* Former President of the Palestinian Authority and Chairman of the PLO
* Lifelong terrorist whose goal was the destruction of the state of Israel
* Died November 11, 2004
Yasser Arafat is the founding father of Palestinian nationalism. He is also the godfather of 20th century terrorism. The nationalist movement that he created ab ovo remains unique in history as the only one throughout the entire world whose defining paradigm is terrorism, and whose raison d’etre is the destruction of a sovereign state and the decimation of its Jewish population. Even after its leader’s death, still loyal to his legacy, the Palestinian Authority remains focused on the destruction of Israel rather than on a healthy nationalism and the building of an economically viable, Palestinian state.
Arafat not only legitimized, but actually romanticized the murder of innocent civilians, turning terrorism into a populist revolutionary tool. He put airplane hijacking on the political map. He legitimized terrorism, beginning with the moment that he was welcomed to the UN General Assembly on November 13, 1974, kaffiyah on his head and side-arm at his waist, and got a standing ovation from the delegates present. When the Nobel committee awarded him its Peace Prize in 1995, he fulfilled the Orwellian fantasy of reality turned upside down, and truth turned inside out. Evil had become good, wrong had become right, and a mass murderer drenched in the blood of thousands had become a national hero to millions.
Arafat was a protégé of the Communist bloc and succeeded in making his cause a cause of the international left that survived the collapse of the Communist system. The alliance between radical Islam and the secular left that ripened during the post-9/11 war on terror was forged in the battles that Arafat waged.
Arafat resuscitated Jew-hatred and made it the official policy of the United Nations when the Arab bloc leveraged the passage of a UN resolution equating Zionism with racism in 1975. By relentlessly portraying Israel as evil, Arafat revived the heinous stereotype of the malignant Jew to international respectability, eclipsing the effects of the horror of Nazism and proving correct Josef Goebbels’ lesson to Hitler that if you repeat the same lie often enough, people will believe it.
Arafat is responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinians and 95,000 Lebanese Arabs who were killed by his minions during his twelve-year reign of terror in that country. Nearly 500,000 Lebanese were made homeless in the same period. Arafat is also responsible for ruin and poverty that pervades the West Bank. From 1967-1994, under Israeli rule, the economy of the West Bank Palestinians prospered. GDP grew at an average rate of 13 percent per year, tourism sky-rocketed, seven universities were created, infant mortality plummeted, life expectancy increased, and the well-being of the Palestinian Arabs improved substantially by World Bank measures. At one point almost 300,000 Palestinians were working in the Israeli economy, with earnings well above their counterparts in neighboring Arab states. Spurred by this prosperity, the Arab population of the West Bank and Gaza Strip soared from about 950,000 in 1967 to over 3,000,000 in 1994.
But after the Oslo Accords transferred authority in the West Bank to Arafat in July 1994, the decline of its economy followed swiftly. Arafat plunged the West Bank and Gaza into a ten-year reign of terror, poverty, hunger, and malnutrition. After Oslo, billions of dollars in international aid flowed into the PA, from the EU, the US, and Arab countries. Yet the Palestinian people saw almost nothing of this bounty. Rather than using that aid to build his state, with schools, hospitals, roads, and social services, Arafat created a massive kleptocracy of cronies and loyalists who siphoned off vast fortunes to personal accounts in Switzerland and elsewhere. The rest he squandered on his terror war against Israel.
Although hundreds of tons of humanitarian supplies entered the West Bank and Gaza regularly, almost none reached Palestinians, because Arafat created a monopoly on the transfer of food to Arab cities in the West Bank with supplies going only to designated PA officials who then sold them to favored merchants. Thus Arafat and his cronies grew rich by intensifying food shortages at the expense of his own starving people.
Instead of building his state and using its assets for the benefit of his people, Arafat created a terrorist army, waged a terror war, and brought the Palestinians nothing but death, destruction, poverty, humiliation and grief.
As head of the Palestinian Authority, he transformed the schools of the West Bank and Gaza into centers of Jew-hatred. After Hitler, Arafat is the first national leader in history to set up a school system whose purpose was to teach the nation’s children to hate another ethnic group and to instill in them the ambition to murder as many as they could.
Arafat maintained a state of permanent warfare in the Middle East, rejecting one peace proposal after another, culminating in his refusal of the Clinton-Barak offer in 2000 which would have given Palestinians a state on 97 percent of the territory they had asked for. Throughout his career, Arafat’s greed, his hunger for power, and his compulsion to push the Jews into the sea subordinated all other considerations. No matter how many died, no matter how much suffering he caused, no matter how catastrophic his one-man rule, he stubbornly pursued his destructive course to the end.
The moment and place of Arafat’s birth are uncertain and still debated. His birth certificate and documents from Cairo University indicate that he was born in Cairo, Egypt, on August 4th or 24th, 1929. His name was Mohammed Abd el-Rahman Abd el-Raouf Arafat el-Qudua el-Husseini, the 7th or the 4th child of a middle-class merchant. But he and many supporters insist that he was born in Jerusalem, British Mandatory Palestine; and that his detractors forged the documentation of his Cairene origins.
His childhood was difficult and unhappy. His mother died when he was only four. He did not get along with his father or his step-mother and was sent from his home in Cairo to relatives in Palestine at an early age. He claims to have worked for the infamous Hajj Amin el-Husseini during the 1948 war, leading troops into battle (although he was only 18) and even destroying an Israeli tank in an act of great personal bravery. Historians point out that Israel had no tanks in 1948, so this account of derring-do is obviously fictional. But apparently his involvement in that war was active enough for him to witness the atrocities that the Egyptians committed against the Arabs of southern Palestine. His authorized biography includes his eye-witness account of how the Egyptian army drove Palestinians in the south from their homes and forced them at gun-point into what he describes as ‘concentration camps’ in the Gaza Strip. No doubt inadvertently, his biography tells the world that the Egyptians, and not the Jews, were responsible for at least 40 percent of the Palestinian refugees.
After the war he returned to Egypt and studied engineering at King Fu’ad University in Cairo, but did not complete his degree. There he rose quickly to leadership in the Union of Palestinian Students, even though his Egyptian accent was so thick that many Palestinian students refused to believe that he could be trusted as a proponent of the Palestinian cause.
How he came to adopt the Palestinian cause as his life’s mission is not clear. His early but short-lived membership in el-Akhwan el-Muslemeen (the Muslim Brotherhood) may have impelled him in that direction, since the Brotherhood – mentor to Osama bin Laden and forerunner of al-Qaeda — sought to create a renaissance of the “pure” Moslem culture of the Caliphate, by waging guerrilla warfare against errant or secular Moslem states, and against Israel and the West. In his own words, he claimed to be a “man of destiny,” and was moved even in his twenties, to fulfill that destiny at great personal sacrifice. He postponed marriage until his 60’s, maintained on the surface an austere, almost ascetic, lifestyle, and projected his self-made image to the world: the freedom fighter who would do anything for his cause.
In 1957 he went to Kuwait where he got a job with the Ministry of Public Works. He claims to have started his own engineering company at that time, and amassed great wealth which he spent on the creation and development of his organization dedicated to the liberation of “Palestine.” However, there is no record to authenticate his claims. He petitioned the Emir of Kuwait who gave him $13,000,000, which he used to publish his movement’s newspaper, Falastinunu (Our Palestine), create and staff an office, and develop a para-military training program for his followers. In Falastinunu he promulgated the ideology of Palestinian redemption by violent means. There too he laid the groundwork for what would later become the Palestinian revisionist faux-history with its claims of a Palestinian antiquity in the Holy Land, the late-comer Zionist invasion and attempted genocide of the indigenous “native Palestinians,” and the concept of the Palestinians as a separate and defined national group.
On October 10, 1959, while still in Kuwait, he officially founded his terror organization, called “Haraqat at-Tahrir al-Watani al-Falastini” (the Organization for the Liberation of the Palestinian Nation). He used its reverse acronym, FaTaH, to generate the name el-Fatah (the break-through, the victory) by which his group would become known world-wide (interestingly, the acronym HaTaF has a negative implication in Arabic, meaning sudden or unexpected death).
Since the Arab states had failed to eradicate Israel in traditional warfare, he chose terrorism as his tactic of choice. After several years of recruitment and training, el-Fatah was ready. Along with his followers, he relocated to Lebanon, and on January 1, 1965, he launched his first attack from across the Lebanese border: the destruction of some equipment in an Israeli pumping station, with a hand-made bomb. Laughably ineffective, it became in the eyes of the Arabs a major victory, simply because this short, chubby, scruffy looking unkempt young man had the courage to strike at Israel. Spin and hype in a receptive Arab press turned what was little more than vandalism into a military assault, catapulting Arafat into the same league as Izz-ad-Din el-Qassam and other Arab terrorists of the previous era. Suddenly he was a hero to rank-and-file Arabs, but an embarrassment to the Arab leaders whose military efforts against Israel had failed.
From his new position of popularity he sought and obtained the support of the Syrian dictatorship (although he was imprisoned briefly in Syria due to some internecine rivalries). Within a few years, with a growing number of ‘victories’ to burnish his reputation, he became a serious threat to established Arab leaders, and especially the Egyptian dictator Gamal Abd el-Nasser.
Nasser recognized the potential popularity and power of a terrorist guerrilla force that could strike at Israel with relative impunity and then fade away into the obscuring fog of statelessness. However militarily ineffectual those strikes might be, the mere fact that some Arab leader was killing Jews in Israel generated popularity and support in the Arab world. Under the tutelage of the Soviet dictatorship, Nasser founded the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in May, 1964, with Ahmed Shuqeiri at its head. Nasser’s goal was to have the PLO displace el-Fatah in the Arab popular mind as the new strike-force against the “Zionist enemy”.
The Six Day War between Israel and the Arab dictatorships changed things dramatically. Again the massive Arab armies, thoroughly outfitted with the best equipment that Communist Russia could provide, were humiliated by tiny Israel’s pre-emptive strike. Shuqeiri was indecisive, but Arafat seized the opportunity and forged an alliance with Nasser. From September to December, 1967, Nasser supported Arafat in his attempt to infiltrate the West Bank and to develop a grass-roots foundation for a major terror war against Israel. These efforts were unsuccessful because local West Bank Palestinians cooperated with Israel and aided them in their pursuit of him and his el-Fatah operatives.
