Plus ca change?

Caroline Glick
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Posted: Nov 13, 2004 12:00 AM

Suha Arafat's rant against leaders of the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat's heirs apparent earlier in the week was revealing in many ways. On a basic level, it showed much about the nature of the PA and the PLO which Arafat has built and led. Arafat's wife, who had been estranged from him more or less since they were married, had thrown down the gauntlet. Her beef with everyone was over the loot that Arafat amassed over all these years ? money he made by bilking the international community for aid and shaking down Palestinians in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and around the Arab world for pay-offs. She wanted the money ? estimated at somewhere in the neighborhood of $6.5 billion ? and she wasn't going to let her brain-dead hubby be taken off the feeding tube until she got it.

For their part, everyone from Mahmoud Abbas to Ahmed Qurei to Saeb Erekat on down Arafat's food chain suddenly protestied. The money, they said belongs to the Palestinian people and therefore, they, not she, should be given the codes to the secret bank accounts where Arafat stashed it (after he stole it from the Palestinian people ? which they don't say).

From all of this we received an admission that the house that Yasser built, in addition to being the world's richest terrorist organization, is a criminal syndicate.

This is important because, while Arafat and the PLO had been lauded by Europe and the international Left for decades as revolutionaries, at the end of the day what they were was ? and still is ? a den of thieves. Of course we knew this all along. During the negotiations with the PLO in the roaring Nineties, the only time the Palestinian negotiators would truly get bent out of shape was when the discussions turned to money.

When Israel tried to prevent Arafat's money launderer, Muhammad Rashid, from taking control of revenues from sales tax on cigarettes and fuel, he flew off the handle. In the midst of negotiations, Rashid (whom Arafat trusted, because as an ethnic Kurd, he has no ability to build up his own power base in the PLO) stood up and threw a chair across the negotiating table. This he did while accusing the young Israeli negotiator (me) of insulting the national honor of the Palestinian people for mentioning that the revenues weren't supposed to go to Arafat's secret account at Bank Leumi in Tel Aviv, but to the Palestinian Ministry of Finance. Rashid, like Qurei, Abbas, Muhammad Dahlan, Jamil Tarifi, Nabil Shaath, Jibril Rajoub and others, made clear to his Israeli "peace partners" that what he really needed was control over resources. This, they all said, would maintain stability in the Palestinian territories.

For their part, Israeli negotiators, like their American counterparts, looked patronizingly at their corrupt Palestinian friends. They believed that Palestinian corruption was good for Israel. If the warlords were kept fat, so the thinking went, law and order in the territories would be ensured ? at least to the extent that Israelis would be prevented from getting killed.

Since the PLO was Israel's putative peace partner, no one batted a lash when the PLO announced and rapidly enacted its policy of killing every Palestinian who had ever cooperated with Israeli security forces. Israel did nothing but launch meaningless protests when, in its first order of business, the PA announced the "legislation" of a "law" whereby any Palestinian who sold land to Jews would be killed.

Why did Israel need moderate, peaceful Palestinians who for years had stuck out their necks to help Israel, when it had the PLO? Why should Israel worry about these "collaborators" when it had the real McCoy in its pocket in the guise of Arafat and his lieutenants, embraced by one and all as the "sole legitimate representatives of the Palestinian people?"

The problem with this plan was also revealed in Suha's on-air fit. Suha claimed that all of Arafat's men were trying to bury him alive (neat trick since he was already dead, but whatever). Suddenly they all decried her and spoke of their loyalty to Arafat's path and legacy and insisted that they would never dream of trying to step into his shoes.

When Hamas and Islamic Jihad came out with their warning that they would not tolerate Arafat's lieutenants trying to tell them what to do, they were essentially making the same statement as Screamin' Suha. Arafat, they claimed, had legitimacy with their organizations because of his importance as a "symbol" of the Palestinian people. Since none of Arafat's cronies has been elevated to the level of "symbol," they have no reason to listen to them or accept their leadership. So all of Arafat's men in the PLO, again, began a mad dance of explaining that Arafat's legacy is their legacy and that they won't depart from his path.

