Monday, November 15, 2004

On G Jefferson Price

Mendacity Alert III

G Jefferson Price III, former Jerusalem bureau chief for the Baltimore Sun as well as a former editor weighs in with his assessment of Yasser Arafat and what he meant, "Palestinians pay tribute not just to Arafat, but to an idea". First he takes a potshot at Binyamin Netanyahu:

ISRAEL'S FINANCE minister and former prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, noted on the day of Yasser Arafat's death that Mr. Arafat did not have the stature of Arabs who have signed peace treaties with Israel, men such as Egypt's Anwar el Sadat and Jordan's King Hussein.
Mr. Netanyahu, who as prime minister shared plenty of culpability in the failure of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, was speaking to CNN's Wolf Blitzer.
This is a common refrain for Israel critics and one to which I've responded before. First of all as Prime Minister, Netanyahu ceded over 80% of Israel's second holiest city, Hebron to the Palesitnian Authority. Secondly he eschewed closures over Palesitnian territory and his government announced late in its term that legal Palestinian employment in Israel had reached a six year high.
Critics of Israel lament the inconvenience that the security fence brings to the Palestinians, but they never acknowledge when Israel was doing all it can to improve the lot of the Palestinians.
What he did not note was that, unlike Mr. Arafat, President Sadat and King Hussein were the heads of undisputed sovereign states. They had their own governments, and their own armies.

He also did not note that in Egypt and Jordan, Israel had no territorial ambitions. Palestine is all about territorial ambitions.

And Mr. Netanyahu did not note that no matter what Egypt and Jordan said about their mission on behalf of the Palestinians in making war and in signing peace agreements with Israel, the Palestinians were very low on their lists of priorities.

And where exactly is Price going with this? Does he mean to imply that if Arafat had a state he'd have acted differently?

For more than four decades, the Egyptians, the Jordanians and the other Arab states gave a lot of lip service to Palestinian nationalism, but they did little to make it happen. In that respect, in that time, they were complicit in Israel's determination that there should never be a Palestinian state. Today, Israel acknowledges the possible eventuality of a Palestinian state, but does nothing to create an environment in which a legitimate, sovereign Palestinian state might emerge. Quite the opposite.

There's a reason that the Arab world supported Palestinian nationalism. Here it is:

Article 20:
The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.
It's not that Arab states want a Palestinian state; it's that they don't want a Jewish one in the Middle East. The Palestinian national movement expressed that idea in its covenant and couched it in terms of a national struggle somehow making the destruction of the Jewish state acceptable or at least palatable.
Little has been said about this in the days before and since Mr. Arafat's death Thursday, but 2004 is an anniversary in the chronology of the Palestinians' ambition to speak for themselves rather than through proxies in Cairo, Amman, Damascus and elsewhere. Thirty years ago, in 1974, the Arab league, meeting in Rabat, Morocco, declared that the Palestine Liberation Organization and thus Mr. Arafat - not President Sadat, not King Hussein - was the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
I suppose the reason that not many of those remembering Yasser Arafat mention the Rabat conference is because they realize the implication of its declaration. It was hardly a compromise. Here's the exact language:
2. To affirm the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent national authority under the command of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people in any Palestinian territory that is liberated. This authority, once it is established, shall enjoy the support of the Arab states in all fields and at all levels;
Given that, at this time, the PLO was unambiguously devoted to Israel's destruction this appears to be the equivalent of the Arab league ascenting to that goal. (I still believe that to be the goal of the PLO, it's just sufficiently ambiguous now that there are those who are convinced it has changed.)
The Israeli occupation in those days was benign compared with today's. But about one thing the Israelis were adamant: Yasser Arafat was a terrorist and the PLO was a terrorist organization. No matter who designated the PLO as the spokesman for the Palestinians under their occupation, the Israelis would never negotiate with Mr. Arafat. Membership in the PLO was illegal; so was any sign of support for the organization, even flying the Palestinian flag.

