Yassir Arafat speaks excellent English. His Arabic, however, leaves much to be desired.
On Sunday, The New York Times published a guest column written by Arafat titled “The Palestinian Vision of Peace.” Eloquent, pointed and critical, the column puts into black and white a version of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that, taken on its merits, seems to set a clear course for sending the state of Israel back to its 1967 borders. The problem, however, is that its merits flatly contradict the actions of the besieged president of the Palestinian Authority.
In an attempt to further distance himself from Hamas extremists who have declared an all-out war on the Israeli people, Arafat condemned the attacks against civilians and said he was “determined” to stop them. Aside from that short blurb, he dedicated his column to reminding the world that Palestinians are the only people still living under the control of a foreign nation and that Palestinians, above all, desire to live in peace. “Now is the time for the Palestinians to state clearly, and for the world to hear clearly, the Palestinian vision,” Arafat wrote. While this is mostly true – no group of people desires hardship and war, least of all those who have never known a life without them – Arafat’s recent actions speak too loudly for the world to hear his words. Exactly a month before The New York Times printed Arafat’s column, Israeli special forces captured a ship carrying more than 50 tons of weapons purchased by the Palestinian Authority. By no stretch of the imagination was this a step toward peace for the PA.
The Israeli government, which has become increasingly militant under the leadership of Ariel Sharon and in response to staccato suicide bombings on city streets, certainly bears some of the blame for the recent escalation of hostility. By sealing Arafat first in the city of Ramallah, then within his compound, the Israeli Defense Force has done little more than put a public face on Arafat’s claims of victimization. If he is going to order anything illegal, he can do it just as well from his home as he could from Jerusalem.
Arafat, in turn, must realize that pandering to Hamas and Fatah militants might keep him in the Palestinian people’s favor, but it will do no good if those people are incited to support terrorism against a more powerful nation’s citizens. Might does not make right, but it can decisively stop that which is wrong. The tragedy comes when it goes too far, and right now in Israel both sides are rapidly nearing the border.
Arafat must change tactics. If he does not, his decades-old rhetoric about peace, contradicted by his decades-old passive support of terrorism, will soon end him and any hopes for peace in that area in the near future.