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Media Analyses





CAMERA ALERT: To Gwynne Dyer, Terror is What Arafat Did "Right"


In a column published by the New London Day ("Arafat's Legacy", Nov 7) and the Philadelphia Inquirer ("Arafat's reign", Nov. 3), syndicated columnist Gwynne Dyer included serious factual errors, as well as an implied endorsement of Arafat's terror.  He concluded that "the historians of the future may be kinder to Yasir Arafat than the judgment of his contemporaries." Apparently hoping that this might prove true, Dyer aids in the endeavor by whitewashing many of Arafat's misdeeds.

Terror called "right"

Dyer asked himself, “So what did Arafat do right?” He answered:

[Most] important, he made the whole world acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian nation. He did that, for the most part, by acts of terrorism.

For Dyer, the end justifies the means. Apparently Dyer is unaware that there are people in the world who advocate successfully for their causes without resorting to violence. Terrorism is never the “right” thing to do, no matter what the cause.

Arafat's rejection of peace minimized

He slapped Arafat on the wrist for failing at the Camp David talks, saying only that he wasn't “astute,” “flexible”, … or “imaginative” enough to make peace, and that Netanyahu shared much of the blame anyway. Dyer wrote:

...the subsequent delaying tactics of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 1996-99, used up most of the available political time and patience, but a more flexible and imaginative man than Arafat might just have managed it...Arafat was too cautious, and so the deal failed.

This contrasts sharply with the evaluation made by Shlomo Ben-Ami, one of Israel's leading doves and chief Israeli negotiator during the Camp David talks. In his memoir, Ben-Ami observed that the negotiations failed because “the Palestinian leadership was unwilling to compromise [in their] opposition to the moral right of the Jewish state to exist; the ethos of [Palestinian] refugeedom; and Islamic fundamentalism . . .. An inevitable conclusion to be drawn from Arafat's declaration of war is that the whole diplomatic endeavor that began in Oslo was built on a false assumption which was that Arafat's intention was to reach a compromise.”

As for Netanyahu's alleged “delaying tactics,” Dyer forgets that Netanyahu's key policy was “reciprocity. ” His administration followed through on many difficult concessions, such as a withdrawal from most of Hebron, but when Arafat's PA failed to follow through on its side of the bargain, Israel did not continue to make unreciprocated concessions. Arafat's non-compliance on key issues regardingthe cessation of incitementand terrorwas the obstacle to peace, not Netanyahu.

Israeli leaders planned Palestinian intifada?

Arafat's role in the Palestinian violence which followed the July 2000 Israeli proposals at Camp David was ignored. The blame, according to Dyer, falls squarely on the shoulders of Ariel Sharon and Ehud Barak. He alleged that Sharon visited the Temple Mount on Sept. 28, 2000 “with the manifest intention of provoking a violent Palestinian response. The Palestinians threw rocks, the snipers opened fire, and that triggered the intifada, just as Sharon (and maybe Barak too, by that time) intended.”

No substantiation is provided for Dyer's accusation that Sharon and Barak “intended” to cause the intifada.

In fact, evidence reveals that Israel sought to avoid violent reactions to Sharon's Temple Mount visit, while Palestinian leaders had their uprising planned well beforehand and only used Sharon's visit as a pretext to launch the wave of terror.

Israeli caution

An Israeli report submitted to the Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding committee (an international committee established for examining the causes of violence which began in September 2000) noted:

. . . Israeli authorities consulted with the Palestinian side. . . both at the level of officials and at the political level. The purpose of the consultations was to identify the possible risks associated with the [Sharon] visit, to reassure the Palestinian side that the Israeli authorities would do whatever they could to limit problematical aspects of the visit, and to try to convince the Palestinian side not to encourage violence and demonstrations during the visit. In this regard, it was indicated that the visit would take place early in the morning, would be relatively short and would not include visits to particular Muslim Holy Sites. The Palestinian side was presented with the route of the proposed visit . . .. It was affirmed that Mr Sharon would visit the area in the same way as would any non-Muslim visitor (the Temple Mount being generally open to public access). The relevant Israeli authorities also promised that no attempt would be made to restrict Muslim freedom of access to the Temple Mount during the visit. In short, every effort was made by the Israeli side to minimize the potential for friction and to forestall the possibility of violence.

The consultations with the Palestinian side included a telephone conversation on the proposed visit between Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and the Head of the Palestinian Preventive Security Organization in the West Bank, Jibril Rajoub, on 26 September 2000 in which, by reference to the contemporaneous note of the conversation, Mr Rajoub indicatednm "if Mr Sharon refrains from entering the Mosques on Temple Mount, there wouldn't be any problem."

On the basis of this consultation and other measures adopted, the visit was not prohibited.

However, the statement continued:

declarations and communiques calling for opposition to the Sharon visit were published by Fatah, the principal political-military grouping within the PLO answerable directly to Yasser Arafat, and by others.

Palestinian planning

Signs that the Palestinians were preparing for violence were apparent well before Sharon's Sept. 28 walk on the Mount. The Israeli report to the fact finding committee stated:

"By the time of the start of the Camp David Summit on 11 July 2000, the groundwork for violence had been laid. Preparations for conflict gathered pace after the breakdown of the negotiations on 25 July 2000. It was clear from this point that the balance, insofar as the Palestinian leadership was concerned, had shifted in favour of confrontation.

"This re-balancing of the strategic focus of the Palestinian leadership following - and even in the midst of - the Camp David negotiations, is clear from the public statements of members of the Palestinian Authority."

This viewpoint was confirmed by a Palestinian Authority official. According to Communications Minister Imad Al-Faluji:

Whoever thinks that the Intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon's visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque is wrong.. . . This Intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat's return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton".(Al-Safir, March 3, 2001. Translated by MEMRI).

