Jewish World Review Dec. 19, 2002 / 14 Teves, 5763

Zev Chafets

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Saudis still play
Santa to Arafat | Israel isn't going to let Yasser Arafat celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem this year. That's because the Palestinian leader has been a very bad boy. But don't worry, Santa is coming --- and not from the North Pole, either.

Since Arafat walked away from a peace deal with Israel and started a war in September 2000, the Saudi Santa and his little helpers have given the Palestinian leader vast sums of money. One of those helpers is Ahmed Mohammed Ali, president of the Saudi-based Islamic Development Bank. The other day, he told an Egyptian newspaper that his bank has channeled hundreds of millions of dollars to the Palestinian Authority and to special funds whose purpose is "extending support to the Palestinian intifadeh."

Recently, Mahmoud Abbas (known as Abu-Mazen), Arafat's chief deputy, gave an amazingly candid analysis of what this money has bought. He told an audience in Gaza that the intifadeh has led to "the complete destruction of everything we have built [under the Oslo Agreement with Israel] ... our people are in a situation of loss, starvation and suffering" (translation by Middle East Media Research Institute).

The Palestinians don't need Abu-Mazen to tell them the intifadeh has been a failure. For that, they can look out the window. But until now, no senior official dared utter this simple truth in public.

"This is a tragedy," Abu-Mazen said of the Palestinian miscalculation that Israel wouldn't fight back. "We must ask ourselves why."

"Why" is the most charged word in political Arabic. The only acceptable answer is: Because of them. The Jews are always responsible. Or the Americans. The Arab world is a fault-free zone.

The Palestinians who heard Abu-Mazen or read his remarks in Al Hayat understood that he was pointing an accusatory finger at his boss. Arafat is the man who gave the order. Abu-Mazen wants that order rescinded. He proposes going back to the negotiating table - and, according to recent polling, a majority of Palestinians tend to agree with him. But Arafat is no longer interested in public opinion. He and his Hamas and Islamic Jihad allies evidently intend to go down fighting.

This scenario is being underwritten by outsiders. Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein sends millions to pay the pensions of suicide bombers. Iran, via Hezbollah, provides training and whoops of encouragement. Syria shelters Islamic Jihad and other Palestinian factions. Lately, even Osama Bin Laden has been trying to get in on the action. In the Arab world, no one can resist jumping on a bandwagon, especially when it's headed over a cliff.

But if the intifadeh has many foreign benefactors, the Saudis are still the Great Santa. Thanks largely to the House of Saud and its charitable bankers and donors, every day is Christmas for Arafat - and the rest of the Palestinian people get a stocking full of coal.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

12/13/02: Lott has to be dumped to save W's authority
12/05/02: Kissinger's Saudi pals litter 9/11 money trail
11/25/02: Sharon looks like a winner
11/18/02: It's the war, stupid
11/14/02: The Dems don't have a prayer
11/07/02: Watch for Dubya to give Arik political hug
10/31/02: Sharpton the patriot
10/22/02: Rabin, gone but not missed
10/17/02: Israelis bracing for US' punch at Iraq
10/14/02: Geriatric war resisters
09/27/02: Al Gore: The Lost Boy of American politics
09/05/02: The intifadeh's over, and the Israelis won
08/29/02: At the world summit, just anger & hypocrisy
08/21/02: No time for weak knees on Iraq
08/16/02: A pro-Arab pol may get the beating she deserves
08/13/02: Fight it out now
08/02/02: Memo to The Council on Foreign Relations: U.S. values won't sell in Arab world
07/31/02: Israel's nutty neighbors

© 2002, NY Daily News