Ironically, Arafat described this era in his authorized biography as a time of his greatest diplomacy. When word of Israel’s peace offers reached him, he and his adjutants understood at once that if there were peace between Israel and Jordan, there would be no hope for a Palestinian state. So he set off on a grueling shuttle-stop tour of major Arab countries, preaching the need to reject unconditionally any peace agreement with the Jewish State. Arafat claims credit for the results of the Khartoum Conference in which all the Arab dictators and the PLO unanimously voted to reject Israel’s offer to return much of the land it had occupied as a result of the war in exchange for peace. With this admission, Arafat inadvertently takes the responsibility for Israel’s prolonged sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Had he not intervened, Israel could have made peace with Jordan, and the West Bank would have reverted to Jordanian sovereignty in 1967.
Perhaps because of this, his efforts found no support among the Arabs of the West Bank. So he established a base for his fledgling terror army in the city of Salt which is in southwestern Jordan. From there he executed some raids across the Jordan River and began to establish clandestine contacts with Palestinian officers in the Jordan Legion, almost half of whose officers were Palestinians.
Arafat’s fortunes began to look up after the Israeli army under the direction of Moshe Dayan launched a limited invasion of Jordan in March, 1968. The invasion was a response to Arafat’s raids and its objective was the village of Karama, near the Jordan River, where most of Arafat’s men were encamped. The raid took a terrible toll of terrorist fighters. When Jordanian artillery forces, under the command of Palestinians, unexpectedly opened fire on the Israeli force, the Israeli force retreated, not wishing to escalate the raid into a confrontation with Jordan.
Now Arafat’s brilliance as a propagandist came to the fore. Organizing his defeated force into a cavalcade, he marched into Salt with guns firing in the air, to cheers of victory and success, as though he had forced the Israeli retreat. He played upon the fact that Karama means “dignity” in Palestinian Arabic, and claimed that he had liberated Palestinian Karama in liberating Jordanian Karama, and at last had restored the dignity of the Arab people by smashing the Israeli force and driving it, fleeing in shame and disarray, across the Jordan. It was pure fiction, but the Arabs believed it. Soon money and recruits were pouring in, and he was able to reconstitute and equip his el-Fatah force into a formidable terror army.
With the West Bank and Gaza Strip now under Israeli control, Arafat needed to make some hasty changes in the PLO covenant. Since the PLO’s original 1964 Covenant explicitly recognized Judea, Samaria, and the eastern portion of Jerusalem, and Gaza as belonging to Jordan and Egypt, the only homeland it sought to liberate was the State of Israel. However, when Jordan and Egypt lost control of the West Bank and Gaza because of their defeat in the Six Day War, Arafat had the PLO revise the Covenant on July 17, 1968, to change its operative language and assert a claim of sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Leveraging his Karama “victory” and his newly won prominence, he displaced Shuqeiri as head of the PLO in February of 1969. While the PLO and el-Fatah remained distinct entities, they were unified beneath the umbrella of Arafat’s leadership. Nasser was not happy; but Shuqeiri was no match for Arafat, and after the failure of several assassination attempts (which may have been initiated by Nasser), Arafat emerged as the unchallenged leader of the Arab terrorist war against Israel.
At this point Soviet involvement became critical. Probably under Russian tutelage, Arafat signed the “Cairo Agreement” (November 3, 1969), which allowed him, with overt Egyptian and Syrian backing and covert Russian support, to move a large part of his terror army into south Lebanon. There his forces set up centers of operation and prepared for terror attacks against Israel’s northern border, while Arafat and the rest of his forces remained in Jordan.
The three years of Arafat’s sojourn in Jordan were not without internal problems. El-Fatah terrorists routinely clashed with Jordanian soldiers (more than 900 armed encounters between 1967 and 1970). Arafat’s men used cookie-cutter Mafia tactics to smuggle cigarettes, drugs, and alcohol, extort money from local Jordanians, set up road blocks to exact tolls, and kidnap notables for ransom to finance “the revolution.” When Jordanian forces tried to keep order, el-Fatah and the PLO shot them.
Jordan’s King Hussein was not eager for a confrontation. At that time, at least 60% of his population was Palestinian, as was about half of his officer corps. Faced with Arafat’s threats of civil war, Hussein resorted to appeasement, even offering Arafat a position in the Jordanian parliament. Arafat refused, saying that his only goal in life was to destroy Israel. When Assistant Secretary of State Joseph Cisco came to Jordan in April, 1970, Arafat organized massive anti-American riots throughout the country, during which an American military attaché was murdered and another kidnapped. Humiliated before his most important ally, Hussein did nothing.
At this juncture, Arafat was in a position to leverage his power in Jordan into what might have been a tipping point of success for the Palestinian movement. His position would have been unassailable if he had cooperated with the King, restrained the PLO from its illegal tactics and Mafioso gun-slinging, and kept good relations with his Arab state sponsors, especially Nasser. Hussein did not want civil war, and would have welcomed any reasonable compromise that would keep his kingdom intact. But Arafat’s preference for romanticized violence, his inability to control the radical sub-groups of the PLO, his affinity for chaos, and his willingness to renege on his agreements, forced the King to take action.
In July, 1970, Egypt and Jordan accepted U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers’ plan for Israel’s withdrawal from the West Bank and Gaza in exchange for peace and recognition. But instead of embracing the plan and taking control of the West Bank and Gaza, Arafat denounced it, re-iterated his determination to reject any peace agreement, and organized riots throughout Jordan in order to prevent the carrying out of a political solution. The liberated Palestine he sought – from the Jordan to the sea – could only be achieved through fire and blood. All peace agreements that left Israel intact were worthless and worse – counter-productive. Nasser was furious, and skillfully let King Hussein know that he had withdrawn his support for Arafat. Blundering ahead, Arafat announced it was time to overthrow King Hussein, and launched an insurrection. Throughout August, 1970, fighting between Arafat’s forces and the Jordan Legion escalated. Arafat looked forward to support from Syria when he launched his final coup, and was caught off guard when he discovered that the United States had given Israel a green light to intervene if Syria invaded Jordan.
After two failed attempts to assassinate him, King Hussein came to the conclusion that he had no choice but to risk a civil war to oust Arafat. The final straw came on September 6, 1970, when the People’s Front for the Liberation of Palestine, titularly under Arafat’s control, hijacked one Swiss and two American airliners. Two of the planes landed in Jordan, where they were blown up. The passengers were held as hostages, to be released in exchange for PLO and other terrorists in Israeli jails.
At this point, King Hussein declared martial law, and ordered Arafat and his men out of Jordan. Arafat responded by demanding a national unity government with himself at its head. Hussein then ordered his 55,000 soldiers and 300 tanks to advance and PLO forces in Amman, Salt, Irbid, and all Palestinian refugee camps came under siege.
In the crisis he had provoked, Arafat proved an ineffectual leader. He neither organized and led his troops nor employed any diplomatic skill to diffuse the situation. Throughout the fighting, he sat paralyzed in his headquarters, as his field commanders begged for orders. Leaderless, some PLO soldiers fought well, but most were ineffectual. Meanwhile, although radio broadcasts throughout much of the Arab world were strongly pro-PLO, no assistance came from any quarter. When Syria sent an armored battalion into northern Jordan, Israeli jets took off to meet them. The Syrian tanks promptly turned around. Arafat fled, disguised as a woman (or as a Kuwaiti Bedouin man per some accounts), while about 10,000 of his men were massacred by the Jordanian forces.
Arafat’s own account of this, his first encounter with real warfare, is somewhat different. His authorized biography touches only lightly on his role as the head of the Palestinian forces, but goes into great detail about his version of the barbarism and brutality of the Jordanian forces. Some semblance of history can be reconstructed from the accounts of foreign journalists in Israel, who were stunned to see hundreds of PLO terrorists swim across the Jordan River barefoot and in their underwear, and surrender to Israeli troops, rather than fall into the hands of the Jordan Legion.
In eleven days it was over. Seeing his forces tottering on the brink of total defeat and perhaps annihilation, Arafat, now in Sudan, agreed to face a tribunal of Arab leaders who would adjudicate an end to the violence. Hussein agreed to meet with Arafat, before the tribunal. After six hours of deliberation, the rulers of Egypt, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Sudan decided in favor of the King. And to make matters worse, Arafat’s last erstwhile patron, the dictator Nasser, died of a heart attack while seeing members of the tribunal off at the Cairo airport.
A humbled Arafat returned to Jordan while King Hussein forced the remaining PLO terrorists out of his cities. In a vain and costly attempt to keep the war going, Arafat retreated to the mountains in northern Jordan; but he found no support there and, worse, he learned that Hafez el-Assad had become the new dictator in Syria and was determined to end the PLO threat by assassinating Arafat. By March of 1971, Arafat had no choice but to make his way clandestinely to Lebanon, the only Arab country too weak to throw him out.
Once in Lebanon, he sought to take control of the PLO forces that had been there since the Cairo Agreement. But he discovered that his chief surviving officers quite correctly blamed him for the Jordan debacle, which had become known as “Black September”). Resentment for the great and senseless loss of life in Jordan and perhaps the Syrian dictator were behind two attempts on his life. Arafat survived these to use his ample diplomatic skills to turn the tables on his opponents inside of el-Fatah and the PLO.
In his defense, Arafat argued that in the few short years that he had led his liberation army, he had awakened Palestinian nationalism (actually he had invented it), recruited and armed a substantial terror army (the PLO forces in Lebanon were unscathed by the Black September catastrophe), initiated war against Israel (no one seemed to notice that his forays had been ineffectual and he had suffered defeat), thwarted efforts by Egypt and Syria to control the PLO, made it a state within a state in both Jordan and Lebanon (a big plus for the PLO although not so magnanimously received by the Jordanians or Lebanese), had raised substantial support from a growing number of rich ex-patriot Palestinians and supporters throughout the Arab world, and, perhaps most important of all, established a fraternal relationship with the Soviet dictators.
Despite his failures to gain grass roots support in the West Bank after the Six Day War, and his catastrophic miscalculations leading to the defeat of Black September, Arafat was able by early 1971 to successfully re-establish himself as the unchallenged PLO military and political leader.