And here we get to the crux of the issue. Arafat's men ? from Qurei to Abbas to Farouk Kadoumi and even to Israeli Arab leaders like Knesset member Ahmed Tibi ? owe their positions in the world to the fact that they were integral parts of Arafat's kingdom. It wasn't just Arafat that Israel insanely brought into Judea, Samaria and Gaza (and Israel) in 1994, but the entire terrorist and corrupt regime of the PLO. Though Arafat's death has finally been announced, his kingdom remains intact.

In their usual vacuous and ridiculous style, pundits, experts and politicians in Israel and from around the world have been mouthing off over the past week about Israel using the opportunity of Arafat's death to strengthen the "reformist" elements in the PA. Fat chance of that working. There are no "reformist" elements in the PA. And anyone inside the PA who would dare speak of making changes to the way things are done would immediately be attacked, if not murdered, for daring to question Arafat's legacy.

We have only to look to Nabil Amr, the PLO member and former PA propaganda minister who dared to attack Arafat in July for the PLO's corruption. He was shot in the leg and is now getting fitted for a prosthetic limb in Europe. And this happened while Arafat was still in charge. Imagine what will happen now that the "Martyred President" has finally been buried.

If Abbas or Qurei ? Jerusalem and Washington's favorites to inherit Arafat's helm ? try to cut a deal with Israel, or in any way take action against the PLO militias or Hamas or Fatah or Islamic Jihad, they will be immediately murdered. Not, of course, that they would try to take any action to rein in or disarm the terrorists. They side with the terrorists, because they are and always have been terrorists themselves. This is how they got their positions and retained them all these years at Arafat's side.

The point is that without a regime change in Palestinian society, Arafat's legacy will survive. And, as Suha's screeching statement makes clear, that legacy is both criminal and terrorist.

On the criminal side, we have the division of the stolen monies between the chief thieves. If anyone expects these men to suddenly become financially transparent, he is purposely misleading himself.

And on the terrorist side, we have the legacy of the so-called "armed struggle" against Israel. The aim of this struggle will remain, in the aftermath of Arafat's funeral, precisely what it has always been: not the establishment of a peaceful Palestinian state next to Israel, but the destruction of the Jewish state.

If something doesn't give, we can expect that nothing will change now that Arafat's dead and buried. Our enlightened "peace" supporters on the Left have already begun exhorting the Israeli government to help our Palestinian enemies ? like Abbas and Qurei ? while ignoring our Palestinian friends, whom we can barely find anymore, because so many of them have been killed that the ones who still draw breath are afraid to come forward.

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who has for the past three and a half years followed a policy of vilifying Arafat while leaving his regime untouched, will likely continue on this devastating course. The Europeans, together with US Secretary of State Colin Powell, are claiming that now that Arafat is out of the picture, there is no discrepancy between the Bush administration, Elysee Palace and 10 Downing Street on the Palestinian issue.

There is only one glimmer of hope in all of this. And it comes from Washington.

In his first press conference after being reelected, US President George W. Bush referred not to the road map, but to his speech from June 24, 2002, as the basis of his Middle East policy. In that speech, Bush said, "I call on the Palestinian people to elect new leaders, leaders not compromised by terror. I call upon them to build a practicing democracy, based on tolerance and liberty."

The president went on to call for economic transparency and an end to official corruption of the PA. If Bush intends to stand by his statement now that Arafat is dead, then so long as Israel's Left doesn't wreck his plan, there is for the first time an opportunity to change the way things are done around here. The only chance this has, however, is if there is a true Palestinian regime change and the PLO goes the way of Arafat.

Caroline B. Glick is the deputy managing editor of The Jerusalem Post and the senior Middle East fellow at The Center For Security Policy in Washington, DC. This article was originally published in The Jerusalem Post.