In Chaos, Opportunity

Mideast, Israel and Palestinian flags, barbwire, and dove of peace. 020305, GD.
This column from National Review Online was written by Jed Babbin.
At 75, the United Nations' favorite terrorist -- Palestinian Authority chieftain Yasser Arafat -- is dead. On and off again for the last week he has been reportedly in "grave" condition at the Percy Military Training Hospital outside Paris. Many of us who have long wished Arafat dead were fervently wishing for his recovery because -- at this instant in history -- Arafat in death could frustrate progress toward peace in the Middle East as much as he did in life.

On November 13, 1974, Yasser Arafat addressed the U.N. General Assembly for the first time. Clad in military fatigues, with a pistol on his hip, Arafat was welcomed and then acclaimed for his speech in which he enlarged on his theme that, "The difference between the revolutionary and the terrorist lies in the reason for which he fights." And so it has been in the U.N. ever since: The Minutemen of Lexington and Concord are no different from the men who hack off hostages' heads for the Al-Jazeera evening news. During a 2002 incursion into Arafat's Ramallah compound, the Israelis discovered a cache of documents and photographs showing that Saddam Hussein -- through the Palestinian Authority -- was funding suicide bombings against Israeli targets. Included in the cache were proofs that Syria, Iran, and Saudi Arabia were also funding PA terrorism.

Arafat has long been the favorite of the Europeans, and the EU is the single biggest funding source for the Palestinian Authority. At least the single biggest we know of. When Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia (and until 2003, Iraq) fund Palestinian terrorism against Israel, they are using the Palestinians as surrogates, cannon fodder, in their unending war against Israel. Arafat's personal wealth ranked him, according to some reports, as the world's sixth-richest despot.

In President Bush's first year in office, the so-called "Middle East Roadmap"-- yet another "peace process" -- failed. It followed hard on Arafat's refusal of Clinton administration offers to give the PA about 95 percent of the territory it claims and was derailed by Palestinian violence. At that point, Arafat was discredited. In allowing Secretary of State Colin Powell's visit to Arafat in April 2002, Bush made the mistake of rehabilitating Arafat, again legitimizing him as the voice of Palestinians. But the violence against Israelis only continued, and the "Roadmap" was dead because -- as Bush said -- Arafat chose not to be Israel's "partner" in the peace process. Arafat had proven repeatedly that he wasn't interested in peace, only in Israel's destruction.

From then on, Arafat was sidelined, and Israel made enormous progress toward its own security by continuing to build the anti-terror wall along the West Bank and by targeted killings of terrorist leaders. With Arafat's credibility shattered, Israel was able to ignore calls by the EU and U.N. to engage in yet another "peace" negotiation with him, and we have not been maneuvered into joining in pressuring the Israelis. But with Arafat's death, all of that changes.

With Arafat dead, there will be rippling effects across Israel, the Palestinian territories, Egypt, Syria, and Iran. Any successor to Arafat -- be it sometime PA prime minister Ahmed Qurei (a.k.a. Abu Ala), or Marwan Barghouti, head of the Fatah Movement, or another -- will inevitably be from among Arafat's inner circle, and cut from the same murderous cloth. (Barghouti is now in jail, convicted of involvement in the deaths of five Israelis in terror attacks. Qurei, another Fatah member, is often in disagreement with Arafat, and is often characterized as firmly believing in peace with Israel.) No matter who is chosen to succeed Arafat, the pressure on Israel to resume peace talks and cease construction of the anti-terror wall will be intense and instantaneous -- and misplaced.

The Palestinians will insist -- and the U.N. and the EU will be their amen chorus -- that Israel must stop building the wall, stop killing terrorist leaders, and give the new leader a chance to negotiate peace. To say that is to place the entire burden of the peace on Israel. Now that President Bush has been reelected, he must reject the notion that Israel carries an unequal share of the burden of peace. In an interview last year, Ziad abu Ziad, a former Palestinian minister and close Arafat adviser, told me that the PA didn't stop terrorism because it failed to gain sufficient political ground the last time it stopped the attacks. His boast of stopping the attacks was false, but we must call their bluff. We must insist on a six-month period free of attacks, and refuse any EU or U.N. initiative to force the Israelis to the negotiating table before the time passes. If the six months of peace is achieved, then, and only then, will the new leader have bought his way into any new "peace process." Meanwhile, Israel should continue building its wall, and telling the U.N. to buzz off.

Arafat's death destabilizes more than the Palestinian areas. Egypt, as sources have told me, is teetering on the brink of the Islamist precipice. As Israel withdraws from the Gaza Strip -- which also borders Egypt -- more and more pressure mounts on the Mubarak government to either support or quash the terrorists there. With Arafat dead, Egypt may not long withstand that pressure. Its government could fall, and be replaced by another terrorist regime.

Iran and Syria also will feel the heat of Arafat's funeral pyre. In fact, Iran may feel the heat from Israel -- and the U.S. -- regardless of Arafat's fate. Iran's proxies -- the Hezbollah terrorists -- are more and more active in Lebanon and are a growing threat to Israeli border communities. Moreover, the Iranian nuclear-weapons program -- as senior Israelis characterized it to me -- is an "existential threat" to Israel. They aren't likely to sit quietly while that program proceeds. Arafat maintained the Syrian and Iranian involvement in Palestinian terrorism at one level. His death allows Iran and Syria to assert even greater influence over the Palestinians. Hezbollah operates secretly inside Israel. Any new Palestinian leader will face a cutoff of support from Iran and Syria should he object to their growing role.

Arafat's death precipitates instability and violence. Israel's refusal to allow his burial in the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount -- Arafat's wish, seeking to make it a holy place for Palestinians and thus a part of any Palestinian state -- will be enough to ensure that. But in chaos there is opportunity, and we -- and Israel -- must seize it. The nations that use Palestinians as proxies to war on Israel have to be brought to the table and convinced that they can and must sign a peace with Israel that allows it to exist. Negotiating with the next Palestinian "president" will be as much a dead end as negotiating with Arafat unless Syria, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia are parties to the talks. (There's no use in talking to Iran. Both the U.S. and Israel will have to deal with Iran on other terms.) Such a negotiation would be long and hard, but it would differ from all that went before in one material respect: There's at least a possibility it actually could lead to peace.

NRO contributor Jed Babbin is the author of "Inside the Asylum: Why the UN and Old Europe are Worse than You Think."

By Jed Babbin
Reprinted with permission from National Review Online