David Frum October 15th, 2000 at 12:00 am
Arafat’s war. Yasser Arafat started the fighting in the West Bank and, in the
opinion of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and UN Ambassador Richard
Holbrooke, it is Arafat and only Arafat who has the power to stop it.
when the United Nations Security Council injected itself into the fighting last
week, it approved a resolution that blamed the conflict entirely on Israel and
condemned Israel for defending its citizens from Palestinian attack while
keeping silent on the attacks themselves. And when the UN resolution came to a
final vote, that same Ambassador Holbrooke uttered some complaints about its
one-sidedness – and then abstained.
two weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak was musing aloud about
surrendering control of the holy sites in Jerusalem to the Security Council.
Today, the idea that the UN could exercise any kind of even-handedness in the
Middle East is as dead as any of the human casualties of Arafat’s war. In a
crisis, the instincts of today’s UN are just as bad as they were 25 years ago,
when the UN secretary-general denounced Israel’s rescue of its hostages at
Entebbe Airport as a violation of Ugandan sovereignty.
impartiality of the UN is not the only illusion to be pierced this month. The
logic of the whole so-called Middle East peace process has disintegrated, too.
and think for a moment about the reasons why President Clinton grabbed the arms
of Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat and pulled them together for a handshake for
the cameras seven years ago. From the creation of Arafat’s Palestine Liberation
Organization in 1964 until the Clinton administration, the United States
regarded the PLO as a terrorist organization. Not only was the PLO guilty of
the murder of thousands of Israeli civilians, but it had assassinated dozens of
Americans, including two American ambassadors (Cleo Noel, ambassador to the
Sudan, in 1973, and Francis Melroy, ambassador to Lebanon, in 1976).
Clinton administration, however, convinced itself that Arafat could be a force
for stability in the Middle East. It convinced itself that he no longer sought
the destruction of Israel – that he was willing to live in peace
alongside Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state on the West Bank and in
Gaza. On that theory, it pushed Israel toward unprecedented concessions. Over
the next seven years, Israel would concede virtually everything Arafat had told
the United States he wanted. Arafat, in turn, was asked for one thing and one
thing only: peace.
has more than upheld its end of the deal. Arafat now rules almost all of the
Palestinian inhabitants of the West Bank. At Camp David in September, Barak
offered him almost everything else an Israeli prime minister could offer:
control of the residential sections of East Jerusalem, some form of shared
sovereignty over the city’s religious sites, water rights — even compensation
for Palestinians who fled their homes in 1948. (No countervailing compensation
for Jews forced to flee their homes in the Arab world was offered or demanded.)
Clinton’s theory of the Middle East had been true, Arabs and Jews should this
fall have been signing a final treaty of peace. Instead, having pocketed every
concession that Israel could offer — and having refused to accept a whole new
slew of concessions in September — Arafat has reneged on his one and only
promise and resumed his war.
are entitled to feel abused and betrayed. They did everything — gave
everything — that the American president asked of them. They entered a
negotiating process he designed and that he supervised. They kept every
promise, followed every rule. And the one thing that Clinton promised them in return
– real peace — vanished the moment that Arafat had taken everything he
thought Israel would give. Then Clinton’s own ambassador folded his arms and
kept silent while the United Nations condemned them for the violence Arafat
countrymen long ago learned from hard experience that this president simply
cannot be trusted. But Americans have comparatively little at risk. Israel
entrusted its very survival to this president. The heartbreak and bloodshed of
Arafat’s war is the consequence of that mistake.