negligible, would in any case have been deemed to meet the mutual interests of Israel and the US.

Nor is the key issue here Washington’s apparent commitment to use its Security Council veto to block attempts by the Palestinians in that forum to declare an autonomous state on the West Bank. It would be difficult to envision America, under any foreseeable circumstances, encouraging a unilateral process that would leave all core issues of dispute unresolved.

The significance of Israeli acceptance of another freeze would lie in Israel’s demonstrable renewed commitment to a negotiated peace that best serves its interests – this despite Israelis’ skepticism over the intentions of the Palestinian leadership.

A new freeze would also be critically facilitated by Washington’s specific caveat that it not extend to construction in Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, the unnecessary focus of such much US-Israel friction these past few months.

THE FUTURE of a viable Jewish and democratic state depends on reaching an accommodation with the Palestinians.

A renewed freeze – with the administration presumably this time bent on ensuring Palestinian presence at the peace table, firmly deterring the unilateralist route – reopens at least a narrow path forward.

Though there is some dispute among demographers on the matter, nearly all estimates suggest that Jews do not significantly outnumber non-Jews between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, and that the equation is unlikely to shift in the direction of the Jews over coming decades.

Most countries with similar demographic balances are either binational, have broken apart peaceably or have descended into severe civil discord leading to war and ethnic cleansing. Belgium, with a 60-percent Flemish and 30% Walloon population, is binational. Since 1993, Czechoslovakia (54% Czech and 31%) has split into two. Post-1992 Bosnia (44% Bosnian Muslim and 31% Serb) was ripped apart in bloody warfare. And in all of these countries, cultural differences were much less pronounced than those between Jews and Palestinians. Delineating secure borders – between Israel and a Palestinian autonomy that recognizes Israel as the sovereign state of the Jewish people, while providing Palestinians with the right to self-determination – is the only viable solution to the conflict.

True, Netanyahu got nowhere adhering to the previous, unprecedented 10-month freeze, while placing immense strain on his right-wing coalition. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas was self-evidently content to squander the first nine of those 10 months, while the US bickered with Israel over the government’s refusal to extend the freeze to consensus neighborhoods like Ramat Shlomo.

And it is particularly troubling that President Barack Obama, unlike his predecessor, has refrained from expressing understanding for “the new realities on the ground” – and specifically Israel’s need to maintain settlement blocs in any future agreement.

Nevertheless, as Netanyahu has made clear, Israel’s interest lies in seeking an accommodation if one can be found, putting an end to interminable conflict. Last year, indeed, he declared his commitment to the two-state vision that was explicit to the revival of Jewish sovereignty 62 years ago.

Netanyahu is rightly concerned by the possibility that the West Bank will turn into a second “Hamastan.” Rocket and missile fire lobbed into a narrow-waisted Israel from the hilltops of Judea and Samaria would constitute an existential danger that has not been sufficiently addressed in previous peace proposals. Hence the prime minister’s insistence on Israeli military control along the Jordan border.

THE US aim is apparently to reach substantive understandings on border demarcation in the three months of a renewed freeze. This seems a highly improbable ambition, given that Abbas did not seize upon a peace offer from former prime minister Ehud Olmert that Netanyahu is most unlikely to better or even repeat. It is also highly problematic to focus on only some of the core issues, when all will need to be resolved.

But with Israel on board, in step rather than in friction with Washington and led moreover by a relatively popular government, it is Abbas who should come under pressure to compromise – and to take positions that give his people, and ours, the opportunity for genuine reconciliation and a secure future.

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Six Years Ago, Yasir Arafat Died;

Today His Legacy Still Prevails: No To Peace, No to Compromise

By Barry Rubin

GLORIA, November 13, 2010

Six years ago, on November 11, 2004, Yasir Arafat died. On that occasion, former President Bill Clinton explained why he wouldn’t attend Arafat’s funeral: “I regret that in 2000 he missed the opportunity to bring [Palestine] into being….” Not Israel, but Arafat did so.

Today, the Arafat era’s lessons have been largely swept under the rug: his persistent mendacity, use of terrorism, cynical exploitation of an “underdog” posture to garner sympathy, and unfailing devotion to the dream of wiping Israel off the map. The placing of that last priority over creating a Palestinian state is why there is none today. Not Israeli policy, not settlements, but the preference for total victory over compromise.

At Arafat’s funeral, one of his lieutenants, Saeb Arikat, proclaimed: “Give him the honor he deserves!” Let it be so.

As the editorial in the London Times put it, he was the man who “threw away the best chance in a generation for an honorable settlement to the Middle East conflict.” In the New Yorker, David Remnick accurately wrote, “Rarely has a leader blundered more and left more ruin in his wake.”

Yet, too, perhaps, as never before in modern history, have so many relentlessly airbrushed away a leader’s career of faults and crimes. What was especially remarkable in so much of the coverage and discussion was the virtual erasure of a career in terrorism which had spanned forty years. There were no scenes of past carnage shown; no survivors or relatives of his victims interviewed. In political terms, his dedication to the elimination of another state and people, consistent use of terrorism, and rejection of peace were thrown down the memory hole of history.

The timeline for Arafat’s life prepared by both the BBC and the Associated Press omit any mention of terrorist attacks and skip the fatal year 2000 altogether. In its timeline the Associated Press only invokes the word terrorism to claim that Arafat had “renounced” it in 1988, though this had not prevented the PLO from committing scores of attacks-usually with Arafat’s blessing-thereafter.

Arabs, who knew him and his history better, were more critical. An article surveying Arab reaction in Cairo’s al-Ahram newspaper concluded that most Arab officials’ private reaction was one of “relief.” They said he had been an obstacle to achieving peace “largely for the sake of his own glory” and called him a man “too self-centered to really care about the misfortunes of his own people.” Not a single interviewee expressed a word of sorrow.

