In much of what we laughingly call the "civilized world," the death of
archterrorist and murderer Yasser Arafat was mourned with the usual solemnity given
to a distinguished head of state.
Indeed, much of the international media gave Arafat's send-off the "Princess
Di" treatment, with lengthy biographies in which platitudes about his
symbolic value as the leader of the Palestinian cause were augmented by euphemisms
about the tactics employed by his henchmen.
Even many of those who didn't buy into the nonsense about this Egyptian-born
former Soviet satellite being a heroic revolutionary leader were still liable
to treat him as a major celebrity. In contemporary American pop culture, no
higher compliment can be paid.
In the Palestinian territories, the solemn rites for Arafat were celebrated
with the usual pomp and circumstance of that violence-besotted culture: riots
and uncontrolled bursts of gunfire, which accounted for numerous casualties.
But in the corridors of the American foreign-policy establishment were no
tearful eulogies, such as were heard on the BBC. Nor was there any gunfire at
least, none that was reported.
But the policy wonks at the State Department, the Council on Foreign
Relations and the "Middle East experts" at major American newspapers (The New York
Times' Thomas L. Friedman, The Philadelphia Inquirer's Trudy Rubin, the Boston
Globe's Thomas Oliphant, the Los Angeles Times' Robert Scheer, etc.) are
commemorating Arafat's passing in the way they have reacted to virtually every
piece of news that comes out of the region: calling for more U.S. pressure on
Israel to revive the peace process.
In these quarters, the belief that the only way to Middle East peace lies in
American strong-arming of the only democracy in the region is something akin
to a religious faith. No matter how many times it has been employed and
subsequently failed the same "wise" men and women who are anointed as the
"experts" on the conflict refuse to acknowledge that they may have been mistaken,
or that theories may be based more on wishful thinking than reality.
It is true that the death of Arafat removes one of the principle obstacles to
peace. As Barry Rubin, the author of one the best books about Arafat in print
Yasser Arafat: A Political Biography has said, the old terrorist's
greatest fear was that he would go down in Arab historians as the man who sold
Palestine to the Jews. No danger of that happening now, is there?
There remains a glimmer of hope that Mahmoud Abbas, his apparent successor,
will try and transform the Palestinian Authority into something a bit more
presentable to the American public. How exactly it will cease to be a kleptocracy
that subsidizes terror both by paying its own killers (the Al Aksa Martyrs
Brigade) and by condoning the actions of its Islamic rivals has yet to be
And you can bet that Israel will go a long way to avoid being blamed for any
of Abbas' failures.
In his previous incarnation as the prime minister of the P.A., Abbas achieved
nothing. That was because Arafat never had any intention of allowing himself
to be superceded, even by one of his old buddies (albeit one that in the past
few years has been at pains to be portrayed in the Western press as a critic
of Arafat's tactics and continued terrorism).
Israel was roundly condemned for failing to make concessions to make Abbas
look good, even though he had zero chance of outmaneuvering Arafat. Sharon won't
make the same mistake again, and will probably release terror suspects and
close down security roadblocks in order to be seen as being supportive of Abbas,
even if it results in Israeli casualties.
But the experts are dead wrong, as they always have been, when they say that
Bush must reverse course in his second term and emphasize bludgeoning Israel
into concessions to get a peace deal, rather than putting the emphasis on the
need for Palestinian reform.
There is no more risible piece of conventional wisdom than the one that tells
us that the primary roadblock to peace is the refusal of Bush to force Israel
to give more territory and to refrain from acts of self-defense against
A decade of Oslo negotiations should have amply illustrated even for those
dimwitted experts that all American pressure on Israel does is to whet the
Palestinians appetite for more. The Israelis, desperate for a respite from
terror and willing to go a long way to get it, can't buy peace if the Palestinians
aren't selling. And the absence of a Palestinian will for peace is what has
always been lacking.
CAN ABBAS DO IT?
But doesn't Arafat's death mean all that has changed? Maybe, but you don't
have to be an expert to figure out that if Arafat felt he didn't have the clout
to give up on the so-called "right of return" for Palestinian refugees, why
would a comparative weakling like Abbas or any of his rivals do better,
assuming they even wanted to?
If, as more level-headed skeptics suspect,the conflict is still not about
borders but about the existence of Israel itself (as the Palestinians with the
guns and bombs continue to tell us), then all the U.S. pressure in the world
won't do anything but undermine Israel's ability to defend itself. But Arafat's
death has given Israel's critics license to resurrect the same patent nostrums
they peddled before.
Will they succeed?
Bush and his new Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, have rightly held that
progress toward a Palestinian state must be prefaced by an end to terrorism
and genuine reform of the P.A. That emphasis and the refusal of Bush to
engage with Arafat until it happened has frustrated the experts to no end. They
hope that Bush's need to help his primary European ally, British Prime Minister
Tony Blair, will cause him to reverse the revolution in American foreign
policy that they effectuated in his first term.
Bush and Rice are being asked a simple question: What do they believe the
facts about the Palestinians, or the worn-out theories of Friedman and Rubin
and company? Here's hoping that Condi Rice is too smart and Bush too stubborn
to get that one wrong.