Arafat’s success at re-establishing his leadership over el-Fatah and the PLO in Lebanon was due in no small part to the support he suddenly began to receive from the Kremlin. The Soviet dictatorship’s support seems to have been critical in developing the strategy behind the creation of the PLO; but now the relationship was ratcheted up to a higher, and more lethal, level.
By 1973, Arafat was a Soviet puppet and would remain such until the fall of Communism. He was an honored guest at the table of the dictator of the Soviet satellite, Rumania, whose head of intelligence, Ian Michai Pacepa, was assigned to be his main handler. Arafat’s adjutants were trained by the KGB in guerrilla warfare, espionage, and demolition, and his ideologues were sent to North Vietnam to learn the art of political war from Ho Chi Minh.
Ho’s success with leftwing sympathizers in the United States and Europe had Arafat green with envy. “Progressive” activists on American campuses, under the tutelage of North Vietnamese operatives, had succeeded in re-framing the Viet Nam war from a Communist conquest of the South into a struggle for national liberation. The history of this North Vietnamese PR campaign which provided the key to the Communist victory and the slaughter of two-and-a-half million Indo-Chinese has not yet been written. But when it is, it should include the account given by Ho’s trainers to the Palestinian terrorist Abu Iyad (aka Salah Khalaf).
The message was this: Stop talking about annihilating Israel and instead turn your terror war into a struggle for human rights. Then you will have the American people eating out of your hand. (Cf Abu Iyad’s Palestinian Without A Motherland – not yet translated).
Soviet interest in Arafat was motivated largely by his success in organizing and motivating his terrorist followers. The Soviet Union’s Cold War plans needed someone with just those talents to expand and develop the terror arm of Soviet activity in the Third World, and especially in the Moslem world. Within a few years, Russian-trained PLO operatives were manning a dozen terror-training camps in Syria and Lebanon, and deploying terror cells across the globe from Germany to Nicaragua, Turkey to Iran. (A description of these activities can be found in Ian Pacepa’s Red Horizons).
Much of this global terror endeavor was bankrolled by the Saudi royal family, who sought to keep their own reins over this gifted terrorist who could enter a room full of antagonists and exit a few hours later with a band of supporters.
No novices at the art of deploying agents and managing them, the KGB worked with Pacepa to create the controls needed to make sure that Arafat kept with the program. Secret cameras filmed Arafat’s nightly orgies of homosexual cavorting with his body guards while he was a guest at the dictator Nicolae Ceausescu’s mansion. They also kept careful record of the young boys (mostly teens from Rumanian orphanages) with whom Ceausescu plied Arafat’s seemingly limitless pedophilia. Given the traditional Moslem taboos regarding homosexuality, the KGB easily got what it needed to keep Arafat under control (See Pacepa).
Gradually, Ceausescu’s own lessons in Machiavellian statecraft sank in. During his early Lebanon years, Arafat developed tactics that would maintain a statesmanlike front even while he plotted his terrorist acts and hold him in good stead with the West for decades. In 1971, he created the “Black September” terror organization, which the following year carried out the attacks on the Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich and two failed assassination attempts against Golda Meir. But Arafat claimed he had no connection with the group, and even opposed their actions. His orders to assassinate American diplomats in Sudan in 1973 were carried out the same way. Some intelligence sources believe that he did the same thing with his lieutenant Abu Nidal (a nom de guerre which meant “father of destruction”) and the Abu Nidal group. And he used the same ploy in assassinating members of his own organization who posed a threat to his leadership (See Loftus and Aarons), pretending that his followers were under attack by rogue Arab terrorists. This strategy came in handy years later when his long-time friend and lieutenant Abu Iyad (Salah Khalaf) objected to his strategy of alliance with Saddam Hussein. Abu Iyad was then conveniently murdered by the Abu Nidal group while Arafat condemned the murder and shed crocodile tears.
In the course of time, Arafat discovered that even the flimsiest and most transparent excuses sufficed for the West, and especially western media, to exonerate him, blame Israel for its retaliatory or preventative attacks, and accept his insistence that he was a statesman and a freedom fighter and could not control his terrorists, when in fact he was orchestrating them. (See Rubin and Rubin).
From 1970 to 1982, Arafat built, maintained and utilized a state within a state in southern Lebanon. Working with resources (money, consultants, equipment, arms, and volunteers) from the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Syria, he was able to establish an unchallenged base of operations within which he could train a veritable army of terrorists, integrate into his army modern armaments including tanks, anti-aircraft weaponry, and Katyusha rockets, and launch raids into Israel and into Jordan, with almost complete impunity.
From Arafat’s base in Lebanon, Katyusha rockets rained almost nightly for weeks on end on Israeli towns on the northern border. Terror gangs under the PLO launched regular attacks against civilian targets including a high school in Ma’a lot in, May 1974, which killed 21 children and wounded 65, the city of Kiryat Shemona, in December 1974, which killed 52 and wounded more than 100, bombs in downtown Jerusalem, and the Savoy Hotel in Tel-Aviv, in March 1975, which left 11 dead and scores wounded. All the while, Arafat enjoyed the status of statesman, and was invited to address the Un General Assembly as the leader of the Palestinian cause.
Arafat’s mini-state had been established in the heart of Christian Lebanon. The PLO forcibly evicted hundreds of thousands of mostly Christian Lebanese from their homes in villages and towns near the southern border with Israel. The International Red Cross surmises that at least 95,000 Lebanese were killed by the PLO (and later by Syria after it occupied Lebanon in 1976, perhaps because Hafez el-Assad wanted to make sure that the PLO did not completely overwhelm it). Internecine rivalries among the Arab terror groups, and between Arab and Druze and Christian, turned Lebanon into a war zone, and all but destroyed Beirut.
Thus did Arafat’s thugs systematically dismantle the Middle East’s only democracy besides Israel. When Lebanon’s President complained to the UN that the PLO was destroying his country, the call fell on deaf ears. Arafat was able to mount on-going terror operations against Israel without a murmur of objection, much less condemnation, from the West. But when Israel retaliated, its government was condemned for violating the territorial integrity of Lebanon, a sovereign state. Arafat’s power and influence grew to such proportions that he was able to build up military strength approximating that of a small but fully equipped army: with tanks, artillery, anti-aircraft and anti-tank weaponry, short and medium ranged rockets, and tens of thousands of men under arms. He was even working on the acquisition of a small air force.
With this base of operations, his financial support from the Saudis, and his alliance with the Soviet bloc, Arafat’s prestige steadily grew, as did his power in the Arab world. After the humiliating defeat of Egypt and Syria in their aggressive 1973 war against Israel, Arafat was able to claim the honor of being the only Arab leader able to mount a successful military campaign against Israel. The PLO was acknowledged almost world-wide as the Palestinians’ government in exile, and Arafat its de facto leader. The political strategy Arafat had learned from his Communist mentors was bearing fruit. Here was a scruffy, but tenacious and courageous little man leading an oppressed, impoverished, homeless people in their desperate struggle for national self-determination. And in the eyes of the world, this murderer of schoolchildren was standing up to the strongest military force in the Middle East.
The advice that Ho Chi Minh had given to Abu Iyad to turn the terrorist war into a classic leftwing cause, had been put into action and was succeeding better than anyone could have expected. It had achieved its first milestone with Arafat’s appearance at the UN General Assembly on November 13, 1974. Speaking before the entire world, Arafat rattled off a 90-minute speech that set forth the basic themes that would provide the outline for his political pronouncements until his death.
1.) Zionism and Israel were evil, imperialist, colonialist, and racist — in short, too evil to be allowed to exist.
2.) The Palestinians were a classic Third World victim of colonialist oppression, racist occupation, Western imperialism, and apartheid discrimination, even though there had never been a Palestinian state and no Palestinian national movement until 1956 – eight years after the creation of Israel. And even though as late as 1967 (until the Arabs’ failed war of aggression against Israel) the West Bank and Gaza were under Arab rule.
3.) The PLO was the vanguard of Palestinian freedom fighters not terrorists, a patent falsehood.
Arafat held an olive branch in one hand, and a gun in the other. If he did not get the world’s support in the Palestinian struggle for nationhood, the world would be at fault for the disastrous violence and bloodshed that would ensue. Arafat claimed (falsely) that the Palestinian national identity was an established fact of history (there is no cultural or ethnic or language difference between Palestinians and the Syrians and Jordanians, whose states were created by British and French imperialists). He also asserted the ‘right of return’ for Palestinian refugees, which he claimed was canonized in international law and UN resolutions. But there is no right of return for those defeated in wars of aggression. Millions of Germans for example were displaced from their ancient homes in East Prussia to compensate the Poles for the injuries inflicted on them in World War II. The West Bank and Gaza had been used for three wars against Israel in less than a generation.
Finally, Arafat argued that the PLO, despite the fact that its sole aim was the destruction of a member state of the UN, was a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and as such deserved a place at the UN and other international forums on a par with other member states.
Arafat was an honored guest at the UN just 18 months after his henchmen had taken Israeli athletes hostage at the Munich Olympic Games and murdered them, and despite the fact that his appearance in military dress and his militaristic message fundamentally contradicted the bylaws, rules, and aims of the institution. He got a standing ovation from the General Assembly, save for the representatives of the United States and Israel. The PLO became an official observer at the UN, and a year later the UN General Assembly voted its most infamous resolution, declaring that “Zionism is Racism,” making the Jews the only people in the world whose national liberation movement the UN had ever condemned. The PLO gained full membership in the Nonaligned Movement, and by the late 1970s, 86 countries recognized the PLO – a terrorist organization — while only 72 recognized the democratic state of Israel.
With the entry of the Saudi royal family and its limitless funds into the world of mass media in 1974, the surrender of much of the global media to having its Middle East content vetted by Arab propagandists became common. Thus the world’s press came to serve as a main support to the lies that Arafat and the PLO’s enthusiastic academics propagated about their history and agendas.
