- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Last week, Palestinian Chairman Yassar Arafat met with President Clinton, who urged him not to delay the

peace process. The president also pressed Mr. Arafat to overleap the third disengagement and move directly to final status negotiations.

The stubborn Mr. Arafat continues his tactics of presenting minor demands when Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak is ready to deal with the more serious issues of Jerusalem, refugees and the future borders of the Palestinian state.

Once again, Mr. Arafat and his minions resort to unproductive tactics like the demand for release of prisoners and a third disengagement. According to the June 16 edition of The Washington Times, Yassar Arafat, "renewed a pledge at the White House yesterday to declare a Palestinian state in three months time with or without a successful conclusion to peace talks with Israel."

It seems Yassar Arafat, instead of learning from the flawed strategy of the late Syrian President Hafez Assad, is continuing Assad's tradition of piecemeal negotiations, postponing the real issues indefinitely. Mr. Arafat's demand for release of all political prisoners in Israel is reminiscent of Assad's demand that Israel surrender 200 meters of its sovereignty in the Sea of Galilee. Assad died a defeated leader.

As Ze'ev Schiff, the dean of Middle East correspondents, wrote in the June 16 edition of the newspaper Ha'aretz, "In the national memory of the Syrians in particular and the Arabs in general, Assad will be remembered as a leader who was one of the losers in the 1967 Six-Day War, who proved a failure in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, who was defeated in the 1982 Lebanon war and who lost both the Golan Heights and Mount Hermon."

Mr. Arafat, like Assad, is wrong to believe that time is working in his favor. Mr. Arafat's biological clock also is running short. Assad died while the Golan Heights remain occupied by Israel. If Mr. Arafat believes he can blackmail Mr. Barak by threatening to proclaim a Palestine state if his petty demands are not met, he will certainly derail the peace process.

Mr. Arafat should be cognizant of the fact that without the United States and Israel legitimizing a Palestine state, the recognition of the Arab world, the European Union, and the international community will be of lesser significance. Proclaiming a Palestine state unilaterally means no money for the new state. The U.S. Congress and whoever the next president is will freeze all economic aid in progress now to the Palestinian Authority and later to the State of Palestine.

Mr. Arafat knows he is not an Assad in the sense that he is not the leader of a state, and his dependence on U.S. and Israeli good will is existential. Therefore, Mr. Arafat's threat is empty. In reality, the future Palestinian state will be politically, economically and militarily dependent on Israel.

In 1993, when Mr. Arafat signed the Oslo Agreement, he demonstrated greater wisdom than that of Assad. It was the Egyptian successors to Anwar Sadat who made it clear to Mr. Arafat that if he wanted to be president of a Palestine state, he must come to terms with Israel. He made the right choice, which saved his life, the PLO, his people, and the future of Palestine.

But, when it comes to negotiation, he behaves more like Assad than Sadat, haggling over petty minutia, calling for intifada-style terror, using one of the 17 security services to work with Israel while another works with young PLO terrorists.

This is a guerrilla leader's game, not that of a statesman. If he continues to act as the head of the PLO, he will never be the head of a stable and successful Palestine state. The lesson of Assad's failure to achieve his strategic goals with Israel in his lifetime should guide Mr. Arafat to a different path.

The real issue Mr. Arafat must deal with if he does not proclaim an independent Palestine state prematurely, and moves instead to final status negotiations, is to recognize the political limits of Mr. Barak's government. Israel is a democracy unlike the Palestinian Authority. It is governed by a coalition government.

If Mr. Arafat continues with his tactics, the chances are that the coalition will shrink and Mr. Barak will have to depend upon Labor and its allies on the left and on the Arab political parties. The Israeli electorate will not vote in favor of a referendum on a final status agreed between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that has been engineered with the help of Israeli Arab parties. Proclaiming a Palestine state unilaterally also will mean the end of this most friendly government to Mr. Arafat and a call for new elections that will postpone the decision on the final status agreement for another year or more.

Also, American elections will bring a new president to office. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not be first on the new president's plate of foreign policy issues.

The best analysts agree that even if the final status negotiations take place by the middle of September, the major issues will not be completely fulfilled by then. Even after a peace treaty was signed between Egypt and Israel, it took five years after Camp David for Israel to complete its withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula, and this was done with the approval of the president of the United States and the support of the international community.

A peace treaty between Israel and the Palestinian Authority will not fulfill all the outstanding requirements necessary stability. Here, if Mr. Arafat does not demonstrate statesmanship and continues his petty tactics after signing a peace treaty, then the Palestine State, the dream of his lifetime, will not evolve into a viable state.

Assad's failure should guide Mr. Arafat to adopt more positive and productive strategies for peace with Israel.

Amos Perlmutter is a professor of political science and sociology at American University and editor of the Journal of Strategic Studies.

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