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Arafat's Shoulders Are Not Broad Enough To Guarantee Peace

One of the reasons that peace talks have failed in the Middle East is because the "negotiations" are loaded with premises, preconditions, and presuppositions that are out of touch with reality. One of the most dangerous of all of these is the presupposition that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is somehow responsible for the behavior of all Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims that live in that part of the world.

How often have we heard the condescending talk from Israeli leaders that Arafat has to somehow prove that he is a "responsible partner for peace"? And what is the litmus test offered in order for Arafat to demonstrate his capacity for responsibility? Nothing less than that all terrorist attacks, indeed, all acts of violence perpetrated on Israelis by Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims end – at Arafat's command.

What makes the demand so patronizing in nature, is that it reveals that the Palestinians, in the eyes of many Israeli leaders, are not normal people; that somehow they are expected to respond to the commands and dictates of their most powerful leader like a dog responds to the commands of its master. No people on earth – in democracies or other forms of government – respond to their leadership like some of Israel's leaders expect Palestinians to respond to Arafat. Certainly not Israelis.

A similar scenario plays out in the U.S. when disturbances and violence breakout in this country's inner cities. White America's political establishment and opinion leaders expect and even demand that any Black leader, if he or she is to be considered legitimate, must order all Blacks involved in such activity to immediately cease and desist. If the Blacks engaged in the disapproved activities do not stop what they are doing, then the Black leader is deemed as "failing" in the eyes of the White establishment.

We remember in 1992, during the Los Angeles riots/rebellion, sparked by the Rodney King verdict, when members of the mainstream media and White opinion leaders asked aloud if Minister Farrakhan would ask those involved in the burning and looting to stop what they were doing. The implication was that somehow Minister Farrakhan's statements, over the years, had made the riots possible. Another aspect or implication of their approach was that they arrogantly believed that the L.A. riots were Minister Farrakhan's big opportunity to prove to White America that he was a "responsible" Black leader and that he would use what happened in Los Angeles as an excuse to act in a manner that would win their favor.

Minister Farrakhan and those with him responded by saying that he (Minister Farrakhan) was not a fireman and that he had not asked or caused people to burn Los Angeles in the first place. He publicly and intelligently warned and explained that what caused the fires in Los Angeles wasn't simply the irresponsible behavior of a few, but the years of discrimination and the denial of justice as well as the miserable conditions under which many lived under in Los Angeles, every day.

We also remember in 1989 learning of a serious gang problem in Boston wherein gang members were being pressured to give up their weapons. The members of the gangs said that they would give up their weapons, but only if Minister Farrakhan would tell them to. The Minister responded by saying that he had not ordered them to pick up the guns in the first place. He did, however, give wise counsel to the gang members as he has done on numerous occasions in recent decades.

The point in raising Minister Farrakhan and the Boston and Los Angeles incidents is that the expectation(s) that violence be stomped out by a single individual or leader of a people, out of which comes the group responsible for said violence, in many ways, is a cop-out or smokescreen designed and used by the ruling establishment in an effort to shirk the responsibility for solving the root issues that cause the dissatisfaction in human beings that produces violence, in the first place.

Minister Farrakhan, in effect, was saying that since it was the conditions that human beings in Los Angeles and Boston experience and the free-will that they exercise on a daily basis that gave rise to violent acts; it was unjust, unfair and inappropriate to place the burden of ending the violence or potential for violence on his shoulders.

Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims are not committing acts of violence at the request of Yasser Arafat so how can it be reasonably expected that he would have the power to stop such acts? Those who say that Yasser Arafat is directly responsible for planning or "permitting" the recent violent acts committed by Palestinians haven't presented any proof to that effect in the public.

What is causing the acts of violence in the Middle East or so-called "terrorism" is the treatment that Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims have received at the hands of the Israelis as well as the justified and unjustified perceptions that they (Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims) hold as a result of such treatment. From the manner in which Israel was established, to the intense poverty that Palestinians endure today, dissatisfaction has increased to the point where negotiations between Palestinian and Israeli leaders provide no hope (in the minds of Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims) for a solution. As a result Palestinians, and others, independent of anything that Arafat says or does, have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Yet and still, Israeli leaders like Prime Minister Ariel Sharon continue to place the blame for acts of violence on Yasser Arafat. Even after Israel launches a missile attack on Palestinians that results in the death of several civilians, Sharon holds Arafat responsible for any retaliatory response. It is as if, in the wake of the missile attack, it is Arafat's lack of control of Palestinians and not the uncalled for deaths of Palestinians, at the hands of the Israeli military that creates the impulse for revenge. The logic to Sharon's argument breaks down upon even a cursory examination.

