JERUSALEM ? The man sitting across from me was a consummate PR flack: smooth, eloquent, charming, passionate.
He also happened to be the spokesman for the world's most experienced terrorist, Yasser Arafat.
Saeb Erekat is something of a rarity in the Palestinian Authority (PA): by his own account, he has ?never had a gun in his hand? and has never been to jail. While he may not personally perpetrate violence, his polished prose advances its cause?deviously.
Whereas most spokesmen cleverly contort the truth without fracturing it, Erakat lies like he breathes. At a one-hour session with nine American journalists, Arafat?s mouthpiece wasted no time in doing what he does best.
Asked upfront whether Arafat?s machine, the Palestinian Liberation Organization, recognizes the right of Israel to exist as a Jewish state, he emphatically states that it does. Except it doesn?t.
The PLO?s initial charter called for the destruction of the Jewish state of Israel. When I asked the clean-shaven, bespectacled spokesman if that provision had been removed, he said yes, twice. He spoke as convincingly as he says, "My name is Saeb Erekat." Yet it was a complete lie.
Arafat designed an elaborate hoax in 1996 and again in 1998, telling the world each time that the charter had changed, without actually changing it. The charter remains unchanged. To this day, the PLO?s map of ?Palestine? stretches from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean, with no Israel inbetween.
The divergent paths of what is said and what is done is not unique to Erekat, though he is often at the forefront. When Israeli Defense Forces ?massacred? ?civilians? in Jenin in 2001, Erekat was the most prominent prevaricator convincing the world media that over 500 innocents had been murdered. Yet he could not have hoodwinked the world alone.
Literally hundreds of Palestinians acted in concert to convince the world media that over 500 innocents had been murdered. In truth, only 56 Palestinians died, 47 of whom were terrorists. 23 Israeli soldiers also perished.
Despite multiple authorities?including the PLO?s best friend, the United Nations?concluding that no massacre occurred, Palestinians to this day cling to the disproved myth crafted three years ago.
In his near-perfect English, Erekat delivered a steady stream of fabrications. For most of them, prior knowledge would have been necessary to detect the lie. Sometimes, though, he contradicted himself immediately after exhaling.
Only once during the hour did Erekat stumble. I asked him if Arafat controls Fatah or Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, both of which have repeatedly slaughtered innocent civilians. He adroitly dodged the question?until the fifth time I asked it. Finally he admitted that Arafat has some control over Fatah, yet pleaded ignorance with respect to the bloodier Al Aqsa, saying, ?I cannot answer this question.?
Erekat did at least say one thing that was entirely truthful. ?Palestinians deserve better leaders.? Yes they do.