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by Steve Beren, November 15, 2004

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I recently received via email the following excellent question, which is deserving of a reply:

“I was wondering what your thoughts were on the Arab/Israeli conflict now that Arafat is dead.  Do you see an internal power vacuum taking place within the PLO and all its splinter factions or do you think the transition of power to the new PLO leader Mahmoud Abbas going smoothly?  If you would please reply as many of us value your opinion on important political matters.”

Yasser Arafat was a terrorist.  And he was not just any terrorist – he was a central leader of terrorism for several decades.  Through thousands of actions, and through thousands of words, Arafat is connected to the many acts of terrorism and murder committed against Israeli men, women, and children.  Suicide bombings directed against civilians.  Terrorism directed against children riding school buses.  Hateful violence directed against people in community centers and restaurants.  The murder of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.  The list is endless.

Although his death has prompted favorable eulogies from Jacques Chirac, Kofi Annan, Fidel Castro, and Jimmy Carter, none of their fancy words can obscure Arafat’s legacy of terrorism. 

Here’s what Cuban communist dictator Fidel Castro says about Arafat: “Eternal honor and glory to the unforgettable and heroic combatant Yasser Arafat.  Nothing can erase your name from the history of those great fighters who have struggled for the freedom of the peoples.”  Calling Arafat his “close friend,” he express his profound grief over Arafat’s death, which he called “a harsh blow for the progressive movement worldwide.” 

And UN Secretary General Kofi Annan says: “Chairman Arafat really embodied the Palestinian aspiration.  He had the courage to accept the fact that they would have the two states, and the Palestinians will live side-by-side with the Israelis….”  Annan also stated: “For nearly four decades, he expressed and symbolized in his person the national aspirations of the Palestinian people.” 

French President Jacques Chirac had this to say: “With him disappears a man of courage and conviction who for forty years incarnated the Palestinians’ fight for recognition of their national rights.”

Finally, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter called Arafat “the father of the modern Palestinian nationalist movement” and “a powerful human symbol and forceful advocate.” 

Sources for the above quotes:

Again, no fancy words can obscure Arafat’s legacy of terrorism.  By their words in honor of the deceased terrorist, Chirac and Annan and Castro and Carter bring discredit and disgrace upon themselves.  Castro’s admiration of Arafat is no surprise, since they are birds of a feather.  Of course, for Chirac and Annan, their eulogies of Arafat are only one more demonstration of their appeasement of terrorism.  And Carter?  Well, even when Carter held the most powerful office in the world, he could not mask his weakness in the face of the enemies of freedom, whether communist or Islamic terrorist.

Yasser Arafat opposed the state of Israel, and he sought to destroy the Israeli people and to deny their right of national self-determination.  But at his end, Arafat was not victorious.  He did not succeed in destroying Israel – he failed.  In fact, however, his actions and his political choices did succeed in denying the nationhood of an entire people – his own Palestinian people.  Arafat and his fellow terrorists have unwittingly succeeded in preventing their own people from achieving statehood, peace, and prosperity.

In the long run, the fate of the Palestinian people can only be decided by the Palestinian people themselves.  But in the short run, and in the medium run, they will achieve no progress without a dramatic change in their allegiance.  The Palestinian deserve strong leadership that seeks peace, rejects terrorism; a leadership that embraces democracy and renounces hatred.

Mahmoud Abbas, and other similar Palestinian “secondary” officials who worked in Arafat’s shadow now appear unlikely to lead the Palestinian people toward peace and reconciliation and democracy.  And in the short run, such forces as Hamas and Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad and other “cousins of Arafat” appear poised to battle Abbas and the “secondary” officials.  And these terrorists also will surprise nobody if they battle amongst themselves.

Ultimately, the hopes and aspirations of both the Israeli people and the Palestinian people can only be achieved through the defeat of terrorism.  A true victory in the war against terrorism ultimately must include defeat of Hamas, defeat of Hezbollah, and defeat of Islamic Jihad – along with the defeat of Al Qaeda.

It is sometimes said that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute is “at the heart” of the problems of the Middle East, but this turns things on their head.  The “heart” of the problem of the Middle East is backwardness, intolerance, hatred, oppression, lack of democracy, subjugation of women, and denial of human rights.

The military dictators and the Islamic fascist mullahs and the oil monarchists and the terrorists above all fear and despise democracy, liberty, and freedom.  When terrorists claim that they oppose the United States because of American support for Israel, that is a severe oversimplification. 

Actually, the political movement of Islamic fascist terrorism hates and opposes Israel for the same reason that they hate and oppose the liberation of Iraq and the liberation of Afghanistan.  Democracy and freedom and women’s rights and prosperity offer a beautiful, powerful, viable alternative for the oppressed people of the Arab and Muslim world.  Backwardness can only lose in comparison to modernity and progress and liberty. 

In the final analysis, the terrorists oppose Israel (and they oppose the new Iraq and the new Afghanistan) because they stand as shining examples of the “Western” values of freedom and hope and dignity and prosperity.  If Israel survives, if the new Afghanistan and the Iraq thrive, the trend throughout the Middle East will be against the terrorists and in favor of freedom and modernity.

Only in such a context – democratization of the Middle East and a victory over terrorism – can the issue of Palestinian statehood be solved.  In a sea of democracy and tolerance, a Palestinian state would be democratic, secular, demilitarized, and respectful of all its neighbors – including Israel.

There is no other way forward but victory in the war against terrorism.

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Yasser Arafat and Jimmy Carter

Steve Beren is available for media interviews and speaking engagments.  For more information, CLICK HERE