Elsewhere, Al-Faluji said: “The PA had begun to prepare for the outbreak of the current Intifada since the return from the Camp David negotiations.”(Al-Ayyam, December 6, 2000. Translated by MEMRI).

No Violence Occurred During Sharon Visit

Dyer is also factually wrong about what actually happened during Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount.

The Palestinians threw rocks, the snipers opened fire, and that triggered the intifada, just as Sharon (and maybe Barak too, by that time) intended.

While the Palestinians did heckle Sharon, the Israelis did not open fire or shoot anyone. Sharon's Sept 28 visit ended without any violence or injuries. Dyer is ignorantly confusing Sharon's visit withviolence that occurredthe following day, initiated by the Palestinians. For more details about when the violence actually began and the officially organized incitement from Fatah and PA leaders that provoked the violence, click  here.

Arafat Began Terror Prior to 1967

Dyer is factually wrong again when he writes that “in response to that [1967] disaster, he took Fatah into the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1968, became the PLO's leader, and launched the campaign of international terrorism that made him famous.”

Arafat began his organized campaign of terror in 1965, before the Israelis had gained any territory during the Six Day War. On January 1, 1965, he unsuccessfully tried to blow up one of Israel's water systems. His group carried out several other terror attacks prior to 1967 which resulted in loss of life and property.

The column is by no means entirely without merit. In the beginning of the column, Dyer does make some informative points.

The column appears below.

Written October 29, 2004, but published on various dates with various headlines bynewspapers around the country

Yasser's Legacy
By Gwynne Dyer

Yasser Arafat isn't dead yet. The "blood disorder" that forced him to desert his besieged headquarters in Ramallah and fly to Paris for medical treatment may not kill him, but he is probably never going home again, and his long reign as the undisputed leader of the Palestinian people is certainly over. So it is time to write his political obituary, if not his personal one.

Frantic speculation has already begun about who succeeds him, but it's unlikely that any single successor can command the support and respect that Arafat enjoyed in the deeply divided Palestinian community at home and in exile. The notion that a new Palestinian leader might be able to reopen peace talks with Israel is built on the myth that they only failed because of Arafat's stubborn personality. His career seems to be ending in failure -- and yet he did achieve something.

He should have died at least ten years ago, of course. It would have been better for his reputation, for he never had the skills to run a proto-state like the Palestinian Authority: even as "President" of the PA, he remained at heart a guerilla chieftain who ruled through cronies and relatives, coopted his opponents with bribes of one sort or another, and never failed to appoint at least two rivals to any position of power.

It would also have been better for peace in the region, for a more astute Palestinian leader might just have pulled off a final peace agreement at the Camp David talks with Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak in 2000. It was already late in the game, for the 1995 assassination of Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, Arafat's partner for peace in the Oslo Accords, and the subsequent delaying tactics of prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in 1996-99, used up most of the available political time and patience, but a more flexible and imaginative man than Arafat might just have managed it.

Arafat didn't. He baulked at the fact that the Israelis would put none of their proposals into writing (because Barak's cabinet was already disintegrating back home over the scale of the concessions he was offering). He was utterly unprepared psychologically for the fact that a final deal would mean that the overwhelming majority of Palestinian refugees would never see their ancestral homes again (although everybody else had known it for a decade).

It has been argued that Arafat was wise to refuse the deal Barak was offering because it was only half a loaf, and anyway Barak's government was already falling. But it was as much of the loaf as Israeli public opinion would accept, and if the deal had been rejected by a subsequent Israeli government after Barak fell, it would have been Israel that took the blame, not the Palestinians.

Arafat was too cautious, and so the deal failed. A month later, Ariel Sharon marched onto the square in front of al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem guarded by hundreds of Israeli soldiers and snipers, with the manifest intention of provoking a violent Palestinian response. The Palestinians threw rocks, the snipers opened fire, and that triggered the intifada, just as Sharon (and maybe Barak too, by that time) intended. Four years later, all the peace plans lie in ruins and nothing awaits the Palestinians and the Israelis but endless violence.

So what did Arafat do right? Just two things, but they were big ones. First, he broke the hold of Arab governments who tried to control the Palestinian resistance movements for their own purposes. Then, even more importantly, he made the whole world acknowledge the existence of the Palestinian nation. He did that, for the most part, by successful acts of terrorism.

When Arafat created the Fatah guerilla movement in 1959, the Palestinian refugees who had fled or been driven from their homes in 1948 in what is now Israel were known simply as "refugees": stateless Arabs who could theoretically be "resettled" anywhere. Arab governments resisted this definition, but in the West it was universal. Arafat changed all that.

The key event in his life was the Six-Day War of 1967, in which Israel conquered the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where most of the 1948 "refugees" had ended up. In response to that disaster, he took Fatah into the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1968, became the PLO's leader, and launched the campaign of international terrorism that made him famous.

It was universally condemned in the West, and all the authorities vowed that terrorism would never succeed, but by the time Arafat called off the campaign in 1989 he had achieved his goal. The world no longer talked about "refugees"; it talked about "Palestinians", and just to give them that name implicitly recognized their right to a particular territory. US and Israeli recognition of Arafat as a valid negotiating partner, the Oslo Accords of 1993, and the peace negotiations that took up most of the 1990s were the result.

They failed, and Arafat bears a share (though only a share) of the blame. As he departs from power and perhaps from the land of the living, the future of the Palestinians and the Israelis has rarely looked grimmer. But the history of the future is just as long as the history of the past; we just don't know it yet. There is still hope, and the historians of the future may be kinder to Yasser Arafat than the judgment of his contemporaries.>


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