Heeding the Times from Harry Antonides' Desk

Arafat's War:
The Man and his Battle for Israeli Conquest.
By Efraim Karsh,
Grove Press, 296 pp.

Wherever Arafat goes, lawlessness, corruption, and instability follow.
(Abbas Zaki, PLO official, 2002)

The Jews are alone in the world. If Israel survives, it will be solely because of Jewish efforts. And Jewish resources…. I have a premonition that will not leave me; as it goes with Israel, so will it go with all of us. Should Israel perish the holocaust will be upon us. (Eric Hoffer, 1968)

This is a riveting book, indispensable to all who are looking for insight into the labyrinthian politics of the Middle East, and the entire Arab world.

Efraim Karsh, a leading Middle East scholar, gives us a close-up view of one of the most intractable and murderous conflicts that casts an ominous shadow over the entire world. It has been said that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is on the fault line of two clashing civilizations. As such it is a microcosm of the larger conflict between the Osama bin Laden kind of Islamism and the rest of the world.

A double Life

Yasser Arafat is the one person who has dominated this conflict for more than four decades. Yet it would be hard to find anyone less suited for bringing about a peaceful solution to this conflict. How is it possible that this man succeeded in creating the impression that he was the right person for this gigantic task?

The answer is that Arafat lived a double life. He mastered the “art” of convincing the West that he was a peacemaker. However, his concept of peace is not the coexistence of two peoples, but as he told the Italian journalist Orianna Fallaci in 1972: “Peace for us is the destruction of Israel and nothing less.”

Arafat’s War takes a hard look at the life and politics of a man who fooled so many for so long. The picture that unfolds is not pretty. Efraim Karsh makes a compelling case that all the “peace “negotiations, including the Oslo accords, never had a chance of succeeding

Arafat’s lies start with his claim that he is a genuine Palestinian by birth, and that his family had to flee Jerusalem during the 1948 war. The reality is that he was born in Cairo in 1929 where he spent his early years and obtained his education. Apart from some brief stays with an uncle in Jerusalem, he did not live in Palestine before 1947, the date required to be listed as a Palestinian.

Arafat interrupted his studies to fight in the 1948 war against the newly founded state of Israel. He then resumed his university education in Cairo. In 1956 he worked briefly in Egypt and then operated his own contracting business in Kuwait. But much of his time as student in Egypt and a businessman in Kuwait was taken up with political activities. In 1958 he and his friends founded Al-Fatah, a secret network advocating armed struggle against Israel. In 1964 Arafat left Kuwait to devote himself full time to organize Fatah raids against Israel from Jordan

A Culture of Violence

Karsh explains that Arafat managed to play the role of indispensable leader in a culture of violence and treachery, “a place where the role of the absolute leader supersedes the role of political institutions, and where citizenship is largely synonymous with submission…The scale and the endemic nature of violence in the region are hard to exaggerate. In most Arab countries, political dissent is dealt with by repression, and ethnic and religious differences by internecine strife and murder.”

An example of the convergence of the culture and the man is Arafat’s first murder some time in 1949 or 1950. Arafat was part of what Karsh describes as a group of thugs who wanted to teach a lesson to a less militant faction of Palestinian fighters. The Arafat group received a beating. As they re-grouped, they accused one of them, “Hamid,” of having tipped off their rivals. He vehemently denied the accusation. During this interrogation, Arafat quietly got up and shot Hamid in the head.

It was later learned that the accusation against Hamid had been unfounded. But Arafat showed no remorse. Instead, he bragged that this was the first man he had personally killed and that therefore Hamid had served a valuable purpose in line with the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood – an organization he had joined during his university days. A more chilling case of utter contempt even for the lives of his own men is hard to conceive. Karsh writes that for Arafat and his co-conspirators violence has assumed mythic proportions.”

This book opens with a revealing exchange in 1978 between the late Nicolae Ceausescu, the utterly corrupt and cruel president of Communist Romania, who was killed by his own people at the fall of Communism in 1989. Arafat had first met this Stalinist in the late 1960s, and they had become friends. This Pilate and Herod-type “friendship” led to close cooperation between the Romanian intelligence services and the Palestinian Liberation Organization.

