- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 5, 2003

The Israeli government may be realizing that talk of removing or killing Yasser Arafat gives him the martyrdom he desires. Instead, put him on trial in Jerusalem for direct complicity in serial terrorism against civilians.

This trial should be entirely public — unlike state trials in Cuba and China. Facilities should be provided for the world press, including neutral, professional translators that are not fromIsrael,the Palestinian Authority or Arab countries.

Intense worldwide attention will certainly be paid to these proceedings, considering the identity of the defendant and the issues to be raised in the trial — historical and contemporary — that will concern a number of nations, as well as Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Mr. Arafat’s defense will surely include extensive charges against the state of Israel, including that state’s alleged acts of terrorism against the Palestinian people. Both sides, then, before a world audience will finally, in direct confrontation in an open courtroom, be able to present their quintessential argumentsforself-preservation — as nations and as peoples. Mr. Arafat would be provided with the most qualified defense attorneys,fromany country, willing to take the case and whom he approved. Though I suspect Mr. Arafat can afford legal fees, if contributions were necessary for the defense fund, I believe that there would be more than ample financial resources for the lawyers and legal experts, as well as for the travel expenses of witnesses.

An international panel of legal authorities (jurists, law professors and defense lawyers) should review the rules of evidence before the trial to ensure that the defendant gets his full due process (fundamental fairness in all legal procedures before, during and after the trial), including access to forensic experts. For one example, Israel claims to have evidence of written payments, signed by Mr. Arafat, directly to terrorist groups for the specific purposes of terrorist acts. Can those be proven to be his signatures?

The legal definitions of terrorism will have to be clearly spelled out in the charges — based on international law and the precedents of previous trials and proceedings against defendants charged with crimes of terrorism. These definitions will be set forth not only by the prosecution — the government of Israel — but will also be reviewed and critiqued by the assembled international panel of legal authorities. All these documents — including the reply briefs and other motions and objections by Mr. Arafat’s defense team — must be publicly and continually available to all media. It is vital that all news formats — print, radio, television and Internet — be accommodated for the trial.

Whatever the verdict, there will be many around the world who will fervently maintain the views they held before the trial. But there are many others who may well find facts — in a fair, open trial — causing them to at least doubt their preconceptions. And the evidence on both sides, tested through the strictest of scrutiny, not only by the participants, but by observers in many lands, could become part of the basis for actual, concrete negotiations for an end to the killings and tormented memories for both parties.

I cannot pretend to be neutral about Mr. Arafat. For years, I wrote strongly in favor of an independent Palestinian state, and even received recognition from an Arab American organization for fairness in my reporting. But the horror of suicide bombings — vigorously approved by Mr. Arafat in speeches in Arabic to Palestinians — has deeply changed the moral equation of this conflict.

Avraham Burg, former speaker of Israel’s Knesset (its unicameral parliament) and a persistent critic of Ariel Sharon’s policies, said in a recent “Letter to my Palestinian friends” about suicide bombings:”It is a weapon of monsters, not freedom fighters. And until you spit it and its facilitators from your midst, you will have no partner on my side.” If Mr. Arafat does go to trial, I hope with all my heart that suicide bombings everywhere will be, at last, definitively condemned as indeed a monstrous violation of human rights — and will then be glaringly defined as such in international law.

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