Tuesday, November 16, 2004

The Arafat Legacy: A Final Set of Readings

Here are three excellent articles that help explain why the passing of Yasser Arafat is anything but cause for mourning:

In a November 12 piece for National Review Online, Andrew C. McCarthy offers a detailed biography of the man he accurately calls "(t)he Father of Modern Terrorism":

While Arafat's mantel as the "Father of Palestine" is dubious given that he is singularly responsible for the failure of a Palestinian nation to emerge, his credentials as the "Father of Modern Terrorism" are solid. In the late 1950's, he co-founded Fatah, the "Movement for the National Liberation of Palestine." His métier, and thus Fatah's, was the sneak attack on soft Israeli targets, the better to maximize carnage and fear. The first efforts were ham-handed: failed attempts in 1965 to bomb the national water carrier and the railroad. But the organization soon hit its stride, successfully attacking villages and civilian infrastructure. By 1969, Arafat was the chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the umbrella group he never ceased to dominate after merging Fatah into it a year earlier. The PLO had a single purpose: the destruction of Israel.

Actually, make that two purposes. The PLO was also a fabulously profitable criminal enterprise. Though Arafat purported to have made it big in the engineering business in Kuwait, British investigators, as Stephens reported, concluded after a searching probe that his wealth stemmed from sidelines his organization maintained in "extortion, payoffs, illegal arms-dealing, drug trafficking, money laundering and fraud" that yielded billions. Throughout his career, moreover, Arafat proved a master at culling funds — whether from levies on strapped Palestinian workers or gushing subsidies from starry-eyed European and American governments. From these, he skimmed millions and stashed them throughout the world — including in Israeli banks —keeping his wife on a lavish $100,000-per-month allowance in Paris while his people starved, and, of course, blamed Israel for their troubles.

In the November 14 edition of the British Sunday newspaper The Observer, Jason Burke analyzes the extent of the rampant corruption that plagued Arafat's PLO and Palestinian Authority:

Senior Palestinian officials are desperately trying to account for sums that could total hundreds of millions of pounds' worth of investments linked to the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) spread out around the world.

They also hope to locate secret bank accounts belonging to hundreds of corrupt low-level officials serving with the Palestinian Authority (PA), the administration set up to run the West bank and Gaza in 1993, who were protected by Yasser Arafat. Arafat, as the PLO chairman, was one of the few individuals who knew the location of many of the organisation's investments - which range from land holdings to shares in major corporations. Senior PLO figures, such as Mahmood Abbas, the secretary general until Arafat's death, and Ahmed Qurei, a key aide of Arafat, have some information but it is incomplete.

Finally, in the November 22 Weekly Standard, Robert Satloff looks at the possibilities presented by the post-Arafat era:

The passing of Arafat will provide that Middle Eastern rarity: a second chance. With Palestinian politics inwardly focused in the immediate aftermath of Arafat's death, promoting an early resumption of high-level Israeli-Palestinian diplomacy is the wrong approach. Instead, this is precisely the moment for the United States to press forward with a three-pronged agenda.

First, Washington should do all it can to assist Israel in implementing its plan to disengage from Gaza and the northern West Bank. More than anything else, the prospect of Israeli withdrawal from these areas will compel moderate, reformist Palestinians to come out of the woodwork and fight for their interests in the internal Palestinian political contest that looms.

Second, the United States should promote a U.S.-Palestinian agenda that emphasizes democracy, transparency, accountability, and the rule of law. Elections that were impossible as long as Arafat had a stranglehold on power are now conceivable. This new American approach cannot by itself ensure that the optimistic scenario will take hold. President Bush's promise last week to work for "lasting democratic political institutions" in a free Palestine is a good start. But without a consistent, concerted push from Washington--the foreign capital that all Palestinians have, for the last decade, cared most about--the prospects are dim indeed.

Third, the Bush administration should challenge Arabs and Europeans to lend material support to both these efforts. Foreign critics of the president's first term who demand "greater American engagement"--while still providing broadcast time to anti-peace jihadists, welshing on their financial commitments, or reveling in producing peace plans unrelated to reality--should have no standing in Washington. But countries that are willing to invest in the success of a post-disengagement Gaza--politically, economically, and morally--should find a willing partner in the White House.

The Palestinian leadership and people now find themselves with a golden opportunity to move away from the corrupt autocracy, savage terrorism, and self-destructive fanaticism that constitute the legacy of Yasser Arafat. I sincerely hope they will find the wisdom to abandon that legacy and instead pursue democratic reform and genuine peace with Israel. The United States should do everything possible to encourage and assist them on this path.


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