Hard choices made simple

Posted: Dec 12, 2001 12:00 AM
Yasser Arafat has run out of last chances. If his goal is to establish and lead an independent Palestinian entity, he has to make peace with Israel, which means he must prove that he has the courage and wisdom to be a statesman, not only through brave words but also through actions demanded of a statesman. First and foremost, Arafat must re-establish his authority over the terrorist element challenging him for power within the Palestinian movement and for whom the destruction of Israel, not the creation of a Palestinian state, is the first-order priority. Accomplishing this objective may risk civil war within the Palestinian ranks, but it is a risk he must take or he will with certainty lose not only his personal position of power but also destroy any hope of a secure and prosperous Palestinian state. If Arafat is the true leader of the Palestinians, then he is to be held accountable for the recent terrorism. If he cannot control the terrorism, or his followers, then the United States and Israel have no business dealing with him. Either he is a leader or he is not. Arafat needs to make a definitive statement -- both in Arabic and in English and to both the Western and Islamic media -- saying that he stands with the allies and the international community in the war on terrorism. He must say he agrees with President George W. Bush that those who practice terrorism and those who protect terrorists are equally guilty. Arafat must announce that he no longer will tolerate terrorists within the organizations he heads or within the territory he controls, and he must take immediate action to expel terrorists from both his own organization and his territory. He must renounce violence as a legitimate means of negotiation with Israel over a final settlement. He must announce that he no longer will tolerate violence in the territories he controls. He must explicitly recognize the following groups as terrorist organizations: al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and Hezbollah. His efforts must have the effect of rooting out and dismantling these organizations so they no longer can perpetuate terrorist actions in Israel or the Jewish settlements. He has made a start, but only a start, by placing Sheik Ahmed Yassin, Hamas' spiritual leader, under house arrest. Arafat gained credibility in the West when he stated that those sections of the Palestine Liberation Organization charter calling for armed struggle against Israel were no longer in effect. But the charter, which can only be altered by a special super-majority vote of the entire National Congress of the PLO, has never formally been amended to expunge its call for violence and armed struggle against Israel. In order to restore his credibility in the West and with Israel, Arafat must immediately convene a special session of the National Congress, as Article 33 of the charter calls for, to amend the charter to renounce violence once and for all, and to recognize Israel's right to exist and have defensible borders. Arafat must immediately arrest, prosecute, convict and punish the individuals associated with the recent terrorist attacks that slaughtered innocent civilians in Israel. This includes those who helped finance, train or harbor the terrorists. If he fails to take these steps, Arafat will forfeit any right to claim the mantle of Palestinian national leader, and in his complicity, he will join the ranks of the terrorists and be deemed an accomplice to their hideous acts. If this should come to pass, the United States should freeze all PLO assets in the United States, cut off all financial aid to the Palestinian Authority and cease recognition of Yasser Arafat as a negotiating partner with Israel in our efforts to assist Israel and the Palestinian people achieve peace and security in the Middle East. Ultimately, peace in the Middle East depends upon a free and democratic Palestine in which it is possible to achieve the legitimate goals of the Palestinian people to improve their lives, educate their children, farm their lands and increase their wealth and prosperity. A thriving and prosperous democratic Gaza connected by trade and commerce to both Israel and the West Bank is the only hope for peace with justice for all. As history teaches us, democracies don't start wars with democracies. If Arafat will not or cannot take the steps required of him to make peace a reality, it is time for him to step down and let someone else do what is necessary to bring about a permanent resolution of the Middle East conflict. The time is now, for soon, if he does not act, such choices will not be Arafat's to make.