Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas has resigned and Yassir Arafat has hastily nominated his close associate Ahmed Qurei (pronounced ku-RAY-uh) as Abbas’ replacement.
How does this bode for the peace process? The situation may be summed up best by a pointed joke making the rounds of Palestinian politicians:
Mr. Arafat is riding in a car with Mr. Abbas, when he spots an obstacle. “Abu Mazen, there’s a tree in the road!” Mr. Arafat cries, using Mr. Abbas’s nickname. But the car continues on its way. Mr. Arafat’s warnings grow more frantic.
Finally, the car hits the tree, and as the two Palestinian leaders stumble from the wreckage, battered and bruised, Mr. Arafat turns to Mr. Abbas and says, “Abu Mazen, I told you there was a tree.”
Mr. Abbas replies, miserably, “But you were driving.”
In covering Arafat’s latest push for power, many media outlets are demonstrating an remarkable ignorance about what got us into this mess in the first place. As the London Daily Telegraph wrote in their Sept. 8 editorial: “In the West, our grasp of the Middle East is afflicted by a kind of amnesia. For some 30 years, Mr. Arafat’s fingerprints have been found on each failed peace initiative.”
Given the media’s notoriously poor memory, let’s review how we reached this juncture:
1) In the wake of the horrific 9/11 attacks, a consensus developed in the West that terrorism is a fundamental threat that must be eliminated to ensure the very survival of the free world. To that end, President Bush made the war on terror a cornerstone of American policy, and he has undertaken to lead this mission.
2) In an effort to solve the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, President Bush stated unequivocally in June 2002 that any advance of the peace process is predicated on “a new and different Palestinian leadership…not compromised by terror” ? an unmistakable call for the replacement of Yassir Arafat.
President Bush’s objection to Arafat went beyond the decades of plane hijackings, schoolyard shootings and Munich murders. Rather, it was the promise that Arafat undertook in 1993 to foreswear the methodology of violence and terror. (This week marks the 10th anniversary.) Seven years later, Arafat proved incorrigible, unable to grasp the truly historic opportunity to embrace peace and leave the terror behind.
As the Americans recognized, nobody could afford to go down Arafat Lane again ? not Palestinian citizens who are suffering socially and economically, not Israelis who are under daily siege, and not the West in its effort to uproot terror. For the sake of peace, Yassir Arafat had to be sidelined.
3) Release of the U.S.-backed road map was therefore delayed until a new Palestinian leader emerged. In April 2003, within hours of Mahmoud Abbas’ assuming the post as Palestinian prime minister, the official road map was released and diplomatic progress began.
4) It soon became painfully clear that Abbas was not in fact the Palestinian leader, but rather subordinate to Arafat. As Palestinian spokesman Saeb Erekat stated in May: “There is no one who is more loyal to Arafat than Abu Mazen and no one who is more loyal to Abu Mazen than Arafat.”
Or as Abbas himself said on July 26, when asked by Newsweek if Arafat has to approve the prime minister’s actions: “All the actions, all the actions. He is the leader of the Palestinian people.”
Arafat’s ongoing reign contradicted the sole prerequisite to the new peace initiative (see point 2 above).
5) Arafat’s power grip became most evident in recent weeks when Abbas, in an effort to implement the road map, asserted more authority than Arafat was willing to allow. Arafat undermined Abbas, and Abbas was given no choice but to announce his resignation, decrying his Palestinian opponents for their (in his words) “harsh and dangerous” incitement.
This left Arafat as the lone Palestinian leader, and we’re right back where we started. It’s a veritable “cycle of Arafat.”
A number of news agencies recognized that Arafat’s appointment of Qurei ? a high-ranking official in Arafat’s own Fatah faction ? is another step backward for the peace process. As stated bluntly in the Chicago Tribune, “If Palestinian leaders cling to the notion that they can send out a conciliatory face as prime minister while providing safe harbor for terrorists such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, then Qureia will fail, too…It was a good weekend for Yasser Arafat, and a disaster for the Palestinian people.”
Or, in the words of the editorial desk of Denver’s Rocky Mountain News: “In the long run, friends of peace can only hope that the Palestinians outgrow their affection for the man who once again, through his sabotage of Abbas’ leadership, has dashed the hopes of permanent peace.”
Yet some news outlets followed the lead of Reuters, who reported (editorialized, actually, with no attribution) that Israel’s attempt to completely sideline Arafat is actually to blame, for it “added to the sense that a battered U.S.-led peace plan may now be beyond rescue.”
Reuters goes on to paint Qurei glowingly: “His credentials as a highly regarded moderate and an architect of the 1993 interim Oslo peace accords with Israel could endear him to the United States and help salvage a U.S.-led peace plan.”
Taken together, Reuters’ strange editorial line becomes clear: Arafat and his hand-picked associate Qurei are the ones capable of “salvaging” the road map ? a peace plan preconditioned on the removal of Arafat from power and influence.
Comments to Reuters: firstname.lastname@example.org
And while Arafat’s political machinations and ongoing support of terror has tied the peace process in knots, Pat Oliphant ? the most widely syndicated political cartoonist in the world ? would have us believe that Israel’s been doing the tying. Oliphant’s August 26 cartoon shows Uncle Sam doomed to failure in his peace effort, due to Israeli targeted strikes (the soldier’s newspaper is headlined “Hamas Leader Killed”):
Amazingly, Israeli’s insistence on one of the road map‘s primary points ? “confronting all those engaged in terror and dismantlement of terrorist capabilities and infrastructure” ? is portrayed by Oliphant as actually ruining the road map!
Comments to Oliphant’s distributor, Universal Press Syndicate:
Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle aga
inst media bias.