Mr. Arafat did much to ensure this remained the position of Israel and its important ally, the United States. The PLO charter called for the destruction of Israel. Palestinian terrorists from Lebanon, where the PLO was headquartered, raided Israeli communities and killed innocent people. The world was enraged and disgusted.

Israelis were adamant? By its behavior the PLO - even as Price acknowledges - engaged in terror. There is not getting around that. It was a terrorist organization then. It still is. (Though many have chosen to ignore the PLO's behavior and emphasize its role as a vehicle for Palestinian aspirations. Martin Peretz recently noted:
Barbara Plett is the BBC correspondent in the West Bank. On Oct. 30, reporting on Yasser Arafat's sickbed departure from Ramallah to Jordan, en route to his Paris death watch, she confided to a Radio 4 news program: "When the helicopter carrying the frail old man rose above his ruined compound, I started to cry." Quite an admission from a journalist of record. At least she was candid. But she is not the only reporter to have been enlisted in the personal drama of Abu Amr (his nom de guerre, which literally means "father of war") as a segue into making propaganda for his cause. ABC's Peter Jennings has been doing it for decades, going back at a minimum to the massacre of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics, the Palestinian leader's first great statement on the world stage.
No one imagined in those days that within another 20 years of the Rabat conference, Israel and the PLO would sign a framework for peace between their people, and that Mr. Arafat, the terrorist, would return to his homeland, first in Gaza, then Ramallah in the West Bank.
I think that Price here uses "terrorist" not as his own description but rather to describe the change that occurred in Israeli society.
In the decade after the Oslo accords were signed in 1993, Mr. Arafat managed to ruin practically every opportunity to build on the peace agreement. Terrorism remained a tool of the battle for liberation. The corruption of the Palestinian leadership infuriated Palestinians and severely eroded Mr. Arafat's stature.
I'm glad that Price acknowledges this. Alas, it's clear he doesn't believe the implication of his own observation as he holds Israel at fault for the failure of the PA.
Yet, in Ramallah on Friday, in a tumultuous scene, throngs of Palestinians overran security barriers to pay their last respects to Mr. Arafat.

Was it Mr. Arafat the terrorist they had come to revere? Was it Mr. Arafat the corrupt? Certainly, terrorists were in the crowd. Certainly, many of the corrupt officials who were part of Mr. Arafat's regime were there.

But the outpouring, which looked for a while as if it would prevent the funeral altogether, was there for an idea, too. That idea, which Mr. Arafat - notwithstanding his egregious flaws - embodied for Palestinians, was liberation, self-determination, sovereignty.

Plus there's one other thing that Arafat embodied: the rejection of the hated Zionist entity. It is this aspect of Palestinian nationalism that Mr. Price and those like him refuse to acknowledge.
So long as there is no sovereign Palestinian state, there's unlikely to be a Palestinian statesman. That may suit the Benjamin Netanyahus of the world just fine. But if Israel wants a Palestinian leader to match the stature of Egypt's President Sadat, better give the Palestinians a real state for that man to represent.
This is Price's conclusion: Arafat was ill equipped to be a statesman because he didn't have a state. It reminds of an old political cartoon by the Washington Post's Herblock. It shows Nixon in a five o'clock shadow wallowing in the mud saying to passersby "Of course I'd be different if I had the top job." (or something similar.)
But Arafat was never different. Twice before Israel ignored his past he sought to destabilize his host. Jordan fought back, but Lebanon was consumed by his corruption and today, thirty years later is still occupied by Syria as a result of Arafat's mischief. Given his history, what in the world makes G Jefferson Price think that Arafat would have been different had he be given a state?
Arafat, as Price acknowledged "...managed to ruin practically every opportunity to build on the peace agreement." There was no one for Israel to deal with then (and there still isn't.)
Until the Palestinians accept Israel's right to exist there will be no peace in the Middle East. Despite what you might hear, it hasn't happened yet. And it won't likely happen for years to come.

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