The Making of an Enemy
GÖRAN ROSENBERG is the founding editor of Moderna
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
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
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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