But this not a simple case of a few hawks in Israel having a view of Arafat that is imbalanced. Even those closer to the other end of the political spectrum in Israel share Sharon's spirit.

Last week in a New York Times opinion editorial, former Prime Minister Ehud Barak wrote:

"During the last 10 months, based on intelligence information, I believe that Mr. Arafat has been guiding terrorism activities and has turned a blind eye to terror attacks by Hamas and Islamic Jihad. He still refuses to rearrest dozens of terrorists whom he released. He has never stopped the incitement against Israel in the Palestinian media, and he has never educated his people toward peace with Israel. All these are imperatives if Israel is to begin new talks with Mr. Arafat."

Barak speaks as if Arafat is training animals in a circus. Arafat, who is criticized by Israel and the West for not having a democratic government is now untrustworthy because he cannot control the Palestinian media with an iron hand and because "he has never educated his people…". Is it any wonder why many Palestinians feel that the Israeli leadership thinks that Jews are superior to the Palestinian people? Only animals can be controlled and trained by the callous commands of a master. Even if the decisions made are poor, freewill is always respected among human beings, we thought.

And what has the result of the Israeli strategy been? Has it caused the anger, resentment and hurt that the Palestinian people feel to subside. Have the poverty, disease and lack of infrastructure that contribute to the Palestinian anger toward Israel (much more than do the words of Arafat) been reduced? No, on both counts. All of the basic elements which produce the dissatisfaction, which produces the anger which, in turn, produce the desire to commit acts of violence against Israelis are still present. No words or actions from Arafat can make those elements go away.

As a result, the stance that Israel's Sharon and Barak are currently taking against Arafat is counterproductive. As Anthony Lewis recently wrote in the New York Times:

Prime Minister Ariel Sharon operates on the premise that every Palestinian act of violence is authorized by Mr. Arafat. His answer is to send gunships against Palestinian Authority buildings and pre-emptively assassinate those he says are planning terrorist attacks.

The effect, of course, is to increase Palestinian rage — and make it politically impossible for Mr. Arafat to crack down on Hamas or other terrorists if he wanted to. The policy is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It assures that there will be more suicide bombers.

Barak argues that because 98% of the Palestinian population is "under the control" of the Palestinian Authority that their wish is Arafat's command and vice-versa. That attitude and belief, if it is genuine, is na´ve at best and an insult at worst, to the Palestinian people. Barak and Sharon should both know that Palestinians are acting out of the pain of their suffering which, at its origin, has nothing to do with Yasser Arafat.

In fact, we believe that Israel actually needs for Arafat to appear as the all-powerful leader of the Palestinians in order to keep from having to deal with Palestinian leadership that is much more willing to voice and reflect the most heartfelt grievances of the Palestinian people – much more willing than is Arafat.

And we even believe that Arafat permits the myth, even if it periodically places him in between a rock and a hard place, because it allows him to assume the role as Israel's preferred Palestinian leader and the personal benefits that accrue to that position. In that sense, Arafat's power base is Jewish and not Palestinian, as the Israelis need him to be the Palestinians' leader more than the Palestinians do. They need him because they do not want to deal with any other leader that may come after him.

Again, in that sense the situation mirrors that which exists between the White political establishment and Black America, where the American political establishment needs one Black leader through whom they can handle all matters, in order to avoid dealing with leaders who Black people may hold more respect and trust for, but who raise issues that the White establishment is not prepared to publicly discuss.

Every Palestinian that we have spoken to has told us that they are very dissatisfied with Arafat's leadership. They feel that he has not done enough to solve their most serious problems. Many of them outright told us that they believe that Arafat has sold them out.

Now, if we at are being told this by Palestinians who live in the Middle East and by Palestinian immigrants in the U.S., then surely Barak and Sharon know that Arafat does not have the iron-grip on the Palestinians that they would like the entire world to believe that he has.

Even polls are being released that publicly counter the view of Arafat being pumped up by Sharon and Barak in recent months. According to a poll taken last month, 92 per cent of the Palestinians support "armed confrontations" against the Israeli army in the West Bank and Gaza and 70 per cent believe "armed confrontations have so far achieved Palestinian rights in ways that negotiations could not."

Surely, if the poll is as accurate as many Israelis believe it to be, then demanding that Arafat stop the Palestinians from attacking Israelis as a prerequisite for peace talks is fruitless and disingenuous.

Only solving the underlying conditions that cause dissatisfaction to germinate among Palestinians guarantees that the conditions necessary for a permanent peace are created. Whether Barak and Sharon want to publicly admit it or not, Arafat's dictates do not contain that type of power.

Cedric Muhammad

Monday, August 6, 2001

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