Historically, the PLO had nine major sources of income. Arafat controlled all of them, directly or indirectly, which meant that he always had hundreds of thousands of dollars at his immediate disposal and hundreds of millions in bank accounts. These funds came from Arab states to support the terror activities; from a tax on Palestinians abroad; from the United Nations and the European Union; protection money from corporations and sovereign states in the Arab world, Asia, and Europe in the hopes of averting terror in their areas; money from illegal arms dealing; money laundering and counterfeiting; drug trafficking and automobile theft. The illegal activities of the PLO ranged across every imaginable area of criminal endeavor, with its victims drawn from local Palestinians, diaspora Palestinians, Arab, European and Israeli businesses. There is no known accounting of the total income from these activities; but sums are estimated to be in the tens of billions of dollars per year.
Another source of income for Arafat and his cronies was money earmarked for Palestinian refugees. Over the years, the UN supplied billions of dollars to Palestinian refugees via UNWRA. Much of this money went to the PLO offices and military training installations in the refugee camps. Since the UN was controlled by the Arab bloc, nothing was done to monitor the funds. The lion’s share of the money that went to UNRWA was provided by the United States and the European Union (the super-rich oil sheikhdoms gave in toto less than 3% per year on average).
With the money he skimmed from these PLO enterprises, Arafat made himself one of the wealthiest individuals in the world, and created several times over the army and the armaments he needed to wage a 40-year terror war against Israel.
Tragically, the West in general, and the EU in particular, turned a blind eye to his criminal activity, even knowing that only through such illegal incomes could he continue his carnage (See Ehrenfeld).
Abba Eban once quipped that the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. From the Western point of view, this seems accurate. But for Arafat, what appeared to the West as opportunities were actually traps to be avoided at all costs. Peace with Israel would mean the end of the dream of a liberated Palestine and the end of Arafat the liberator. Peace was therefore never on the agenda for him or the PLO he had created. Opportunities for peace were regarded as dangerous threats to the goal that Arafat never wavered from: the destruction of Israel. His (self-described) effort to torpedo any chance of peace after the Six-Day War is the first manifestation of his commitment to terrorism until victory, which for him always meant the “liberation” of Palestine from Jordan to the sea. This was not a sentiment limited to Arafat. When he toyed with accepting the Rogers Plan in 1970, he faced threats of assassination from his own forces within the PLO and el-Fatah (See Rubin and Rubin).
To those who understood his goal, it was no surprise when he rejected the invitation from Anwar Sadat to join him and Menahem Begin at Camp David I in 1979 to negotiate an Arab-Israeli peace. He could have been the President of a new Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip had he chosen to participate. Sadat’s invitation had great appeal to local West Bank leaders. But Arafat intimidated them into silence, assassinating several, including the Mayor of Nablus, as frustrated US and Egyptian officials tried to coax them into joining in the peace talks.
Arafat did everything possible to torpedo the plan. His stand may have been influenced at least in part by the success of the Islamic radical, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini who had just overthrown the Shah of Iran. If that obscure Iranian cleric could unseat the Shah and hold American officials hostage for 444 days, then Arafat could have his cake in Palestine and eat it too (See Rubin and Rubin, Aburish).
Two years later, Arafat successfully lobbied for the defeat of the Saudi peace plan proposed at the Arab conference in Fez, October 1981. Even though the plan called for the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip to be administered by Arafat and the PLO under UN tutelage, Arafat rejected it and convinced the other 20 Arab states to do so as well. In his view, Palestine could only be redeemed in “fire and blood.”
This posture was to become his hallmark in the future, as he found one excuse after another to explain to his frustrated sponsors and supporters in the West why he rejected every peace plan offered him. To him these plans were not opportunities…..they were threats.
As Arafat built his terror army in southern Lebanon, Israel watched with apprehension.
Finally, in 1978, Israeli forces invaded Lebanon and drove the PLO from its bases in the south. Two months later the Israeli forces withdrew, handing over control to the UN. But almost immediately the PLO forces re-infiltrated. The UN troops did nothing to stop them, which was hardly surprising since the UN itself had embraced the terrorist and his cause five years earlier. Soon the PLO renewed attacks on Israel with upgraded weapons and larger forces. With PLO terror bases built intentionally alongside of UN emplacements and inside of Lebanese villages, Israel was limited in its retaliation options. It did not want to bomb those bases and run the risk of creating UN or civilian casualties. As a result, Israeli reprisals were largely ineffectual.
In July, 1981, the US brokered a cease-fire, gaining grudging agreement from Arafat to stop the attacks. When the attacks stopped, Israeli reprisals stopped too. But the PLO soon violated the cease-fire with more than 270 attacks over the next 11 months. Twenty-nine Israelis died, and more than 300 were injured.
Meanwhile, contrary to the terms of the cease-fire agreement, Arafat increased his terrorist forces to almost 20,000 men, with enough weapons to equip five brigades; along with hundreds of Russian tanks, anti-aircraft guns, mortars, Katyusha rockets, and sophisticated surface-to-air missiles. It was clear to Israel that Arafat was gearing up for a major escalation. And that was clear to the local Lebanese as well. By the end of 1981, they were fleeing by the tens of thousands, many of them finding refuge in Israel.
On June 2, 1982, the Abu Nidal group attempted the assassination of Israel’s Ambassador to Great Britain. Israel launched a reprisal raid on June 4, but two days later when the PLO responded with massive artillery attacks on Israeli civilians, Israel launched its full-scale invasion of southern Lebanon, Operation “Peace for Galilee.” The time had come to clear the invading PLO army out.
But while no one took Arafat to task for invading and destroying Lebanon, Israel was immediately criticized for its retaliatory strike. But as Henry Kissinger observed, “No sovereign state can tolerate indefinitely the buildup along its borders of a military force dedicated to its destruction…(and implementing)…periodic shelling and raids”. Israel’s invasion was pre-emptive, but defensive; and its cause was the escalating threat posed by Arafat and the PLO. If someone has a gun pointed at your head, you don’t wait until he shoots before you take defensive action.
The Syrian dictatorship quickly entered the war. It increased its occupation army from 25,000 to 40,000 men, and committed air and anti-aircraft forces against Israel. Syria quickly lost 100 planes in air combat. Israel lost none. Israeli planes destroyed all Syrian anti-aircraft emplacements. Thereafter, Syria kept its forces out of future fighting; but remained in eastern Lebanon.
Surviving PLO terrorists fled to Beirut, leaving Israel in complete control of the southern part of the country. Lebanese returned to their homes, farms and villages, and openly celebrated the departure of the PLO. They greeted the Israeli soldiers with flowers and champagne. They saw the Israelis as liberators rather than as invaders.
The Israeli strike in Lebanon enjoyed lightning success. PLO forces, although numbering in the tens of thousands, fully armed, and in possession of armor and artillery, were ineffectual against the Israelis. While Syria still retained an occupying force of 40,000 in Eastern Lebanon, its stinging defeat in air and ground engagements made it unwilling to interfere with the Israeli advance.
After a week of war, the IDF was in control of all southern Lebanon. Its tanks and artillery surrounded Beirut, trapping Arafat and about 15,000 Palestinian terrorists along with some 500,000 Lebanese. At this point, the Israeli high command made a fateful decision. The invasion bore the code name “Pine Trees.” There were two phases: “little pines” and “big pines”. The objectives of “little pines”, the expulsion of the PLO from southern Lebanon, had been achieved. Now the military began “big pines” — the complete expulsion of the PLO from Lebanon, and the creation of a Lebanese government that would make peace with Israel.
To that end, Ariel Sharon, then Minister of Defense, worked secretly with Bashir Gemayel, the leader of the Lebanese Christian Maronite Phalangist forces. Gemayel agreed to spearhead the attack on the PLO in Beirut provided that he would have support for the creation of a Christian dominated government with himself as its leader. Gemayel was enthused about the political part of the plan. However, when it came time to make a military move, he refused to commit his troops. He was apparently content to let Israel do the fighting, knowing that even without his military participation, Israel would still support him as leader of the first Lebanese government willing to make peace with Israel. So Sharon was left with an unexpected predicament. To implement “big pines,” the Israeli army would need to mount its own offensive against the PLO in western Beirut. Since the PLO systematically used civilians as human shields, such an offensive would be costly in both Israeli and Lebanese lives.
To reduce casualties, Israel mounted a campaign of psychological warfare. Loud speakers and leaflets encouraged the non-combatant Lebanese to withdraw from areas held by the PLO, warning that the only alternative for the PLO was surrender or annihilation. Water and power supplies were cut off, but were soon re-connected at U.S. President Reagan’s behest, for fear of creating a humanitarian crisis. An artillery and air barrage was begun. Arafat’s response, knowing Israel’s sensitivity to civilian casualties, was to declare that he and his terrorist forces would continue to use the Lebanese as human shields, and turn Beirut into another “Stalingrad.” The term was a calculated red flag for his leftwing supporters around the world. Sharon called Arafat’s bluff. He maintained the siege and bombardment. Never in their worst nightmares had the terrorists imagined the Israelis willing to engage in such an onslaught, knowing that it caused mounting civilian casualties. But, with the help of its left-wing sympathizers, the PLO propaganda campaign in the court of world opinion, ultimately paid off. Many Israelis and Americans were unwilling to countenance the collateral damage even though Arafat’s tactics of using civilians as shields made it necessary.
By mid-July the PLO had had enough, but Arafat was by no means defeated. Once again as a military leader he had been a total failure. He was paralyzed with indecision when Sharon began the siege of Beirut, and gambled on Israel’s unwillingness to cause civilian casualties. He lost. But he knew that he had the sympathies of European and American leaders who expressed discomfort with the hundreds of Lebanese civilian deaths. Blaming Israel for the civilian casualties, Arafat pleaded to President Reagan, who sent Phillip Habib to arrange for the PLO’s safe departure from Lebanon. The Israeli government itself faltered. It was unwilling to kill Arafat on the problematic theory that he would be replaced by even more uncompromising forces. Even the Israelis seemed to believe Arafat’s propaganda.
No country wanted to accept Arafat and his troops. After weeks of negotiation, Habib finally found a solution. European and American troops would supervise the evacuation, and PLO terrorists would be split up. Some to Syria, Iraq, and Yemen; but most (about 8,500) left on August 30, 1982, accompanying Arafat to Tunis.
On September 14, the hope for a peace agreement with Lebanon died when Bashir Gemayel was assassinated.
