Today's date:
Summer 2002

The Making of an Enemy

GÖRAN ROSENBERG is the founding editor of Moderna Tider.

Stockholm - A shrewdly disseminated argument for Israel to do away with Palestinian self-rule and re-occupy the West Bank is that the Palestinians otherwise sooner or later would have destroyed Israel. The Palestinians, it is now said, never accepted Israel and thus never stopped conspiring to throw the Jews into the sea.

According to this argument for the necessity of endless war and occupation, the Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, not because he wanted a Palestinian state side by side and in peace with Israel, but because had changed his war tactics. This version is now openly propagated by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak ,who claims that Arafat used Oslo as a cover for continued terrorism and that he and the Palestinians "are products of a culture in which to tell a lie...creates no dissonance. They don't suffer from the problem of telling lies that exists in Judeo-Christian culture. Truth is seen as an irrelevant category."

This is now said by the very man who desperately pushed for the summit at Camp David with the argument that the time had come for leaders at the highest level to achieve "an end to the conflict." Either Barak lied to himself then (about Arafat), or is he lying to the world about him now. I suspect the latter.

This is not a defense of Yassir Arafat. Political leaders must be able to defend themselves. This is only an attempt to understand how Yassir Arafat could change within 18 months from a "partner for peace" to an outlawed "terrorist" who Israel could shackle in front of a gun, brand as a fraud and finally, with recent US approval, render harmless as a political leader.

The Israeli explanation (and henceforth the American explanation as well) is that Arafat changed clothes and showed his true face when he declined Barak's "generous" offer at Camp David. Why Arafat should have declined such an offer when he saw the whole process as a charade doesn't make sense in the struggle for the destruction of Israel. The reason it does not do so is not only that it is mostly wrong but that it is consciously misleading. It is a fabricated image of the enemy with the deliberate purpose of discrediting Arafat as a leader, depriving the Palestinian Authority of its legitimacy and eliminating the last vestiges of the Oslo process. I strongly suspect that the ongoing political elimination of Arafat has far less to do with any changes in Arafat's aims than with changes in Israeli and American aims.

Whatever one might say about the way in which Arafat has lead the Palestinian Authority since 1993, and there is a lot to be said, the fact still remains that he personally signed the Oslo Accords, thereby recognizing Israel's right to 78 percent of Israel-Palestine and betting his own political future on the establishment of a Palestinian state on the remaining 22 percent.

After his co-signer Yitzhak Rabin had been assassinated by a Jewish extremist in November 1995, he was faced with a sworn opponent to the Oslo Accords (Benjamin Netanyahu), a deep-seated sceptic (Ehud Barak, who advised against Oslo I and refused to vote for Oslo II) and a deadly enemy (Ariel Sharon). Against this background I find it a bit daring to cast Arafat as the great imposter of Oslo.

The position of Arafat was not made easier by the fact that during this period Israel continued to establish Jewish settlements on the territories of the future Palestinian state (during Barak's 18 months in power the number of Jewish settlers increased by 12 percent). Nor was it made easier by the fact that negotiated interim steps towards increased Palestinian self-rule (with the aim of building confidence and pave the way for final status talks), were constantly postponed or watered down. (Barak actually started by doing just that.) Nor was it made easier by the fact that the only role in which Arafat got full Israeli support was in the role of terrorist-basher. No matter how important this role was to Israel, it was not a role that went all too well with openness and the rule of law in the new-born Palestinian Authority.

What Arafat first and foremost was told to build was not a society but a security apparatus. When the political fruits of Oslo which Arafat had hoped would placate the extremist movements within the Palestinian society did not materialize, when these movements managed to exploit the setbacks of the peace process to increase their influence, the balancing act between police repression and political legitimacy became precarious. And the double talk increased.

The problem is not Arafat's allegedly impossible person. The problem is his increasingly impossible position between a high-handed Israeli power and a powerless Palestinian people. This position will not disappear with Arafat.

Every Palestinian leader worth his name will have to start from the same position. What will disappear with Arafat though, is presumably the only (and perhaps the last) Palestinian leader with enough authority and legitimacy to advocate and negotiate a historic compromise with the State of Israel in the name of the whole Palestinian nation. What will disappear with Arafat, at least for the foreseeable future, is nothing less than the option of a mutually negotiated and mutually respected two-state solution. This is why the ill-battered Israeli peace movement has come out as the last defenders of Arafat with the slogan: "It is Arafat who has no peace partner." As President Bush now has made the elected leader of the Palestinians an outlaw (and in effect given Sharon a carte blanche to remove him one way or another), I am inclined to concur.

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