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Groundhog Day in the Middle East

By Jackson Murphy
web posted May 6, 2002

Did you happen to catch any of CNN's programming last week? When there wasn't crisis in the Catholic Church, there was crisis in the Middle East. By Wednesday, there was crisis in the Middle East, crisis in the Catholic Church, and almost unbelievably crisis in a Middle East Church. You literally needed a scorecard for this type of stuff.

All of this of course was overshadowed by an event even more interesting, but not worth calling a "crisis". Yasser Arafat was allowed out of his compound for the first time in 34 days. Many commentators referred to this as Groundhog Day - where Arafat comes out, presumably to see his shadow and incite violence, then return to his cave. I fear that it may indeed become like the memorable 1993 Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day" where he is forced to relive the same day over, and over again. The question is not whether or not Arafat will restart the violence.

The question is how many times will we let him to perform this peace-terror-peace-terror roller coaster party trick. Yasser ArafatSeeing Arafat tour Ramallah flashing "V" for victory signs, one hopes not many more times. The bar must be set pretty low in the region if being released from your compound is greeted with such enthusiasm. Arafat was, in the words of Jackie Mason and Raoul Felder writing in The Washington Times, "Sitting in the rubble like a fermenting piece of rotten cabbage."

And Poor Yasser, according to United Press International, "It was a visit he was forced to make in a convoy of cars borrowed from citizens since his own fleet of black Mercedes, Land Rovers and sport-utility vehicles was wrecked when Israeli troops brought Operation Defensive Shield to Ramallah."

The problem for the world now is that Yasser Arafat has free time. How long will it be before Arafat prods his buddies in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Iran to send more guns, checks for suicide bombers, and to hold the ever popular suicide bomber telethon? The good people here in Foggy Bottom, the home of the U.S. State Department, are pretty sure that he won't revert to his nefarious end game.

But as Paul Greenberg tells it, "thanks to American pressure, Yasser Arafat should be free to resume his bloody career. The deal is simple: He'll pretend not to be a terrorist and we'll pretend to believe him." It certainly doesn't leave one with a healthy feeling of confidence.

Later this summer, the United States, Europe, Russia, and the United Nations will sponsor a major Mideast conference to establish a Palestinian state which, they hope, will live in peace with Israel. The goal is novel, and it will certainly be worth watching if only for comic relief.

But this doesn't mean that two states are better than one, or that if you build a new state peace will come. If anything the creation of a Palestinian state should lead to more conflict not less. Arafat, if he can make it to the summer meeting, may find himself with the actual tools of a real state. Realizing that running a state is harder than it appears he longs for the simplicity of terrorism, and urged on by his 'friends', he resumes his attack.

President Bush has waded into this morass and come out unscathed thus far. He demanded unsuccessfully for more from the Arab world, demanded Israel pull back, but gave them psuedo diplomatic cover as Israel routed out terrorists, and now there is the possibility for a solution.

If it succeeds -- even in the short term -- there will be room to move on Iraq with tepid support from some Arab states. If it fails, say Arafat balks again as he did with Clinton and starts up the terror machine for an encore, Israel will be allowed once and for all to deal with him. This will be the last Groundhog Day for Yasser.

Jackson Murphy is a commentator from Vancouver, Canada. He is the editor of "Dispatches" a website that serves up political commentary 24-7.You can contact him at jacksonmurphy@telus.net.

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