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© Mitchell Bard 2016

Thank You, Yasser

Just as the Clinton Administration appears to be adopting the Bush Administration approach to dealing with Israel, and the Netanyahu government’s reactions threaten to bring U.S.-Israel relations to the level of discord known only during the Shamir years, Yasser Arafat steps into the breach with a series of statements and actions to steal the limelight. Still, the behavior of all the principal players in the peace process now is contributing to its unraveling and everyone seems determined to make matters worse.

First, what is going on at the White House? Suddenly, after four years of unflinching support for Israel, the President has allowed the State Department to resume its traditional role of Israel-basher. And, for the second time in less than a month, secret information was leaked to the Washington Post. Rather than criticizing Israel, administration officials should be denouncing the breaches of security and announcing measures to stem the flow of classified material to the press. It could be that material is being leaked by entrenched anti-Israel bureaucrats rather than officials close to the President; nevertheless, this did not occur in Clinton’s first term and is only happening because the leakers feels it is now safe to publicly embarrass Israel.

And what’s the big deal anyway about a CIA report showing that a high percentage of apartments in the territories are vacant? Even Peace Now, which has every reason to applaud the findings, says they are inaccurate. Frankly, the vacancy rate is irrelevant. Everyone knows that new homes are built in the territories for political reasons. Some towns genuinely have housing shortages, but no one should be under any illusions about the Netanyahu government’s motivation. What is outrageous is the amount of spying the U.S. is doing on Israel, and that the CIA is using its scarce intelligence resources to try to count the number of Jews renting apartments. If only as much attention was spent on tracking terrorists in the West Bank

Israel’s reactions to U.S. behavior are certainly not helping matters. You’ve got the Prime Minister blaming everyone for the crisis in the peace process, rather than taking the high road and suggesting positive steps to move forward. The Ambassador to the United States sends a message that is undiplomatically leaked to the Israeli press calling for harsh steps to be taken against the Americans for spying on Israel.

Fortunately, good ‘ol Yasser has come to save the day by capturing, or at least sharing the headlines. First, he attacks the United States for being biased toward Israel. He and his advisers single out Dennis Ross for criticism and make no secret of the fact that they distrust him because he is Jewish. Since Ross is one of the most respected diplomats in Washington, this did not play well at the White House.

Next, the Palestinian Authority decided to impose the death penalty on anyone selling land to Jews. Arafat defended the decision and made clear he would do nothing to stop the murder of suspected “traitors.”

These two acts were bad enough, but what really got the media’s attention was Arafat’s decision to have a journalist arrested for having the audacity to telecast unflattering debates of the Palestinian legislature. Worse, the guy he locked up, Daoud Kuttab holds an American passport and has been a frequent guest on U.S. television shows. So, for example, in the Washington Post, the Daoud story shared the page with the critical report on Israeli settlements.

An even stronger indication of Arafat’s problems was an op-ed by Fawaz Turki ridiculing the chairman’s autocratic behavior. It was astounding to read a Palestinian criticizing Arafat for arriving in Gaza with men carrying guns instead of shovels, for creating nine intelligence services and a security force with more policemen per capita than any country in the world. Turki blasted the Palestinian Authority for silencing a heretical editor, hounding a human rights activist and jailing a labor leader. He discloses that 14 Palestinians have been tortured and killed by Arafat’s henchmen. If Turki lived in the West Bank, he would probably be victim number 15.

The truth is that neither Israelis nor the Americans, can force changes in Arafat’s behavior. That will only come from Palestinians like Turki, Kuttab or alleged human rights activist Hanan Ashrawi. Arafat got away with being a dictator in the past because Palestinians felt Israel was a bigger threat. Now, it is beginning to dawn on a few people that their “President” may pose a greater danger to their future.

Arafat has gotten a free ride for a long time. He needs to be held accountable. If Mubarak, Assad and King Hussein can prevent terrorists from attacking Israel from within their borders, Arafat’s 40,000 policemen certainly can do so too. Moreover, the United States cannot afford to let Arafat think he will be treated like other Arab dictators, who the United States exempts from pressure for democratization.

To get the peace process back on track, the President will have to plug the leaks from his Administration and begin to reaffirm his support for Israel (starting with recognizing Jerusalem as the capital). The Israelis need to take the initiative in the peace process and propose solutions rather than excuses. And Yasser Arafat will have to begin to act like a statesman, rather than a mafia don. In this case, two out of three won’t be good.