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the August 2001 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 48,
Arafat is Running Out of Options
Gerald M. Steinberg,
The Jerusalem Post (conservative), Israel, June 4,
In one of historys cruel jokes, Palestinian
Authority President Yasser Arafat is a victim of his own success.
Opinion polls show that more than 70 percent of the Palestinians
under his control support the suicide bombings and murders
of Israelis. Arafat, it seems, is popular at home.
In contrast, and precisely for this reason, the Palestinian
leader is not very popular in much of the rest of the world.
Following the brutality of the latest terrorist attacks, his
credibility and support in the United States have evaporated,
and in other countries, support for Palestinian victimization
is weakening. After the Tel Aviv bombing, Arafat suddenly
seemed to realize, after some prodding, that Prime Minister
Ariel Sharon now has a free hand to crush the Palestinian
violence and put an end to terrorism. Arafat clearly showed
that he has not totally lost contact with reality, and instead
of fleeing to a friendly and distant capital, he issued a
statement in Arabic calling for an end to violence.
Even if these ambiguous words are followed by an end to the
incitement campaign in the official media and the recapture
of terrorist leaders, Arafat will have trouble justifying
a sudden about-face. After walking out on the Camp David summit
11 months ago, the Palestinians have lost ground. The deaths
of hundreds, and the wounding of thousands more, have given
Nevertheless, Arafat may survive, at least for a short time.
He has emerged from difficult situations beforein 1970,
after fleeing Amman following the failed coup to overthrow
King Hussein, and in 1982, when Israel invaded Beirut after
the terrorism became intolerable and Arafat fled to Tunis.
He may be a survivor, but every adventure takes Palestinians
further from sovereignty and from the peace they desperately
In 1993, when Arafat was weak, he was rescued by Israel. Under
pressure from Shimon Peres and Yossi Beilin, Yitzhak Rabin
agreed to throw Arafat a lifeline in the hope of ending the
cycle of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Arafat grabbed the
opportunity, but kept his options open, telling Palestinians
to prepare for jihad. Once again, it seemed, Arafat was able
to turn a weak hand into a personal triumph. Even after the
latest campaign of terror began in September of last year,
Arafat maintained some credibility.
Analysts claimed that the violence was tactical, designed
to improve his bargaining position before making the necessary
compromises. As the terror increased, the debate turned to
the question of whether Arafat would, or could, control the
attacks. As long as some ambiguity remained, he has been able
to continue with his travels to world capitals and to receive
phone calls, if not invitations, from Washington.
However, Ariel Sharons unilateral cease-fire caught
Arafat off guard. While Sharons policy exacted a very
high price in terms of lives sacrificed to Palestinian terror,
it isolated Arafat and shifted international attention to
the Palestinians. Another barbaric terror attack will bring
a massive Israeli response, with the support of the United
States and at least a passive acceptance from Europe.
In contrast, if Arafat is able and willing to end the violence,
this will prove that he has continued to maintain control
of events and is directly responsible for hundreds of needless
deaths. Whatever response he chooses, as long as Arafat speaks
for Palestinians, the Israeli public is unlikely to take any
more risks in the now very distant hope for peace.
The writer is director
of the Program on Conflict Resolution in the Department of
Political Studies at Bar-Ilan University.