Arafat was defeated, but with the complicity of the United States and Europe, Arafat was allowed to live to fight another day. More than that, he was able to succeed once again in snatching a political victory from the jaws of military defeat. Israel watched as its military triumph was scuttled by a political turn-about that made the terrorists look like victims, and the victims look like persecutors. It was a turning point in the propaganda war that Ho Chi Minh and the KGB had inspired and that had turned Arafat from a terrorist into a “freedom fighter.”
Arafat’s exile did not stop him from pursuing his agenda. He still had friends in high places, especially Iran, Libya, Iraq, the Soviet Union, and among some political leaders in Western Europe. With their support he was able to carry out a number of attacks, primarily against Jews and Israelis in Europe. Ever the master of spin and dissimulation, he blamed these on the Mossad, claiming that these were propaganda ploys to increase Jewish willingness to emigrate to Israel (See Rubin and Rubin). El-Fatah trainers and gunmen were also involved in the October 1983 bombing of the US Marine barracks in Beirut by the Islamic jihadist group Hizbollah (241 Americans killed and hundreds more wounded).
After years of these attacks, Israel retaliated with an air strike on Arafat’s Tunis offices, killing 75. Arafat exited one of the buildings merely 7 minutes before it was destroyed by Israeli bombs. After that close escape, he promoted the self-serving legend that, as a “man of destiny” he enjoyed special divine protection and a prescient sixth sense.
After narrowly escaping death, Arafat was presented with an opportunity that was to define the rest of his career. Following an auto accident in which a Jewish driver lost control of his car and fatally hit four Arabs in Gaza, Palestinian youth launched rock-throwing attacks on Israeli troops patrolling the territories. These riots became known as the “Intifada” (literally, “shaking off”) and took Arafat completely by surprise. When the Intifada spiraled into a bona fide revolt and the “children of the stones” (as the teen-age rock-throwers were called) were augmented by terrorist snipers using them as human shields, Arafat knew that he was in trouble. Far away in Tunis, and disconnected from the population that he wanted to look to him for leadership, he groped for a strategy that would make the world think that he was in command.
His strategy was a PLO peace initiative. He would appease the United States by agreeing to recognize Israel, yet at the same time inject his pronouncement with enough anti-Israel rhetoric to convince his colleagues in terror that he had not given up the struggle. Because the PLO was a terrorist group, the United States still refused to recognize it. But President Reagan told his National Security Advisor, Colin Powell, to explore the possibility that the PLO could meet the conditions set by US law for formal relations with the United States. Arafat was thrilled, but his more rigid supporters opposed any move to reject terrorism.
To keep his lieutenants in line and to keep President Reagan thinking that he was indeed committing the PLO to begin a peace process with Israel, Arafat made a series of speeches in Europe, in English and French, using double speak and mis-pronunciation to avoid a clear commitment. On the one hand he condemned terrorism, but then went on to declare that the PLO was not a terrorist group and its actions against Jews and Israelis were part of a legitimate struggle for freedom. On one occasion he stuttered and stumbled on English pronunciation and instead of saying “we renounce terrorism” he said “we renounce tourism.” He never bothered to mention, nor did anyone in the West take the time to inquire, that according to its by-laws, only the PLO as an organization could agree to renounce terrorism. It was not a decision that Arafat could make unilaterally. Therefore, all of Arafat’s pledges, pronounced or mispronounced, were in fact worthless – a fact he was obviously aware of. Meanwhile, a number of factions within the PLO continued to launch terrorist attacks against Israel.
But Washington’s desire for peace was strong enough to give the scheme traction in the State Department which swung its weight behind the “new Arafat” and “new” non-terrorist PLO. The dynamic that would lead to Arafat’s return to power via the “Oslo” peace process was underway.
Two catastrophes now befell Arafat, all in 1991. The first was the Gulf War, which was triggered when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Having already aligned himself with Saddam in the early 1980’s when Iraq began its 8-year war with Iran, Arafat maintained his support in the Gulf War and suffered a significant loss of face and stature when Iraqi soldiers ignominiously fled before U.S. troops. But worse, since the nearly 400,000 Palestinians living in Kuwait had vociferously supported Saddam and the Iraqi invasion, the Emir of Kuwait lost no time in exiling all of them within weeks after regaining power.
This bit of ethnic cleansing, never reached the radar screens of any NGOs or human rights groups, but was a major problem for the PLO and Arafat. Tens of thousands of Palestinians who regularly contributed some of their earnings to the PLO coffers had not only lost their jobs in Kuwait, but their homes, bank accounts, cars, furniture, and in some cases even their clothes and jewelry. Moreover, the Gulf States suspended their hundreds of millions of dollars of PLO support because of Arafat’s pro-Saddam politics. Estimates vary, but conservatively, the PLO lost more than $10 billion with the defeat of Saddam’s army.
The second catastrophe was the emergence of Hamas. Organized in the Gaza Strip as an Islamic theology of liberation, Hamas sought to bring about both a Moslem revival and an intensification of terrorism against Israel. Its stated goal was to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic state. Ironically, Hamas was initially encouraged by Israel, because the Israeli government thought that a religious movement would be a counter-balance to the secular PLO. Hamas preached a fundamentalist Islam to those Arabs who chafed under the Marxist ideology shared by the existing terror groups. By 1991, however Hamas had become wildly popular, and presented a serious threat to Arafat’s dominance of the Palestinian cause. (See Karsh.)
The first Intifada had convinced the Israeli government that it could not continue to just coast along maintaining 3,000,000 Arabs in a state of national limbo. The Bush administration in Washington had quickly forgotten the Palestinians’ betrayal during the Gulf War and was using the political capital it had won to pressure Israel to make concessions for peace. A reluctant Likud government succumbed to the American pressures to meet with Arab countries in Madrid.
Representatives of the Palestinians were invited to come as part of the Jordanian entourage, but because the PLO was still officially a terrorist group that the United States refused to recognize, Arafat was not invited. Despite its 1988 make-over, Arafat’s PLO had conducted too many attacks and engaged in too much double-speak for the Israeli government to consider it a negotiating partner, and the American Government agreed to exclude him.
On the eve of the Madrid conference, Arafat was bereft. Starved for funds, ostracized by many of his erstwhile allies, challenged by his new competitor, Sheikh Akhmed Yasin whose Hamas offered fierce competition for the role of lead terrorist, and the defeat of his idol and mentor Saddam Hussein, he seemed to be a fading star. Two years before the Berlin Wall had come crashing down, bringing Arafat’s chief ally the Soviet bloc, along with it. The Communist dictator Ceausescu’s demise, seemed a final harbinger of an ignominious end to Arafat’s brilliant career as the godfather of modern terrorism, a mass murderer adulated throughout the Arab world as a George Washington of the Palestinian people.
Faced with the possibility that the Madrid conference would offer some chance for autonomy to Palestinians without him, Arafat felt the need to do something radical. In September 1991, just a month before the Madrid talks, he convinced the Palestinian National Council’s twentieth session in Algiers to endorse official Palestinian participation in the Madrid conference. Now he and the PLO were de facto key players at Madrid, even though they had been excluded by Israel and the United States.
For both Israel and the United States this was quite a surprise. Although both the United States and Israel encouraged and cajoled the West Bank representatives to enter into substantive negotiations with Israel regarding autonomy, the Palestinians refused. During the conference, they flew several times per week, and sometimes daily, from Madrid to Tunis to confer with Arafat. Arafat ran the conference as an absentee delegate. The Palestinian representatives could not be weaned from their loyalty to their terrorist leader. (See Rubin and Rubin.)
On a personal note, Arafat wed Suha Tawil, a Christian Palestinian woman half his age, in January of 1992. Their only child, daughter Zahwa, was born in Paris in 1995. In April of 1992 he was almost killed in a plane crash over the Libyan desert. Some biographers have suggested that his symptoms of hand tremors, gradual memory loss, stuttering, and the uncontrolled movement of his lips when he spoke, all may be attributed to brain damage sustained in that crash.
Fatefully, the Madrid talks convinced some Israeli leaders that there was no choice for Israel but to involve Arafat in any negotiations for peace. This set the stage for Oslo.
When the Likkud government dragged its feet about participating in more substantive peace talks with Arab leaders, the Israeli voting public replaced it with Yitzhak Rabin’s more liberal Labor government in July 1992. Rabin promised to make every effort to achieve peace. Shortly thereafter representatives from Israel and the PLO held secret talks in the city of Oslo. Until then, there had been no official contacts between the Israeli government and Arafat. By May of 1993 these negotiations were at a stage where they could go public. So both sides turned to a delighted President Clinton.
After more months of negotiations, and wrangling about details, both sides were ready for agreement. On September 9, 1993, the “new” Arafat gave Rabin a signed hand-written letter stating that he and the PLO would forever eschew terror and violence, and refer all disagreements to negotiations. That gesture convinced Rabin that Arafat was serious about making peace. And on September 13, 1993, they shook hands (a distasteful act for Rabin, knowing how much innocent blood was on Arafat’s hands) while a beaming President Clinton looked on, and the event was broadcast worldwide.
The Declaration of Principles, the first stage of agreements signed at this time, gave Israel a fairly long list of obligations involving staged retreat from areas within the West Bank and Gaza Strip, support for a nascent Palestinian state, tax and water treaties, training and arming the newly Palestinian National Authority and its designated anti-terror police force, and educating the Israeli public to see the PLO (now the Palestinian National Authority) as a peace partner.
The obligations of the Palestinian National Authority, to be headed by Arafat, were to put an end to terror, to stop incitement to violence, to create a state that operated according to the rule of law with transparent democratic elections, to educate Palestinian children to see Israel as a peace partner, and to work peacefully with Israel. Since putting an end to terrorism was the primary agenda item for Israel, the Israelis agreed that the CIA could arm and train 25,000 Palestinian police to allow them to use force if necessary to control Hamas and other dissident terrorist factions.
At the very onset of the Accords, more than 96 percent of all Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza were placed under the control of Arafat and the Palestinian National Authority in regard to civil matters, with security issues to be controlled jointly by Israel and the PNA. Immediately after Oslo, Israel pulled its forces out of the Gaza Strip and the Jericho area. On September 28, 1995, the last Israeli tank had left Ramallah. A year later, most Israeli forces left Hebron.
