Nearly two years ago the Bush administration froze out Yasser Arafat. Their reasoning was straightforward: Arafat had no real intention of facilitating peace. Stirring his people?s hatred is how he kept himself in power.
In the post-Arafat era, the administration is again talking about the prospect of an independent Palestinian state. The person who will lead the historic accord will be the newly appointed Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. A strong advocate of multi lateral alliances, Rice will almost certainly reach out to Europe in the coming weeks, to launch a joint initiative aimed at strengthening ties between the United States, Europe, and the Middle East.
Her leadership is desperately needed. On any given day along the West Bank and Gaza, mourners drag themselves across the sands in grim funeral processions and kids chant ?I want to be a martyr.? It doesn?t have to be that way. I recall during a recent trip to Israel, a checkpoint guard told the story of a woman who recently detonated herself and four others at the border checkpoint. What went unreported was that the woman had been found to be having an adulterous affair. She was given a choice: be stoned to death or go on a suicide bombing mission. She chose the latter. That is to say, she chose to die not for a noble cause, but as a result of the oppressive social forces within the Palestinian society.
Our intelligence sources also talked about how more and more children are being used to deliver explosives. Often, it is the second and third-born children, traditionally treated as second class citizens, who try to affix honor to their names by carrying out suicide bombings. This sort of pathology is maintained through social and religious myths that indoctrinate the youth to extremism. School rooms are decorated with pictures of suicide bombers, who are praised and glorified by teachers. One of the most popular pastimes amongst school kids is a card game called ?how to be a suicide bomber.? From a young age, these children are taught to blame the ruin of their lives on a nexus of crippling political decisions handed down by Israel. In a land where large pluralities of the populace are starving and lack a sense of future possibilities, this kind of social conditioning holds a special appeal. It suggests an alternative to their poverty.
Of course, the Arafat knew that he could never dislodge Israel by force. And yet he continued to send Palestinian children to their deaths in suicide bombings. These kids aren?t giving their lives for a cause. They?re dying because Arafat was using them as pawns to keep himself?and his extremist rhetoric?relevant.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian people suffer. They are impoverished. They lack a court system, or even many basic rights we associate with happiness. In an atmosphere where a sense of future possibilities is twisted inward, the citizens explode in violence.
It is in the world?s interest to have a peaceful Palestinian state. This could never happen while Palestinians were oppressed by dictators like Arafat, who empowered himself by sending hopeless citizens across the border to detonate themselves. In the post-Arafat era that can begin to change. It starts with a new Secretary of State, engaging Europe and the Middle East in this historic opportunity for change.