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Jewish World Review April 5, 2002 / 24 Nisan, 5762

Michael Kelly

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Promises but Never Peace | On July 1, 1994, Yasser Arafat entered Gaza to establish the Palestinian Autonomous Region -- betwixt-and-between creature of the Oslo peace process that was supposed to become, under the guiding light of the Oslo peace process, the physical base of another ambivalent notion, the Palestinian National Authority. I went as a reporter to Gaza a few hours before Arafat arrived, and I stayed there for about five weeks, observing the early days of life and governance under the Palestinian Authority.

Arafat's entry into Gaza was an object lesson: a purposely uncaring display of brute power. He arrived from the Sinai in a long caravan of Chevrolet Blazers and Mercedes-Benzes and BMWs, 70 or 80 cars packed to the rooflines with men with guns. The caravan roared up the thronged roads and down the mobbed streets, with the overfed, leather-jacketed, sunglassed thugs of Arafat's bodyguard detail all the time screaming and shooting off their Kalashnikovs to make their beloved people scurry out of their beloved leader's way.

This was the whole of the Palestinian Authority from the beginning, an ugly little cartoon of Middle East despotism. There was never any pretense of democracy, of rule of law, of a free press, of a working system of taxes or courts or hospitals. There was never any real government. No one ever bothered to build an economy or create jobs or even pick up the trash or pave the streets. There were only security forces -- many, many of these -- and villas by the sea for Arafat's cronies, and millions of dollars in foreign aid that seemed to always turn up missing, and prisons and propaganda. And in the middle of it all: "President" Arafat sitting in a room -- surrounded by waiting sycophants and toadies and respectful ladies and gentlemen of the press -- and complaining.

That summer, I saw only three serious efforts at establishing functioning government: the imprisoning of free-speakers and potential democrats, which began immediately, the likewise prompt establishment of daily anti-Israel broadcasts and a British-run program to train handpicked members of Arafat's Fatah group in riot control.

Of course, there was never any peace. Arafat had promised to disarm Hamas, Hezbollah and his own Fatah gunmen. No evidence exists that he ever seriously tried. The terrorists resumed lethal operations against Israel within a month of Arafat's arrival. Between the day Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin signed the deal that was to buy peace for Israel and the day Arafat and Rabin won the Nobel Peace Prize for that accord, Palestinian terrorists killed 90 Israelis. In five years after Oslo, Palestinians killed more Israelis than in 15 years preceding the accord.

Meanwhile, Arafat's government has exploited Israel's permission to establish a police force to instead build a guerrilla army. Several months ago, some of Arafat's most senior lieutenants were identified as the architects of an attempt to import an entire shipload of rockets, arms and high explosives into Gaza. In occupying Palestinian Authority offices this week in Ramallah, Israel plausibly claims to have discovered two container-loads of prohibited SAM-7 antiaircraft missiles and more than 200 LAW anti-tank missiles.

Much can be conceded in the issue of Israel and the Palestinians: The Palestinians have, in their lost land, a great and real grievance; as a moral and practical matter, Israel should admit this, and it should be willing to trade land for peace with its neighbors.

But this is precisely the point: Israel didconcede these questions. It has been nearly two years since Israel offered the Palestinians nearly all of the territories occupied in 1967.

Arafat's response has redundantly proved his harshest critics right. There was never any honest intent on the Palestinian part for peaceful coexistence with Israel, any more than there was ever any honest intent to establish a government in Gaza that would function toward that end and toward the creation of a decent life for the Palestinian people. What the Palestinians seek -- what Arafat has encouraged them to seek -- is, as is now beyond dispute, the defeat and surrender of Israel.

Arafat and the Palestinians decided to gamble the peace process on a bet for bigger gains through war. They bet -- are betting still -- that Israel, pushed beyond endurance by an unprecedented level of civilian deaths, would surrender to, in essence, the destruction of the Israeli state. This is an insane bet. It will end in the destruction of the experiment Arafat subverted from the very first day.

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Michael Kelly is the editor of National Journal. Send your comments to him by clicking here.

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