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Goodbye Mr. Arafat

The Professor

By Steven Martinovich

(July 1, 2002) - June 24, 2002 was a day that Yasser Arafat knew had to come sooner or later. After over 70 terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and military personnel since the beginning of 2000, U.S. President George W. Bush confirmed something that many knew already. Arafat had served only as an obstacle to Middle East stability and a change in leadership is necessary to push forward a new peace process.

"Peace requires a new and different Palestinian leadership, so that a Palestinian state can be born. I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror," said Bush during an afternoon speech on June 24.

Many interpreted Bush's statement as a new peace proposal, one dependent on a change of leadership and philosophy for the Palestinian people. What his statement actually represented was a sea change in American policy. No longer would the United States attempt to appease Palestinians or urge restraint on their Israeli allies. No longer will the United States deal with Yasser Arafat or push Israel towards making major concessions for a chance at peace. It was the ultimate repudiation of the Oslo Accord.

While Bush did discuss the formation of a provisional Palestinian state and an end to Israeli settlements in the so-called occupied territories, he also made it clear that the onus was on Palestinians themselves to put their own house in order before a new peace process could be launched. It's not an easy task either considering Bush rejected "cosmetic change or a veiled attempt to preserve the status quo" in favour of "[t]rue reform will require entirely new political and economic institutions based on democracy, market economics and action against terrorism."

Bush's statement recognizes that the current problems of the Palestinian people have largely been created internally. Perhaps Arafat recognized that last week when he offered to accept a peace plan that would have handed Palestinians control over most of the territory taken by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War and a scaling back of Palestinian demands for the right of return of refugees. The problem? The offer was made by then U.S. President Bill Clinton in July 2000. A lot more than one day, and a lot less than one dollar short.

Although Arafat oddly welcomed Bush's comments "and finds them to be a serious effort to push the peace process forward. The Palestinian leadership and President Arafat hope that the details will be discussed during the direct and bilateral meetings with the American administration," it was in fact the last gasp of a man who realizes that the game may finally over. He was in essence asking the United States to negotiate with a man they had just rejected as a legitimate voice.

Arafat is a desperate man and his newfound embracing of the previously rejected Clinton peace proposal is a sign of that. He has shunted to the sideline by an administration that refuses to consider him a head of state and even if he is reelected he will remain a marginal figure. It's a message the Palestinians would do well to remember. As long as Arafat remains their leader, the United States will do nothing to improve their lives limit Israeli reprisals after suicide attacks. There will be no further allowances or tolerance for terrorist actions.

There was also someone else who was sent a message on June 24, though his name wasn't mentioned. Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia floated a peace plan some months ago, one that asked Israel to make major concessions with what was effectively no guarantee of peace. Bush's statement effectively rejected Abdullah's proposal and for good measure the Arab world's opinion as well. His message was clear: Yasser Arafat is finished as a credible leader of the Palestinians. If the Arab world doesn't realize that, it seems Arafat does.

Thanks for reading,

Steven Martinovich

A modified version of this editorial appeared in the Jerusalem Post on June 30, 2002

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