It was Ceausescu who urged Arafat to feign the new role of peacemaker and pretend to break with terrorism. Arafat ever since has affected that role and played it so well that, mentored into his new persona by Moscow, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1994. (See Ion Mihai Pacepa, “The KGB’s Man,” The Wall Street Journal, September 22, 2003. Pacepa was head of the Romanian Intelligence Service, until his defection in 1978.)

Two wars, in 1967 and in 1973, had ended in humiliating defeat for Israel’s enemies. Arafat left no doubt that UN resolution 242, passed after the 1967 war, recognizing Israel’s right to a secure existence and establishing the principle of “land for peace” was unacceptable. He responded to resolution 242 by saying that the Palestinians have had enough of UN resolutions and recommendations. He stated: ”This is why our people have taken up arms and have come to realize that a revolutionary war of liberation is the only way to achieve their aims.”

After the Six-day War of 1967, Jordan King Hussein allowed the PLO to use his country as a springboard for attacking Israel. But the King came to regret his hospitality after the PLO began to act as an occupying army that led to violent clashes between the Palestinian guerillas and the Jordanian army and security forces. Only after fighting a bloody war in 1970, claiming thousands of lives, did the Jordanians succeed in getting rid of their murderous “guests.”

It was the same ruinous story in Lebanon, the next base of Arafat and his thugs. The destruction of Lebanon, whose capital Beirut was once called the “Paris of the Middle East,” is a story of heartbreaking devastation and chaos. In 1976 the Lebanese government asked for Syrian intervention, which in turn led to Israel’s invasion in 1982 and the expulsion of Arafat and his followers who then decamped to Tunisia.

Survival of the Most Ruthless

Unfortunately, that was not the end of this story. In the intervening years, as Karsh explains in great detail and backed by careful research of the relevant documents, Arafat with his customary brazenness and cruelty, consolidated his leadership of the radical Palestinian movement. Elected chairman of the PLO’s executive committee in 1969, he never veered from the position that negotiations were mere tactical maneuvers toward the long-term goal of the destruction of the state of Israel. While paying lip service to the cause of peace, and in violation of agreements he had made, he built up an extensive terrorist infrastructure.

In 1974, the UN allowed Arafat as the first non-state leader to address its General Assembly. Shortly thereafter, the UN accorded observer status to the PLO. Despite the recognition this status entailed, Palestinian terrorists launched a series of attacks on Israeli and Western targets.

A year later, the UN declared its first International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian people and adopted a resolution equating Zionism with racism. The UN has consistently refused to condemn Palestinian terrorism, while eager to depict Israel as the stumbling bloc to peaceful relations in the Middle East.

What might have ended Arafat’s career in 1990 was his siding with Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. But as he had often done before, he survived and during the next decade, through Oslo One and Two negotiations, he remained the chief influence on the Palestinian side. He masterfully played on the desperate desire of the Israelis for peace. Four successive Israeli prime ministers, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu and Ehud Barak, who served from 1992 till 2000, found out the hard way that Arafat was not really a peace partner at all.

Arafat walked away from an American- brokered peace plan in 2000 that conceded almost all of the Palestinian demands, to re-start yet another deadly campaign of suicide bombings in Israel. After more than forty years of Arafat’s treachery that included masterminding terrorism on a large scale, ruthlessly eliminating all his colleagues who stood in his way, and breaking every promise he ever made, no one can any longer plead ignorance.

Not only are untold suffering and death inflicted on the Israelis, but the Palestinians, too, have been robbed of the opportunity to enjoy a measure of peace and freedom. When people are led to believe that they perform a good deed by blowing themselves up and killing innocent men, women and children, an unspeakable evil has been let loose in the land.

If Karsh’s assessment is correct, and he makes a convincing case, would it not be appropriate to lay much of the blame for so many innocent deaths, Jewish as well as Palestinian, at the doorstep of those Western countries that have fallen for Arafat’s murderous deception?