- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

As Yasser Arafat lies dying in a French hospital, it is clear that after having brought disaster to the people he claimed to represent, he is leaving them in the lurch.

To reach real peace, Palestinians will need to overcome Mr. Arafat’s legacy. The Fatah (“Conquest”) chief leaves behind a legacy of violence against innocent civilians, corruption, irredentism, manipulation of religion, brainwashing and child abuse for political purposes.

While the United Nations, Western Europe and the Israeli left treated him with kid gloves, their inability to confront Mr. Arafat’s evil is a sad moral lesson and an exercise in hypocrisy.

Mr. Arafat was born in Cairo in 1929, when “Palestinian” still meant a Jew living in what later became Israel. From his teen years, he was connected to the Muslim Brotherhood in Gaza, a radical Islamist movement with links to the Wahhabi Islam of Saudi Arabia, which was later to spawn Egyptian Islamic Jihad, a constituent part of al Qaeda.

He came of age in the era of pan-Arab nationalism, and became a tool of Nasserist foreign policy, which targeted Israel. The Palestinian cause he symbolized for decades was a construct by Arab and Soviet strategic planners designed to wipe Israel off the map. After all, “Palestinian” Sunni Arabs do not differ from their brothers in Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.

A leader of Fatah since 1959, and with a lot of Egyptian and Soviet support, Mr. Arafat cobbled together the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1968. Eventually, he also received a lot of Saudi funding.

Mr. Arafat’s terrorists pioneered attacks on “soft” civilian targets, including multiple hijackings of airplanes; attacks on airports, such as Lod in Israel and Fiumincino in Rome, the murder of schoolchildren; and attacks on hotels and cruise ships. In 1972, Mr. Arafat’s Black September murdered 11 Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics. In 1973, Palestinian terrorists took over the Saudi Embassy in Sudan, killing U.S. Ambassador Cleo Noel and others. James J. Welsh, a U.S. National Security Agency analyst from 1969 to 1974, has charged Mr. Arafat with complicity in these murders.

In 1974, PLO terrorists took over a school in the northern Israeli town of Ma’alot, where they threw schoolchildren out of windows. Twenty-six people, including 21 students, were murdered. This did not prevent Mr. Arafat from subsequently addressing the U.N. General Assembly while holstering a gun. That same year, the Palestinian National Council adopted the “phased plan” for establishment of a Palestinian state on any territory evacuated by Israel as a base of operations for the ultimate destruction of the Jewish state.

In 1985, the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked by terrorists who reported to Mr. Arafat. A wheelchair-bound elderly American, Leon Klinghoffer, was shot and thrown overboard with his wheelchair.

The Israeli left, led by Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin naively believed, if given a state, Mr. Arafat would behave responsibly. They brought him out of Tunisian exile and entrusted him with Gaza and parts of the West Bank. The Oslo accords, signed in 1993 on the White House lawn, and feted around the world, were Mr. Arafat’s largest misinformation campaign operation.

At the peak of the “Oslo process,” in 1996, Mr. Arafat told an Arab audience in Stockholm: “We plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. … We Palestinians will take over everything, including Jerusalem.”

Addressing a Bethlehem rally the same year, Mr. Arafat announced, “We have one word — jihad, jihad, jihad. Whoever does not like it, can drink Dead Sea water.” When referring to the Oslo accords, he often compared himself to the Prophet Muhammad and Saladin, a great Muslim military leader who defeated the Crusaders. Mr. Arafat often invoked the 10-year peace treaty with the tribe of Koreish, which Muhammad broke after two years, massacring the Koreish tribe. Mr. Arafat also often referenced Salah a-Din breaking a truce with the Crusaders and defeating them. He also made Khaibar — a Jewish tribe in the Arabian Peninsula annihilated by Muhammad — into his own battle-cry. The West and the Israeli left completely ignored his hate speech.

Rejecting the generous proposals of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton for a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank in 2000, Mr. Arafat again chose war over peace. As the late dovish Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban used to say, Mr. Arafat never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Mr. Arafat’s terror war, known as the Al Aqsa Intifada after a Jerusalem mosque to which Muslims have full access, but which he nevertheless declared he would “liberate,” has left more than 1,000 Israelis and 3,600 Palestinians dead. While the majority of Palestinians killed were terrorists, the majority of Israelis were civilians. Moreover, Mr. Arafat’s terror war destroyed the Palestinian economy, driving families to despair — and youngsters into the hands of terrorist recruiters.

As always, Mr. Arafat sought plausible deniability by renaming some of his terror outfits, such as Tanzim and Al Aqsa Martyr’s Brigades, while enjoying the acceptance and support from the Arab world and the European Union. He also allowed Hamas and Islamic Jihad a free run.

Mr. Arafat created a brainwashing machine on a scale unseen since Joseph Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry of the Third Reich. Children as young as 2 are paraded wearing suicide belts. Youth camps for terrorists proliferate. The school system has turned into a jihad factory, and the U.S.-sponsored Palestinian version of “Sesame Street” preaches murder of Jews and Israelis.

While terrorist propaganda blurts nonsense about the 72 virgins (“houries”) young men will enjoy after blowing themselves up on buses, in markets, restaurants and movie theaters, often what it really all comes down to is cold hard cash. Until his deposition, Saddam Hussein distributed up to $22,000 to each family of a suicide murderer, while the Saudi Arabian state-run TV raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Hamas and other terror groups in telethons presided over by members of the royal family. Mr. Arafat always encouraged such “charity” — and took a cut.

As his rule ends, Palestinians had best reassess and reject his legacy. Instead of the cult of death, it is time to promote the culture of peace. It is time to reject the destructive agendas of the PLO’s Syrian, Iranian and Saudi sponsors. Yasser Arafat, like Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-il, belongs to another era, that of totalitarianism and hatred. Only when Palestinians undergo this catharsis, will there be peace with their Israeli neighbors.

Ariel Cohen is a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation.


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