In theory, as the PNA developed the infrastructure of governance and brought the rule of law to the areas under its control, more and more territory would come under direct and complete PNA jurisdiction. In theory, after about 5 years (which is how long it took for the Camp David I negotiations to reach conclusions about Israel’s ceding the Sinai to Egypt), all areas could come under PNA control as the PNA and Israel reached final status negotiations.
The Oslo Accords made no mention of Israeli “settlements.” Among the sixteen confidence building measures that were discussed verbally, an attenuation of settlement expansion was included. But these measures demanded action from both sides, and the most important demand upon Arafat – a demand he never met – was that he stop the terrorism. In fact, Arafat never intended that the Oslo Peace Accords would lead to peace with the state of Israel. On the same day that Arafat signed the Declaration of Principles of the Oslo Accords on the White House lawn, he appeared in a pre-taped interview on Jordan TV. In Arabic he explained to his Palestinian followers: “Since we cannot defeat Israel in war, we do it in stages. We take any and every territory that we can of Palestine, and establish sovereignty there, and we use it as a springboard to take more. When the time comes, we can get the Arab nations to join us for the final blow against Israel.”
At a mosque in Johannesburg just a month after the signing, Arafat again declared (not realizing that he was being taped) that the Accords were merely a way to facilitate his jihad against Israel. Later, when challenged about this, he wiggled out of it by declaring that he was using the term jihad in its most positive sense: a struggle against inner negative forces. So Arafat presented himself as a “jihad” fighter for peace.
But, Faisal Husseini (one of the PLO’s highest level spokespersons) clarified the meaning of the Oslo Accords for the world in an interview with the Egyptian newspaper el-Arabi (June 24, 2001): “had the U.S. and Israel realized, before Oslo, that all that was left of the Palestinian National movement and the Pan-Arab movement was a wooden horse called Arafat…they would never have opened their fortified gates and let it inside their walls…The Oslo agreement, or any other agreement, is just a temporary procedure, just a step towards something bigger. …distinguish the strategic, long-term goals from the political phased goals, which we are compelled to temporarily accept due to international pressure… Our ultimate goal is the liberation of all of historic Palestine, from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] Sea” – in other words, across the entire existing State of Israel.
The Labor government in Israel and the Clinton Administration chose to ignore these pronouncements. To accept them would have meant putting an end to the process that both hoped would lead to peace. Instead the Accords put a terrorist in charge of a nascent Palestinian state.
The results were predictable (and many had predicted them). There were more terror attacks against Israel in the five years after Oslo than there had been in the previous twenty years. Hamas and Arafat worked together so that Arafat could secretly fund and arm Hamas, as Hamas undertook bus bombings and drive-by shootings; while Arafat shrugged ineffectually and said: “It is Hamas, not PLO. What can I do?” Even after the police force of the Palestinian National Authority was expanded to 42,000 men, armed and trained by the CIA in specialized counter-terror warfare, Arafat still could not find the power to control Hamas. In fact, he actually planned, financed and even directed some of the terror attacks that he blamed on Hamas and other terror groups. Then, at the next series of meetings with Israel and President Clinton, he repeated the commitment to stop terrorism, and got further concessions from Israel.
Whenever any negotiation got too close to some sort of resolution, Arafat would stage a terror attack and claim innocence, knowing that the Israelis would suspend talks while they decided upon some sort of response, and President Clinton would urge them to use moderation and keep in mind that the “cycle of violence” would not lead to peace (see Ross and Brown).
Arafat used the same “terror torpedo” strategy against his own people as well. When the Palestinian National Council pressed him too hard with demands for democratization or for the passage of laws that he did not like, he would create an emergency by launching a terror attack, knowing that with an Israeli retaliation, he could ward off pressure for reform by saying: “Our people are dying in the streets, we are fighting house-to-house with Israeli storm troopers, and you want me to worry about nit-picking legal details?” (See Brown and MEMRI Clip #376.) The tactic worked every time. (See Brown.)
Arafat was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1995, along with Yitzhak Rabin.
We may never know why the Palestinian National Council and other Palestinian groups which hungered for democracy and an end to Arafat’s thugocracy, and which may have wanted peace with Israel as well, could not stand up to Arafat and exercise the legitimate powers that the Oslo Accords and 1996 elections had bestowed upon them. But they did not. (See Brown.) He remained in power as “ra’is” (chief, chairman, president) long after his 5-year term of office ended; and no one in the PNA, or anywhere else for that matter, ever found the courage to point out that he held office illegally from January 2001 until his death.
One of the most heinous aspects of Arafat’s rule after Oslo was the education system that the Palestinian National Authority established for the K-8 public school system in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Despite the Oslo obligation to educate children into the anticipation of peace with Israel, in its textbooks, curricula, classroom activities, and even wall decorations, the Palestinian classroom became the assembly line for the production of future terrorists and suicide bombers. From age 5 and up, Palestinian children were fed a steady diet of Israel-hatred and an ideology which proclaimed that the most glorious thing a young Palestinian patriot could do with his life was to die in defense of his country and take as many Jews as possible with him.
Official television programs, in a blood-curdling transmogrification of Sesame Street, had puppets and animals, people, and plants, teaching Palestinian children that Israel must be destroyed, Jews murdered, and Israel obliterated. Wall maps and textbook maps all showed Palestine as a state that extended across the entire surface of Israel, from the Jordan River to the Sea. Playground songs included such lyrics as “we buy paradise with Jewish blood.” School performances, recorded for PA television, included impassioned recitations by 5-year-olds in which they declared in song, dance, verse, and oratory, their ardent desire to emulate the suicide bombers, the “martyr” heroes of their people.
This education in genocide extended to the adult population as well. Adult television, newspaper articles, radio programs, orchestral compositions, and even the embryonic Palestinian cinema industry, focused all creative energy upon generating the message that Israel is evil, hates Islam, occupies the Palestinian homeland (i.e., all of Israel), and must be destroyed.
When the Clinton Administration pressured Arafat about the use of inflammatory hate messages in children’s textbooks in 1996, he had a new series of texts printed, with more moderate anti-Israel messages, but with no education toward peace or the acceptance of the legitimate existence of Israel. Still that might have seemed like a step forward, except that the new textbooks often sat unused on the shelves.
Meanwhile in children’s summer camps Palestinian youth from kindergartners to young teens learned weaponry, hand-to-hand combat, use of the knife and garrote, and other aspects of combat training, along with the emotionally charged songs and chants that proclaimed eagerness for martyrdom and willingness to murder for the sake of the homeland.
It was precisely because the authors of Oslo recognized the need to educate the next generation into the acceptance of peace that the Accords demanded that both sides teach peace. Israel’s schools taught peace. But because Arafat’s ideology was committed to the destruction of the Jewish state, Palestinian schools did not.
Several years into the Oslo “peace” process, despite hundreds of terror attacks, scores dead and hundreds injured, Israel’s official line remained that Arafat was a partner for peace. That was the line the Clinton administration wanted, and whether due to Clinton’s pressure or of their own accord, the Israeli government maintained the charade for years, despite endless intelligence reports that Arafat was orchestrating the terror war, releasing prisoners that Israel had handed over to him (per the Oslo Accords), diverting billions to his personal accounts and to terror forces, and lying through his teeth to Clinton, to the Israelis, and to his own people.
In November 1995, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by an Israeli fanatic who saw the Oslo process as a betrayal of Israel. In national elections the following May, Benjamin Netanyahu came to power on a hard-line platform by a margin of less than one percent. Despite three years of Arafat-instigated and facilitated terrorism, half the Israeli electorate still believed that Arafat could deliver an end to the terrorism, and supported the Labor Party candidate Shimon Peres.
Netanyahu had declared that he would act independently of the dovish Clinton Administration, and take the steps necessary to protect Israel from Arafat’s terror onslaught. He began retaliatory raids, stepped up anti-Arafat rhetoric, and supported the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. He also began to press Arafat for compliance with the provisions of the Oslo Accords, especially regarding the “revolving door prison” that Arafat ran, where a jailed terrorist would be out on the street within a few weeks.
With the hindsight of history, it is seems clear that Netanyahu never understood that his hard-line rhetoric played right into Arafat’s hands. The Israeli hard-line gave Arafat exactly what he needed to keep his Palestinian critics at bay while Netanyahu’s hard-line with Clinton lost him much credibility at home and in the White House, and made it impossible for him to convince Clinton that Arafat was behind the terrorism. (See Ross.) This made it all the easier for Arafat to strengthen his own hand with the American President. In 1996, he convinced a Palestinian National Council convention in Gaza to revoke the clauses in the PLO charter that called for Israel’s destruction. To Clinton, this looked like progress. At the Wye plantation conference in October, 1998, Arafat ran circles around Netanyahu, but never agreed to anything of substance. The conference ended with no agreements; and with a very frustrated President Clinton.
The hard-line was not working, so Israel again voted for compromise with the 1999 elections bringing Ehud Barak, Israel’s most decorated war hero, into the premiership on a peace platform. Barak had credibility with Clinton and pressed his advantage adroitly. Despite Arafat’s remonstrations, Clinton agreed to a major conference in June of 2000, at Camp David.
Barak came with a comprehensive peace plan, maps, diagrams, charts, and a host of aides and adjutants to address every imaginable issue related to what would end up being an almost total Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and from roughly 97% of the West Bank. Israeli settlements would be dismantled and to compensate for the 3% of West Bank land that would remain under Israeli control, Israel would cede kibbutz farm land adjacent to the Gaza Strip. (For a map of the planned Israeli withdrawal and dismantling of Israeli sites, see Gilbert Atlas.)
Barak offered Arafat the best deal that any Palestinian leader could ever hope for. Negotiations dragged on for two weeks in July of 2000. During that time Arafat used all of his manipulative tricks, honed over decades of sham negotiations and faux peace processes, to frustrate and infuriate the Israeli and American contingents. As U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross describes the negotiations in his tantalizing blow-by-blow account, Arafat would agree to something one day, and in doing so accept the Israeli concession that he demanded in exchange for that agreement. Two days later, he would act as though he had never agreed, but also would not relinquish the Israeli concession. Instead, he demanded more concessions in order to re-agree to what he had agreed to earlier. It was a good trick if you could get away with it, and Arafat could…almost.
