Joel Mowbray

News headlines at the start of the week diligently covered the unfolding drama in the Middle East, with Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia resigning, then apparently un-resigning, followed by the Palestinian ?parliament? urging strongman Yasser Arafat to accept the original resignation.

While the stories certainly made for interesting copy, they all missed the real point: No matter how well-intentioned a new leader might be, peace cannot come as long as Arafat is around.

Even upon the ouster or death of Arafat?the former finally seeming like a realistic possibility?peace might not occur for some time afterward, given how thoroughly Arafat has poisoned the Palestinian culture.

What is now unfolding could mark the start of Arafat?s eventual demise.  Then again, he has a knack for hanging on when everyone has counted him out.

When the U.S. and the European Union last year wanted to ?sideline? Arafat, the lifelong terrorist?and ultimate political survivor?appointed his longtime number-two, Mahmoud Abbas, as prime minister.  Hoodwinked Western diplomats nodded in approval.

Within four months, Abbas was gone.  Less than a year later, Qureia either has resigned or is at least trying to.  What both men quickly realized is that Arafat has his hand on all the levers of Palestinian power.

How anyone who knows Arafat could believe he could be ?sidelined? is simply baffling.  It?s not in his character to allow any sort of power-sharing.  This is not analysis requiring the professional input of a shrink, either.  The record couldn?t be any clearer.

From the time of supposed self-governance (in the form of the Palestinian Authority) granted following the Oslo accords of 1993, Arafat has controlled practically every aspect of Palestinian life, from the security forces to radio and television to the economy.

Look at the 1996 ?election.?  Arafat made sure he had but one opponent, a 72-year-old social worker, a woman named Samiha Khalil.  She stunned observers by garnering a much higher vote total than anyone anticipated: 9.3%.

There?s more.  After his political party, Fatah, held a primary, Arafat knocked off the slate those he did not like.  Some of those purged from Fatah did end up getting elected to parliament, but Arafat soon rendered the legislative body toothless.

In the run-up to the balloting, Arafat used Palestinian radio and television to spread his propaganda, while candidates not affiliated with his party were virtually blacked out.  Even outlets beyond Arafat?s direct control were bullied into submission.


Joel Mowbray

Joel Mowbray, who got his start with Townhall.com, is an award-winning investigative journalist, nationally-syndicated columnist and author of Dangerous Diplomacy: How the State Department Threatens America's Security.

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