Arafat's Poisoned Legacy

Arafat's Poisoned Legacy

Mini Teaser: Arafat's Palestinian nationalism denied the legitimacy of any Israeli state. His successors must shed this straightjacket if they want a state of their own.

by Author(s): Barry Rubin

Abu Mazen will face several specific tests that will allow a clear measurement of his intentions and ability to deliver on his promises. First, will he ban anti-Israel incitement to commit terrorism in the Palestinian media, schools, mosques, and statements made by PA, PLO and Fatah officials? This requires an actual change in behavior and not merely stories in foreign Arab newspapers that the PA is considering such steps. An easy way out for him is to end direct calls to kill Israelis while continuing to let others teach that Israel is illegitimate, that all the land belongs to--and in the future will be regained by--the Palestinians, and that the only satisfactory solution is a complete right of return.

Second, is he willing or able to implement a real ceasefire in which the PA stops planned attacks, punishes those who have committed them, stops arms smuggling, and confiscates weapons? An attractive alternative is to denounce successful attacks while only making a minimal effort to prevent them.

Third, will the "new" leadership express self-criticism over past policies and give its people a realistic analysis of their situation and advocate a lasting two-state solution? An easier approach is to be vague, demanding a state made up of all of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem without promising an end of the conflict or the resettlement of Palestinian refugees in a Palestinian state in return. In addition, all the Palestinians' problems and the regime's shortcomings could continue to be blamed on Israel.

Fourth, can Abu Mazen conduct successful negotiations for managing the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and part of the West Bank, with the PA establishing an effective administration for that area which blocks cross-border attacks while meeting the material needs of the Palestinians living there? If the PA government is unable to stop terrorist attacks and missile firings, Israeli troops will return, bringing clashes with Palestinian forces and irresistible pressure on Abu Mazen to return to full-scale warfare.

Fifth, when peace talks with Israel reconvene, will Abu Mazen be able to negotiate freely, or will his hands be tied by the Fatah establishment and young insurgents? Otherwise, negotiations will merely be occasions for Palestinian representatives to repeat accusations against Israel and their own maximalist demands.

Certainly, the situation can be improved and the level of violence can decrease. The PA can take over all of Gaza and the Israeli troop presence in the West Bank can be reduced to the mostly uninhabited parts and small number of roadblocks that existed before Ararat started the second intifada in 2000. But unless there is a Palestinian leadership able to move far beyond the legacy left by Ararat and impose new policies on the movement, no amount of diplomatic activity, special envoys, peace plans or meetings will produce any result.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the journal MERIA. He is the author, most recently, of The Tragedy of the Middle East (2002), and co-author of Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography (2003) and Hating America (2004).

Essay Types: Essay