As the Americans realized what was happening, Clinton became very agitated. Apparently, he had high hopes of a Nobel Peace Prize and he watched those hopes slip away as Arafat became more and more adamant, more and more intractable, even as Barak went farther and farther with his concessions. Barak knew that he needed a victory at the peace table in order to stay in office. In desperation he agreed to things for which he might not have received support from the Israeli Knesset, but to no avail.
Much ink has been spilt on the topic of why Arafat finally said no, and walked out of the talks. Arafat apologists trying to blunt the accusations that Arafat rejected the last best hope for peace, insisted that things were not clear, nothing was in writing, Barak was mean and demanding. Poor Mr. Arafat did not know English well, and in general there was nothing of substance to which Arafat could commit. More objective observers like Dennis Ross have refuted these excuses. In his autobiography, Clinton makes it clear that in his view Barak did all the giving, Arafat did all the taking, and it still was not enough. In an interview with Business Week (on January 21, 2001), Clinton is quoted as saying the same thing to the Palestinian leader himself: “Arafat, it is all your fault!”
A seemingly unimpeachable source appears in Elsa Walsh’s interview with Prince Bandar bin-Sultan (Saudi Arabia’s former Ambassador to Washington). In the interview, Walsh asks the Prince about the Camp David II controversy. Prince Bandar’s answer is unequivocal: during a phone conversation on the eve of the signing, Prince Bandar told Arafat that it was the very best deal any Palestinian leader could hope to get. Then he told Arafat that if he took it there would be peace, and the Saudi royal family would support him. But if he did not take it, he would be committing a crime against the Palestinian people, there would be war, and the Saudis would not support him. Arafat ended the phone conversation with Prince Bandar with his assurance that he would accept Barak’s offer. Then he did not. Prince Bandar concludes by telling Walsh that when he found out that Arafat had rejected Barak’s offer, he was furious. He reported back to his family that Arafat had lied to him, and should not receive further support. (See Walsh.)
President Clinton, Dennis Ross, and Prince Bandar’s observations are all consistent with one another, and consistent as well with the remark from one US diplomatic aide at the end of the negotiations: “the problem was not that Arafat did not go the extra mile: he did not go the extra inch!” In a similar vein, Arafat is on record in a variety of Arab newspapers as boasting proudly to his people upon his return to the West Bank that he refused Barak’s offer, and told both Barak and Clinton to “go to hell”, because: “I went not to negotiate. I went to receive!”
With the failure of the Camp David negotiations, Barak knew his days as Prime Minister were numbered. The Oslo peace process had failed. Arafat had torpedoed it.
The Israeli left had for years lionized Arafat and promised its followers that if only Israel were generous enough, if only Israel offered the right combination of concessions and withdrawals, if only Israel would dismantle settlements and cede the disputed territories, there would be a radical shift in the Arab world and among the Palestinian leaders. There would be a shift away from terror, used only as a last resort by Palestinians desperate for national self-determination and peace and left without hope by Israeli intransigence. With the rejection of Barak’s offer, this political argument pretty much imploded.
With Arafat’s refusal of the best offer imaginable, a terror-weary and disillusioned Israeli body politic concluded that the Israeli right was correct; there really was no one to talk to on the Palestinian side. The biggest, most generous olive branch conceivable had been torched.
Even though the Oslo Peace Accords were still formally in place, as soon as Arafat left Camp David he began laying plans for a second Intifada. We learned this from an inadvertent slip by Imad Faluji, a Palestinian National Authority cabinet minister, at a rally in Gaza in December, 2000: “A Palestinian Cabinet minister said Friday that the 5-month-old uprising against Israel was planned after peace failed in July, contradicting contentions it was a spontaneous outburst by Palestinians. Communications Minister Imad Falouji said during a PLO rally that it was a mistake to think the uprising, in which more than 400 people have been killed, was sparked by Israeli Prime Minister-elect Ariel Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in late September.”**
**When Arafat returned from Camp David, he gave the order to start preparing for a great terror war that would, he believed, win for him on the field of battle what he could not get at the negotiating table: Palestine from the River to the Sea. He was waiting for a good excuse, a good patsy to set up so that blame, as always, could be placed on Israel.
That occasion was provided in September by Barak’s rival for the presidency, Ariel Sharon. To demonstrate to voters that he meant business when he said that as Prime Minister he would take no more guff from Arafat, Sharon ascended the Temple Mount on September 28, 2000. Flanked by hundreds of Israeli and Palestinian National Authority security guards, he did an attention-getting tour of the Mount. There were some scuffles and antagonistic demonstrations, but nothing serious.
It was only the next day, September 29, 2000, that massive riots broke out on the Temple Mount and elsewhere in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Dozens were killed, hundreds injured. Arafat declared it the Palestinian people’s “day of rage.”
Blame was laid squarely on Sharon for ascending the Mount and thus antagonizing the Palestinian people’s delicate religious sensibilities. But the Temple Mount (known as al-Haram esh-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, in Arabic) is sacred to all three major religions. Two of these three, Judaism and Christianity, are willing to share it with the others. Islam is not. Moslem religious and political leadership since the early Middle Ages have insisted that the sacred precinct be off-limits to Jews (and often to Christians too), because non-Mosems allegedly pollute the sacred site.**
**After the Six Day war, Israel was willing to accommodate this bit of Moslem religious apartheid in order to eliminate a potential source of friction with Moslems regarding the Israeli governance of the city. Sharon’s bold move was a clear political statement, a re-assertion of Jewish rights over Judaism’s single most sacred sanctuary. But trying to be sure that he stayed on the right side of law and custom, Sharon got permission both from Barak and from the head of the El-Aqsa mosque’s waqf to enter the Temple Mount. His visit was authorized. Sharon did not realize that he was being set up by Arafat to take the blame for the Second Intifada.
Arafat originated, orchestrated, supported, funded, planned, and launched most of the terror attacks that followed. He coordinated others with Hamas (referring often in speeches to Hamas’ founder, Sheikh Akhmed Yassin – who was personally responsible more than three hundred murders of Israeli civilians — as “our dear, dear, dear, dear friend”) working out details to prevent him from being implicated in the Hamas attacks.
With the Second Intifada, Arafat escalated the terrorism from a “Low Intensity Conflict” into a full-scale war. At the height of the violence, Palestinian terrorists launched up to 24 attacks per day. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) was able to stop most of them before they reached their targets, but the carnage was still devastating. Suicide bombers, road-side bombs, fire-bombs, sniper attacks, drive-by shootings, car bombs, truck bombs, knifings, kidnappings took the lives of hundreds, and injured thousands. From September 9, 1993, the day that Arafat signed on the dotted line that he put terrorism behind him and committed himself and his followers to peace with Israel, there have been almost 28,000 attacks, with 1,700 dead, almost 7,000 injured or maimed for life, and most of these occurred during the Second Intifada. (The equivalent in U.S. terms would be 83,000 killed and 343,000 injured.) Almost half of these attacks were perpetrated by el-Fatah (Arafat’s own group); the rest by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade (a sub-group of el-Fatah), the Tanzim (“committee”), Force 17 (Arafat’s private praetorian guard), the PFLP, the DFLP, the PFLP-GC, Sayyif el-Jihad (Sword of Jihad), Jayyish Allah (Allah’s Army), and Hezbollah (the political party of Allah).
Partly as a result of the hate-education described above, young women emerged late in the Second Intifada as suicide bombers. Arafat called them his “army of roses.” Not suspecting danger from young women, and sensitive to Moslem modestly, IDF soldiers at first allowed young Palestinian women to pass through check points with less difficulty than their male counterparts. Hamas and el-Fatah seized upon this chink in Israel’s defensive mechanisms, and recruited a total of eight (so far) young women. In their late teens or twenties when recruited, these women had experienced ten years of Arafat’s hate-education, and were primed to the recruitment techniques of the terror gangs. The propaganda coup that Arafat garnered from their actions focused on the false assertions that these poor women were driven to such action by the extremes of Israeli oppression. But a recent study of six of these eight cases demonstrates quite the opposite. The women were selected by their terrorist recruiters because they showed external signs of depression, were rejected by their families because of one sort or another of non-compliance to family demands, or (in one case) had been caught in an adulterous affair and chose death as a “martyr” over being murdered by a male member of her husband’s family (at least that way her death brought honor to all Moslems.) (See Victor.)
At the very end of his term as President, and in a last ditch attempt to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat and bring peace to the Middle East, Clinton convened a second conference on December 23, 2000. All hope of a Nobel Prize rested upon this last best hope of reaching an agreement with Arafat and Barak. At this meeting, Clinton proposed not only Barak’s massive territorial concessions of the Camp David fiasco; but also the creation of a bridge, supported on towering pylons, that spanned the area between the Gaza Strip at its north-easternmost point and the West Bank at its south-westernmost point. Thus Arafat would have territorial contiguity without splitting Israel in half. We will never know if Israel would have accepted this rather imaginative and far-reaching plan. Arafat refused.
With money pouring into his coffers from the European Union, UN, private donors, and numerous Arab countries, Arafat was pretty much immune to pressure from the United States, and scoffed at Israeli opprobrium. Arafat reveled in his ability to snub his nose at Clinton and drive Barak to a sure defeat at the polls. But now two new players entered the game.
On January 20, 2003, George W. Bush was inaugurated as the 43rd President of the United States. Nine months later al-Qaeda terrorists struck New York, and launched a global Islamic jihad with roots in the Palestinian movement and organizational allies in Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad. Both events would soon undermine Arafat’s authority as the sole, supreme leader of the Palestinian cause.
When President George W. Bush took office in January, 2001, he publicly relegated Middle East matters to secondary importance, a priority that changed on 9/11. Six months later, it came into far clearer focus when, on March 27, 2002, Palestinian terrorists attacked a Passover Service killing 36 and severely wounding more than 100 attendees. On March 28, Prime Minister Sharon received a green light from the White House to take counter-terror measures and on March 29, Operation Defensive Shield began. The Israeli Defense Forces re-occupied the West Bank, which they had evacuated after the Oslo Accords and turned over to Arafat’s rule. The Israeli forces killed hundreds of terrorists, and destroyed terrorist training camps, bomb manufacturing plants, arsenals, offices, warehouses, and personnel centers.
