Politics & Policy

The Arafat Model

Some leaders in Iraq are following it, and they must not get away with it

EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the September 12, 2005, issue of National Review.

Iraqis gathered around television sets as midnight approached on August 22. They watched as constitutional drafting-committee members and political elites whispered among themselves. When the Speaker of the National Assembly, Hachim al-Hasani, declared, “We have received a draft of the constitution,” the assembly erupted in applause. “But,” he added, “there are some points that are still outstanding and need to be addressed in the next three days.” Late into the night, politicians and activists continued to meet in the Baghdad homes of the major powerbrokers, grappling with the roles of federalism and Islam in the new Iraq.

While U.S. diplomats and Washington advisers continue to facilitate compromise among Iraq’s disparate sectarian, ethnic, and political groups, the reality emerging outside Baghdad is directly challenging Iraq’s aspirations to constitutionalism. The U.S. government has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to bring outside experts to Baghdad for a period of a few days or a few weeks, but Iraqi powerbrokers dismiss their advice as naïve or irrelevant. Massoud Barzani in the Kurdish north and Abdul Aziz al-Hakim and Moqtada al-Sadr in the Shiite south have rejected the experts’ academic proposals, and have chosen instead a model perfected by Yasir Arafat, the late PLO chairman.

Standing in front of the White House on September 13, 1993, Arafat, Bill Clinton, and Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin shook hands. Western diplomats could hardly contain their optimism as Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Declaration of Principles, upon which they pledged to build Arab-Israeli peace…

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Michael Rubin is a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, senior lecturer at the Naval Postgraduate School’s Center for Civil-Military Relations, and a senior editor of the Middle East Quarterly.

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