On Saturday, via video from his compound in Ramallah, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat told the Arab League Summit in Tunisia that he was committed to what he called "the peace of the brave" with Israel and expressed optimism in the "Road Map" peace plan.
One would hope that at this stage, in the midst of a second Arafat-backed intifada, even the most die-hard of his traditional supporters-European diplomats, State Department Arabists and Middle Eastern despots-would have trouble taking such comments seriously.
Indeed, Arafat's rhetoric in Tunisia was a harsh departure from remarks he made as recently as May 15, when he closed a televised speech by urging Palestinians to "find whatever strength you have to terrorize your enemy."
It's no accident that Arafat's incitement to "terrorize" Israel coincided with a meeting between Secretary of State Colin Powell and Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia in Jordan or that it preceded a similar session between Qureia and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice held last Monday in Berlin.
In Arafat's megalomaniacal mind, the peace process-which, over the years, he has done everything in his power to sabotage-cannot be discussed without his duplicitous participation. Hence, last Saturday's incendiary comments, which Powell deemed as further proof that the Palestinian people need to "wrest control" from Arafat immediately.
One problem with this scenario is that there is currently no viable, democratic alternative to Arafat, certainly not among the Palestinians' ever-popular terrorist factions. The fact that murderous thugs like Hamas are considered saviors by a large percentage of Palestinians is a tribute to the depraved culture that Arafat has helped shape in Gaza and the West Bank.
Take the events of May 11, when Hamas and Islamic Jihad practically fell over themselves in claiming responsibility for the death of six Israeli soldiers killed by a roadside bomb in Gaza.
To make matters worse, both groups claimed to be in possession of some of the dead soldiers' body parts, a particularly gruesome boast given that the bombing occurred on the same day that footage of the beheading of American businessman Nicholas Berg was released on the Internet.
In the end, the Gaza bombing-which spearheaded a week of clashes that saw 32 Palestinians and 13 Israelis killed-only left the Palestinians drifting further from both statehood and free elections. Such are the consequences of Arafat's refusal to reign in the Palestinians' terrorist elements.
Earlier this month, for instance, the Palestinian Authority released Hamas funds that had been frozen since last August. The money, which was transferred into Hamas bank accounts in Gaza, belongs to 12 charities affiliated with Hamas' so-called political wing. Whether it will actually reach its supposed target-needy Palestinians in the Gaza Strip-or be used to fund further suicide attacks remains to be seen (although history argues for the latter).
But collusion between the PA and terrorist organizations is nothing new. In April, Arafat was prepared to include Hamas and Islamic Jihad in a unified Palestinian leadership structure that would have functioned alongside the PA. While the two groups ultimately rejected the proposal, both have worked closely with Arafat's Fatah movement in recent weeks to track down and kill Palestinians suspected of collaborating with the Israeli Army.
Despite these links, Arafat continues to wonder aloud why the United States and Israel refuse to include him in any discussions regarding the peace process. Indeed, President Bush's recent comment that the establishment of a Palestinian state by the year 2005 (as laid out in the "Road Map") appeared unrealistic due to continued Palestinian terrorism drew an indignant response from Arafat, who said it was "realistic and more."
Arafat's retort came shortly after the murders of a pregnant Israeli woman and her four children by Palestinian terrorists in Gaza on May 2 (in which gunmen emptied bullets into the pregnant mother's stomach at close range) and a foiled May 9 suicide attack in Tel Aviv by a purported Palestinian "hermaphrodite" (a natural progression, I suppose, since men, women and children have already been used as suicide bombers).
Of course, these acts were met with deafening silence by Arafat, who encourages and funds further terror while paying lip service to the "Road Map."
He has already issued a harsh rebuke, though, of recent Israeli Army operations in Gaza, calling them a "planned massacre." Ironically enough, the Israelis are in Gaza to neutralize weapons-smuggling tunnels and wanted terrorists that Arafat himself could have dealt with long ago.
Such a move, however, would have given terrorists like Arafat and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (who, last Monday, publicly rejected a cease-fire with Israel) less leverage in the eyes of the always-sympathetic "international community," which has, predictably, lambasted the Israeli action in Gaza as "state terror."
It's a self-serving game that Arafat plays well-so well that the Palestinian people seem assured of remaining just as he wants them: stateless.
Erick Stakelbeck is Senior Writer at the Investigative Project, a Washington, D.C.-based counter-terrorism research institute.