At the siege of the Jenin refugee camp where hundreds of terrorists had established a base and were hiding behind the human shields of their own civilians, the Israelis went house to house, flushing out terrorists with a minimum of Palestinian civilian loss of life. Twenty-five Israeli soldiers were killed, having risked and lost their lives to protect Palestinian civilians. Fifty-nine Palestinians, most of them terrorists were killed.
Having been schooled in the Big Lie by Arafat himself, the Palestinian Authority cried “massacre” after Jenin, a completely false claim that was echoed in the world’s anti-Israel (and anti-Semitic) press. Sa’eb Erekat the Palestinian’s “chief peace negotiator” and a Palestinian Authority official claimed that “thousands had died….well, no…actually five hundred…well, no, but certainly hundreds….well at least scores.” To support the false accusations of a massacre, PLO operatives actually exhumed months-old corpses and brought them, decomposed and rotting, to the hospitals to show to Red Cross officials. They filmed a fake funeral, which was caught on tape by an Israeli aerial camera — complete with the ‘corpse’ falling off the bier, getting up, and getting back on again. Terji Rhodes-Larsen, a UN official acting as an observer, was deeply frustrated by the fact that he could find no evidence of a massacre; so, in a characteristic anti-Israel rant, he screamed into the microphones of EU cameramen: “with all of this destruction, there must be some evidence of massive human rights violations somewhere!” When the smoke cleared and the Red Cross made its report, there were 59 dead Palestinians, all but a few were armed terrorists.
Israeli forces could have bombed the camp from the air, or leveled it with an artillery barrage. Thousands of innocent Palestinians would have died along with hundreds of terrorists. Instead, the IDF sacrificed 25 of its brightest and best in order to keep the civilian losses to only a few — and these were due mostly to the craven terrorists using their own people for human shields.
As was the case in Jordan (1970) and in Lebanon (1982), Arafat was an abysmal failure as a military leader in the campaigns of 2002 and a transparent coward. Totally unprepared for Israel’s onslaught, Arafat called for a “million martyrs” to march on Jerusalem, while he himself holed up in his compound in Ramallah and left his field officers without guidance. With no coordination and with an ineffectual leader paralyzed by fear, they melted before the Israeli Defense Forces. By early April, Arafat’s compound was surrounded by Israeli tanks. The buildings of the compound were systematically destroyed, survivors taken prisoner, and computers taken from the offices. By the time Operation Defensive Shield was over, Arafat was left with a bathroom, a bedroom, a conference room and a kitchen. As in 1970 and 1982, he had also misjudged the responses of his allies in the Arab world. While many harsh words were spoken against Israel in the media and UN, not one Arab leader took any overt action, military or political, to aid him.
At this time, the CIA informed Israel that Arafat had AIDS (which was not surprising, given his sexual preferences and orgiastic life style). Therefore they urged Israel not to kill him, which they feared would give him martyr status and only exacerbate the intensity of the Palestinian terror war. The Israeli government agreed. He was put under house arrest, and given a cell phone with spare batteries. The IDF indicated that he could leave the compound only if he called his chief of security in Gaza, Mohammed Dahlan, and told him that it was time to use those 40,000 police (whom he had, until this point, kept out of the fighting) to finally put a lid on Hamas, a request he ignored.
On April 14, 2002, Arafat used his cell phone to call in a 90-minute speech to a PLO radio station in Lebanon, which broadcast it across the Arab world. In his speech he chastised the Arab world for not coming to his aid. Did they not realize, he adjured them, that a “Palestinian entity” would be the most effective launching pad for the great final jihad? Hamstrung and defeated, Arafat still envisioned the glorious day when he would enter Jerusalem as the conquering hero, leading his people in fire and blood to their ‘homeland’ extending from Jordan to the sea and obliterating Israel in the process.
An instructive pattern emerged over the months from April to September, 2002. The IDF would occupy a village or town, clamp down a security curfew, lock-down, road blocks, house-to-house searches, arrests and sometimes targeted killings of terrorists. While the IDF controlled the village, there was no terrorism. When the IDF retreated from that village, usually at the behest of Sharon who was responding to pressure from Bush, the terrorism would spike within 48 hours, often with literally a dozen or more attacks in one day. The IDF would re-enter the village to stop the attacks. Finally, on September 19, a second re-occupation was launched, with results pretty much the same as the first; and Arafat still under house-arrest in his destroyed compound.
This well-documented phenomenon, plus the contents of the dozens of computers that were taken from Arafat’s compound, were exactly what President Bush needed in order to make up his mind about what to do in regard to the Mid-East conflict. In early June, 2002, Mossad officials and Israeli government representatives showed President Bush more than 24,000 documents, most with Arafat’s signature, many written in his handwriting. Hundreds were translated into English, and they proved beyond all rational doubt that Arafat himself had engineered the entire terror war.
Bush’s response was heartening. “That xx@@##XX lied to me” (anonymous Israeli source). Apparently at that point, President Bush understood what Israeli spokespersons had been saying for years: Arafat is committed to only one thing, the destruction of Israel. As Arafat himself had said to his own people on numerous occasions, all treaties were just the means to temporize. All speeches to the West were dissimulation. All agreements were “hudna” (a fake truce, first documented in Mohammed’s time, meant to lull the enemy into a false sense of security, so that the Moslem leader could later spring a surprise attack with a greater chance of victory).
After viewing the evidence presented to him by Israel, President Bush made an historic speech on June 25, 2002, in which he promised the Palestinian people that if they stopped the terrorism, and elected leaders untainted by terrorism, they would get their state. Never in US history had any American president ever declared unequivocally and unambiguously that there would be a state of “Palestine,” or that the Palestinians needed to reject their terrorist leadership. The message was crystal clear. The single most powerful person in the entire world, the leader of the free world, had promised the Palestinians their state, if they renounced their war to destroy Israel. But once again the Palestinian leaders rejected the offer.
In an August 2002 interview, Arafat praised Hajj Amin Al Husseini (1895-1974), Jerusalem’s former Grand Mufti who had supported the Nazis and their program for the genocide of Jews. (A leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Husseini visited numerous death camps and urged Hitler to extend his “Final Solution” to the Jews of North Africa and Palestine.) In the aforementioned 2002 interview, Arafat referred to Al-Husseini as “our hero.” Moreover, Arafat acknowledged that in the 1948 war in which five Arab armies had sought to permanently destroy Israel on the very day of its creation, he himself “was one of his [Al-Husseini’s] troops.”
In hindsight, it is clear that by the end of 2002, Arafat’s control over his terror groups was on the wane. Hamas and other terrorist gangs had begun to operate independently of him and with no attempt to coordinate politically. IDF intelligence sources indicated that there was competition among the terror groups to demonstrate who could do the most damage to Israel, because the winners stood the best chance of getting funding from abroad. Arafat was no longer the sole funnel of money from Arab sources for the Intifada. El-Fatah and the el-Aqsa Martrys’ Brigade undertook operations that were easily connected to the PLO and Arafat, embarrassing him and demonstrating his lack of control over them. Under pressure from the US, the European Union began to demand transparency in the use of its tens of millions of dollars given to Arafat for alleviating the suffering of his people. Pressure from the USA and Israel forced him to re-organize his cabinet, and he was reduced to using a variety of adroit manipulations to maintain in positions of political power the cronies who he knew were loyal to him.
By March, 2003, under pressure from the Palestinian National Council and the United States and Israel, he was forced to appoint Mahmud Abbas as Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. The intent was to force Arafat to share power and create greater transparency in his governance. But friction between Arafat and Abbas developed quickly and by late April, Abbas stepped down over disagreements about whom Abbas could appoint and the degree of control that Abbas would have over the 13 separate security forces that Arafat had created.
As his grip on power weakened, maintaining control was getting more and more expensive for Arafat, more and more difficult. In hindsight, it seems clear that by this time he was succumbing to the effects of AIDS, possibly including dementia. Kaposi’s Sarcoma were evident on his face and arms, even in normal media photographs. There was little surprise when he died on November 11, 2004 in the French Hopital d’Instruction des Armees de Percy, known to have some of France’s best HIV/AIDS doctors.
For forty years Arafat was the symbol of Palestinian nationalism, and for forty years he wreaked havoc in the Middle East, most destructively against the people he claimed to serve, and at no time more destructively than when he ruled the West Bank as its tyrannical authority. Other societies suffering under despotic rulers have rejected and removed their oppressors. Why were millions of Palestinians, in Israel and the territories and abroad, willing to support and follow him? Why did those millions on the receiving end of his terrorist autocracy still cheer him, vote for him, run ululating into the streets to greet his motorcade, and sacrifice themselves and their children for what he defined as their cause? Why did they allow him to poison the minds of their children with ethnic hatred and the desire for martyrdom? Why did sixty-percent of Palestinians support suicide bombing against civilians – a barbaric tactic hitherto unknown – and perpetrate daily carnage on innocent civilians? Why did they allow him to embezzle billions earmarked to alleviate their poverty and build their economic future, and why did they let him spend it on his terrorist minions? Why did they let him squander every opportunity to create their state by answering peace offers with anti-civilian terror?
The Palestinian people never did for themselves what the Ukrainians did when their election process was subverted by Russia, or what the Iraqis and Afghanis did when the United States gave them the opportunity. Or what the Lebanese did when they had the chance.
There are two possible answers: The first is that Arafat’s reign of terror over his own people – assassinating dissenters and potential rivals to his rule – was more thorough than that of any dictator since Stalin. The Palestinian people did not resist because they were terrorized into submission. But the problem with this answer is that Arafat had only, at best, a quasi-governmental authority over the West Bank. There were legal and political councils, lawyers unions, and a police force that could have stood up to him.
The second is terrible to suggest and deeply troubling, but also inescapable. The Palestinian people followed Arafat even as he led them to perdition and condemned them to a life of hopeless grinding poverty, because they wanted what he promised to deliver: the destruction of Israel and the creation of an Arab state from Jordan to the Sea. They wanted Israel’s destruction more than they wanted their own state. They shared their leader’s vision, and therefore invited the fate that has befallen them.
This profile (apart from the brief section about Arafat’s ties to the Muslim Brotherhood) was written by David Meir-Levi and first appeared as an article titled “Leftwing Monsters: Arafat,” published by FrontPageMagazine.com on September 23, 2005.
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