Its hard to imagine Ehud Barak putting a photo of Yasser Arafat on
his desk. What for? Why should it be important what Arafat thinks? He,
Barak, will tell him what to do.
Montgomery defeated Rommel and
chased him out of North Africa. Barak, so it seems, will be evicted by
Arafat from the Prime Ministers office.
This week, again, all of Israel
was busy guessing what Arafat will do: say Yes to Clinton? Say No?
Perhaps? Save Barak? Bring Sharon in instead? Even the most
self-important commentators were wandering around like blind men in a
The Israeli attitude towards
Arafat merits a psychological, and perhaps psychiatric, study. It seems
as if all the fears and hatreds accumulated on our side during the 120
years of the conflict between the two peoples are being projected unto
this one person.
One could say that the one thing
uniting Right and Left in Israel is the hatred of Arafat. They differ
only in the explanation. The Right hates Arafat because he is a "murderer",
a "terrorist" whose "only desire is to kill Jews".
The Left hates him because he is a "dictator" who "violates
human rights". It would be difficult to find even one article
dealing with the Palestinians by an Israeli "leftist" without
a reference to "the corrupt regime of Arafat", now an
obligatory phrase reminiscent of a Christian crossing himself.
Theres no use in reminding the
Right that Nelson Mandela, Yitzhaq Shamir and Menachem Begin were "murderers"
and "terrorists", not to mention Bar-Kochba and the Maccabees.
Every leader of a national liberation movement can be called thus. Also,
there is no use in reminding the Left that Kohl and Chirac have presided
over corrupt regimes, that in the US presidents and senators are openly
bought by lobbies, that in Israel billions are spent to bribes the
religious parties while every fourth child lives under the poverty line.
The media people mention daily,
as a self-evident fact, that Arafat "has broken every
agreement". It would be a waste of time to remind them, too, that
Israel has not implemented the third withdrawal from most of the
occupied territories nor opened the four "safe passages", to
mention only two of the many violations of the agreements, compared to
which the Palestinian violations seem pale indeed.
No agreement compels Israelis to
love Arafat, nor Palestinians to love the Prime Minister of Israel,
whoever he may be. But, as Montgomery realized, making slight of your
opponent can cause you to make mistakes of historic proportions.
At this point in time, the
political life of Barak depends on the decisions of the Palestinian
leader. It is Arafat who will decide who the next Prime Minister of
Israel will be, since the election results depend on whether there will
be an agreement or not. But Barak understands Arafat as he would
understand an alien from Mars. Since coming to power, he has been wrong
in practically all his calculations.
It starts with his
misunderstanding of Arafats standing within the Palestinian people.
He is not a dictator. Like Washington, Ataturk and Ben-Gurion, he is the
"father of the nation". No Palestinian leader is ready to
assume his place. Even Palestinians griping loudly about the Authority
and they are many are not suggesting that he be replaced. When
asked about it, they say: No, Arafat must remain, but he must do this
Haidar Abd-al-Shafi, the
respected Gaza doctor who is one of Arafats most outspoken critics,
once complained to me about Arafats way of making all the decisions
himself, but added honestly: "The truth is that we have to blame
ourselves. Whenever the need arose to make a courageous decision, all
the others disappeared and Arafat was left alone. He was the only one
who had the courage to decide."
I can testify to this myself.
Over the years I have submitted to the PLO leadership in Beirut and
Tunis ideas and suggestions for bringing peace nearer. Every time, when
we reached agreement between us, they said: OK, now lets take the
matter to Abu-Amar, so he can make the decision.
Thats the situation now,
The Palestinian leadership must take a historic decision that demands
immense personal courage. But nobody is ready to share the
responsibility with Arafat. He stands alone again, and all the
responsibility rests on him.
This does not mean that he can
decide whatever he wants. Arafat listens to the feelings of the people.
He has very sensitive sensors. Therein lies his unique strength. When he
feels that the people are ready for the next step, he moves forward.
When he feels that he has moved forward too much, he stops, and
sometimes moves backwards. This can drive his interlocutors, and
sometimes even his own people, up the wall, but thats the character
of his leadership. For 50 years he has led the Palestinian struggle for
liberation, and for 25 years he has directed the transition from armed
struggle for the dismantling of Israel to the effort to reach a
political solution with Israel an immense revolution in the position
of the Palestinian people. In this he has kept ahead of most of his
colleagues and used all possible methods diplomacy, violence,
intifada and agreements. But not for a moment did he let the historic
aim of the Palestinian people the establishment of a state with its
capital in Jerusalem out of his sight.
It is ridiculous to think that he
would now give up this aim because Barak wants to be reelected or
because Clintons term of office is nearing its end. Of course, this
provides an opportunity, and Arafat would seize it if he were given an
offer he could accept. But when all that is offered is that he declare
the "end of the conflict" in return for a piece of paper
without maps and a detailed solution, he will prefer to wait for the
next President and the next Prime Minister. After all, since the start
of his leadership, Arafat has survived Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy,
Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush and Clinton, as well as Prime
Ministers Ben-Gurion, Eshkol, Meir, Rabin, Begin, Shamir, Peres, again
Rabin and Peres, Nethanyahu and Barak. In this time he has led his
people from the brink of extinction to the threshold of independence.
I have many good suggestions for
Barak, Clinton and their successors. But my very first suggestion is:
take a good photo of Arafat and put it on your desk.
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