Politics & Policy

Arafat Must Go

The key to Mideast process progress.

The optimists thought that Fatah, represented by Arafat and Abbas, had decided to give the roadmap a chance to work, but instead Arafat is playing a two-headed game. While Abbas is performing as the peacemaker, his organization has continued the violence. Despite the “ceasefire” sniper attacks continue to create an ominous cloud over Israelis. Fatah has taken credit for several of these shootings. Abbas’s true intentions are irrelevant, he does not have the ability to achieve any of the goals he set out in Aqaba. Arafat controls the military and political apparatus and is using the former to engage in continued acts of terrorism The option of Israel ridding themselves of Arafat is still a viable option. Arafat has proven himself time and time again to be, not a statesman, but a cold-blooded terrorist who once threw a crippled American out of a boat to drown in his wheelchair and once massacred Israeli children in their kindergarten. His Fatah organization has eclipsed Hamas in the number of terror attacks over the past two years. Now is the time to free ourselves of this most dangerous of menaces.

The debate raging in Israel over what to do with Arafat is mostly focused on what the result would be — either politically or physically — if Arafat left the scene. One thing that’s certain: The era of one man dominating every aspect of Palestinian society and enjoying a near-total concentration of power would be over. Though Abbas is the prime minister, it is doubtful that he would have the ability to lead a Palestinian Authority without Arafat. When Arafat acceded to the creation of a prime minister, he denuded the office of any real authority, leaving Abbas without the ability to carve out a power base. Abbas is a technocrat whose expertise has been focused more inward, toward economic development and reform of the political process. His support comes primarily from the Palestinian democrats, the Gulf states, and many Western countries. While support from those quarters is not unimportant, such backing is not nearly enough to make Abbas a true player in a post-Arafat world. He is perceived as too moderate and a figment of the Bush administration (as is shown clearly by his 2 percent approval rating). He would be unable to muster the muscle and numbers needed in order to make a solid play for the Palestinian leadership.

Without Arafat or a real prime minister, the Palestinian Authority will most likely fall apart. Chaos and violence will reign, leading up to a new leadership. Such a situation could have been averted if Arafat had groomed an heir-apparent, thereby giving the anointed a measure of credibility both within the Palestinian community and before the world generally. Unfortunately for the Palestinian people, Arafat’s hubris and megalomania have kept him from preparing such a protégé.

Two major fault lines will determine what shape a new Palestinian leadership will take. They are the secular and religious rift, and the “old Tunisian” elite and young Turks divide. In almost any scenario, I believe it would leave Israel in no worse circumstances, and in some ways measurably better off than they are now.

It’s important to understand that even with Arafat in place, Israel has never had a partner to negotiate with. At times there were the niceties of diplomatic chatter (such as the current incarnation of the peace process); at other times there was a veneer of security cooperation (which was hollow and ultimately meaningless). In both cases, Arafat was always going through the motions to seem like a statesman, while in reality signing documents that would ultimately snuff out the lives of Israeli civilians. It is quite possible that, in a post-Arafat world, the radical elements within Palestinian society would take control of the territories. These organizations fall into two categories, the Islamist and the secular. The Islamists are represented, primarily, by Islamic Jihad and Hamas. Islamic Jihad is an operational entity, not a political one. They exist to run terrorist operations and have no ability to rule. Hamas, on the other hand, has two arms — the operational end and the “social” one. In addition to their terrorist operations, they have an extensive web of social welfare organizations (all created to service their operations capability) and therefore would be in a better position to replace Arafat. While they are a popular and well-funded organization — primarily from an extensive array of worldwide charities, as well as fiscal backing from Iran — they would find taking over the territories a challenging task. They would face difficulty fighting against both local warlords and the secular radicals. They do not have full access to the military infrastructure that has been stockpiled over the last decade by the Palestinian Authority, and simply do not have the foot soldiers.

The other radical organization is the secular Tanzim. The Tanzim were created by Arafat as a paramilitary force and an offshoot of Arafat’s Fatah organization. This provided for Arafat a level of distance, and therefore a degree of deniability when it came to terrorism, despite Arafat’s direct financing of the organization. They are made up of young radicals who were led, prior to his arrest, by Marwan Barghouti. Barghouti has long been a critic of the “Tunisians,” the Palestinian old guard, and has been on the forefront for pushing reform among the Palestinian Authority. Along with coordinating suicide attacks, the Tanzim are also in control of many of the West Bank and Gaza municipalities, which has given them experience in the art of governance. As a result of their relationship with Arafat, they are much closer to the military infrastructure, which gives them a larger amount of credibility when it comes to taking control in a post-Arafat Palestine. Like Hamas, they openly embrace terrorism, and one would hope that the international community would see them for the terrorists they are — but probably they won’t.

Another scenario would be that the former leaders of the various security forces would create their own enclaves in their areas of greatest support, and rule as warlords. The most prominent of them, although not the only ones, are Mohammed Dahlan in Gaza, and Jibril Rajoub (who has recently been asked by Abbas to come back into service) in the West Bank. They are members of the younger and more moderate guard and — thanks to their position within the Palestinian Authority security framework — have access to arms and the thousands of soldiers necessary to control their particular areas of influence. Furthermore, their forces have been trained and funded by the CIA. These two in particular were the golden boys of Washington, and in some ways Israel. Both are fluent in Hebrew and are considered moderate forces. Unfortunately, of late they have become more militant, and Israel has intelligence that they have at least indirectly participated in the planning of some of the suicide attacks. Having said that, if they were to control their areas of influence, they once again could be moderating forces, especially with the help of Egypt in the case of Dahlan, and Jordan in the case of Rajoub. In such a scenario, Israel might be able to strike separate interim deals with different warlords, allowing the international community to assist in the development of a longer lasting and more politically stable “national” government.

Israel cannot be expected to negotiate and strike deals with a Palestinian entity whose leader, Arafat, uses his puppet prime minister to mouth peaceful words even while simultaneously conducting terrorist operations. It is bizarre that Israel would be forced to endure such a discordant and intolerable situation, particularly in light of the United States prosecution of a war on terrorism. Arafat is a terrorist plain and simple, and no amount of dressing will change that — not a new prime minister, not continued meetings with the European foreign ministers. Arafat deserves nothing short of being erased from the scene. Whatever rises from the chaos that would no doubt ensue within the Palestinian entity after his departure would leave Israel in a more tenable situation than the dangerous limbo it finds itself in now.

Ami Horowitz is a freelance writer in New York.

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