- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2003

In the wake of Tuesday’s twin suicide bombings, the peace process — or what’s left of it — seems to be rapidly disintegrating. Israel’s security cabinet voted yesterday to expel Palestinian Authority (PA) Chairman Yasser Arafat from the West Bank. While the cabinet has delayed the actual implementation of such a move, the announcement clearly indicates that Israel is running out of patience with the status quo. The Israeli reaction is in response to the fact that Mr. Arafat is sitting in his compound in Ramallah, sending money to terrorist groups and working behind the scenes to thwart the development of an alternative Palestinian leadership that might be willing to move against terrorist organizations. Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned as Palestinian prime minister last weekend, blamed Mr. Arafat’s behind-the-scenes sabotage in part for his departure.

A growing number of Israelis and Palestinians appear to think that Mr. Arafat’s removal from the scene is an essential condition for improving the situation. Saying that it is intolerable to allow Mr. Arafat to continue fomenting terrorism, while his own physical safety is protected, the Jerusalem Post yesterday unprecedentedly called for his assassination. Also yesterday, Mr. Arafat had an ugly confrontation with Palestinian Gen. Nasser Youssef, nominated to serve as interior minister by new Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Korei. The Jerusalem Post reported that Mr. Arafat stormed out of a meeting of Fatah’s central council in Ramallah after Gen. Youssef called him “the most incompetent revolutionary leader in history.” In response, Mr. Arafat, as he stalked out of the room, hurled insults at Gen. Youssef. (Palestinian sources deny he spat at Gen. Youssef.)

It is hardly surprising that Palestinians, as well as Israelis, are running out of patience with Mr. Arafat. His mendacity and duplicity have brought them nothing but suffering and misery. Ever since he signed the Oslo I agreement 10 years ago tomorrow with Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at the White House, Mr. Arafat has played a double game: stating publicly a desire for a peace, while working behind the scenes to undermine it. From the beginning of the peace process, Mr. Arafat permitted the Palestinian media that he controls to engage in anti-Semitic, anti-Israeli incitement, and refused to take action to uproot terrorist groups. In 2000, he rejected the opportunity to build a contiguous Palestinian state in the 97 percent of the West Bank. Since the current wave of violence began nearly 36 months ago, more than 800 Israelis have died in the violence, and the Palestinian death toll is more than double that number.

The question now is where the parties go from here. President Bush’s road map, which appears virtually finished, was a last-gasp effort to salvage the peace process after Mr. Arafat torpedoed it at Camp David three years ago, then unleashed a wave of violence in September 2000 that continues to this day. Aside from Mr. Arafat himself, another significant factor in the deteriorating situation may be the upsurge in violence in Iraq. There was reason for optimism that, with Saddam Hussein out of power and Iraq being stabilized, that Washington would gain leverage to press both Israelis and Palestinians into making concessions for peace. But the recent upsurge in violence in Iraq may have undercut Washington’s ability to press the parties to move forward. Now, almost 10 years to the day since the signing of Oslo I, the peace process seems to be on the verge of being replaced by a higher magnitude of violence and chaos.

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