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.
Palestinian newspaper Al Quds was ordered by Arafat?s minions to run an article on the thug?s meeting with a Greek Orthodox leader on the front page. When it ran on page 8 instead, armed guards arrested Al Quds editor Maher al-Alami, ?detaining? him for six days.
Violence and intimidation continue to play significant roles in Arafat?s playbook. On Tuesday, former Cabinet minister and longtime Arafat critic, Nabil Amr, was shot on his way home by unidentified ?gunmen.? Early reports indicate he might lose his leg.
Maybe it?s no surprise that Abbas refused to cross Arafat, and Qureia chose resignation over a ?mysterious? death.
At least Arafat treats political enemies better than he does Israelis. He openly desires nothing short of the complete destruction of the Jewish state. He is, after all, a partner for peace.
While charming diplomatic dupes in the West with beautiful English-language statements, he has for years been rallying Palestinians to Jihad?in Arabic
It?s all part of Arafat?s cult of death. It starts by brainwashing youths not long after they are out of diapers, and the incitement continues with the bombardment of constant anti-Semitism and calls to arms over radio and television. With so much venom injected into Palestinian hearts and minds, it?s a fair question if peace can come even after Arafat exits stage left.
Offering a glimmer of hope, though, that Palestinians might be able to overcome Arafat?s cancerous reign is decades of exposure to Israeli media. Though Palestinians may not love their neighbor, they do envy it. According to a recent poll, Palestinians preferred an Israeli-style democracy over that found in any other nation, such as the U.S., France, or Germany.
It would be messy, and likely bloody, but after the demise of Arafat, the Palestinian people might eventually get just that.