At the time of Arafat’s death his people still did not have a state, a functioning economy, or the most elementary security after following his leadership for thirty-five years. Much of that situation remains the same today.

Yet Arafat’s narrative had largely triumphed, certainly in persuading those who wanted to believe it that the movement he shaped and created was noble and sympathetic, a victim of other’s treatment rather than of its own policies.

Arafat was widely proclaimed a hero of national resistance for opposing an occupation that could have already ended on more than one occasion if he had chosen to achieve a negotiated peace. He was hailed as the victim in a war which he had begun and continued despite many opportunities to end the fighting. He was said to be striving only for a state when he had long invoked the idea that a separate state living peacefully alongside Israel was treason.

He was said to be popular and loved by his people even though – despite his considerable degree of real support – he stole so much from them and was ridiculed by them in private. In fact, Arafat’s performance in Palestinian public opinion polls had never been impressive. Even a British reporter who revered him admitted that Arafat didn’t have support from his people. “Foreign journalists,” she recounted, “seemed much more excited about Mr. Arafat’s fate than anyone in Ramallah.”

At the time of his death he was more popular in France, where almost half the population saw Arafat as a great national hero, than among his own people. In a June 2004 poll, only 23.6 percent of Palestinians named him as the leader they most trusted. Actually, Arafat’s popularity rating among Palestinians was lower than that of President George W. Bush among Americans, though the U.S. leader was-in sharp contrast to Arafat–widely portrayed as being reviled and mistrusted by a large part of his people.

But Arafat had always been able to outlive his own history. He had indeed created a Palestinian nationalist movement, organizing and uniting his people. Yet having so much authority over it, Arafat had to be held responsible for its shortcomings. Was it really so impossible that things could have been otherwise, that even the violence might have been tempered by some moral or pragmatic restraint, and that the goals would have been moderated at least far earlier in history?

Did the creation of Palestinian nationalism really inevitably entail Arafat’s virtual creation of the doctrine of modern terrorism; betrayal of Jordan; contribution to destabilizing Lebanon; or support for unprovoked Iraqi aggression? Did it really require the systematic killing and glorification of killing of civilians from its beginning to the last day of Arafat’s career? Did he really have no way to urge his people toward a peaceful compromise or to rule them well when given the chance to do so?

Since Arafat’s death, most of the leadership of Fatah and the PA has made clear their interpretation of Arafat’s legacy was the need to fight on for total victory, no matter how long it took or how much suffering or lives it cost. One Palestinian leader recalled that when, in 1993, he had reproached Arafat for signing the Oslo accords, Arafat replied that by making the agreement, “I am hammering the first nail in the Zionist coffin.”

Actually, though, Arafat biggest achievement may have been hammering the last nail into the Palestinian coffin.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), with Walter Laqueur (Viking-Penguin); the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan); A Chronological History of Terrorism, with Judy Colp Rubin, (Sharpe); and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley). To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books, go to http://www.gloria-center.orgYou can read and subscribe to his blog at http://www.rubinreports.blogspot.com.

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Yasser Arafat: Why Many Palestinians Don’t Miss Him

by Khaled Abu Toameh

Hudson New York, November 12, 2010

Six years have passed since the death of Yasser Arafat and it does not seem that many Palestinians really miss the man.

The number of Palestinians who show up at public rallies to commemorate Arafat has actually been declining year after year.

Arafat, as far as disillusioned Palestinian are concerned, should be remembered as a leader who led his people from one disaster to another.

He died in November 2004, leaving behind scorched earth and tremendous suffering and pain.

Even some of his former confidants admit that he was a ruthless man who did not hesitate to kill anyone who dared to challenge him or draw a cartoon making fun of him.

In Jordan, Arafat brought disaster on his people when he tried to create a state-within-a-state, forcing the Jordanians to massacre thousands of Palestinians in what is known as Black September.

Arafat and his supporters then went to Lebanon, where this time he did succeed in creating a state-within-a-state and played a major role in the Lebanese civil war, which resulted in the death of tens of thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians.

Most Arab countries refused to receive Arafat and the PLO after they were forced by Israel to leave Lebanon in 1982. Tunis was the only country that agreed to temporarily host the PLO leadership.

Another disaster that befell the Palestinians during Arafat’s era was the mass expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians from the Gulf countries in the early 1990s — an expulsion for which Arafat was directly and personally responsible. His public support for Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait had turned most of the Arab countries against the “ungrateful” Palestinians.

After the signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat established in the West Bank and Gaza Strip a corrupt regime that repressed Palestinians and deprived them of international aid.

Arafat also brought with him to the West Bank and Gaza Strip anarchy and lawlessness. Under his authority, dozens of armed militias and gangs emerged, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which flourished under him.

Arafat’s bad governance and financial corruption radicalized Palestinians and drove them into the open arms of Hamas. His incitement against Israel also drove Palestinians toward radicalism.

The second intifada, which erupted in September 2000 with Arafat’s blessing — and in which thousands of Israelis and Palestinians were killed and wounded — is now being described by many Palestinians as a “strategic mistake.”

Since the death of Arafat, Palestinians have been working hard to pick up the pieces and start a new and better life. With the help of the international community, the Palestinians, in the West Bank at least, are once again busy building government institutions and strengthening their economy.

In light of all this, it is sad to see that the Palestinian leadership has invested millions of dollars in building a mausoleum for Arafat in Ramallah. The money could have been used to establish a center that promotes tolerance and coexistence in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

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