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Is Arafat history?

David Brooks's "A Brief History of Yasir Arafat" (appearing in the Atlantic) is especially timely given President Bush's statement, in his speech (also transcribed here) yesterday, that "a new and different Palestinian leadership" is a precondition for Palestinian statehood. I'm not so sure about the speech itself, though.

While Arafat's apparently ongoing support for anti-Israeli terrorists (or at least his failure to oppose them) is no small problem, I confess I don't understand how Bush's speech in any way helps solve it, and suspect it will only hurt. Bush's reasoning is clear: He believes that "the hatred of a few holds the hopes of many hostage" — i.e., that most Palestinians would prefer a peaceful coexistence with Israel. But even if this is true, it doesn't follow that most Palestinians oppose Arafat, or that there in fact exists a better alternative, at least for now.

Moreover, Bush's statements could backfire — they could engender new opposition to United States meddling, and even raise popular support for Arafat. A Reuters report, for example, quoted the response of Ali Mohammad-Ali, a 35-year-old electrician in Gaza: "We also believe the Americans deserve a better leader than Bush. He is an obstacle to peace."

The difference between the president and the electrician, of course, is that one has an army and a wealth of other resources to support his agenda. But if he isn't going to use them, then saying he opposes Arafat will do nothing more than anger the Palestinians who might otherwise wish to do something about it. And if he is prepared to use them, the words were all the more unnecessary, and all the more harmful: Bush has created the perception of yet another common enemy for Arafat and his fellow Palestinians to unite against.

Bush's speech, of course, was addressed to the American people, and was intended to serve a political purpose above any diplomatic one. If Arafat's policies are indefensible, then at least their underlying motivation — sustaining his place in power — shouldn't be hard for the Bush administration to comprehend.

June 25, 2002 3:09 PM


6 months is a long time away. But, come January, if Arafat wins (and, i betcha he will), then i wonder what we'll do... Not support their democratically elected leader?

America has a foriegn policy problem: selective endorsement of democracy, when it supports their interests.


Posted by rob adams on June 26, 2002 10:36 AM

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