Over and over, I read the editorial calling for Arafat's resignation and all I could say was: "Good morning, New York Times." It's taken the paper the better part of a decade to finally grasp what many Israelis feared after Oslo: that Arafat was not capable of making the move from leader of a militant liberation movement to leader of a state-in-the-making, with all the status and responsibility that come with it.
The New York Times wrote, and I quote: "It's been the misfortune of the Palestinian people to be stuck with Yasser Arafat as their founding father, a leader who failed to make the transition from romantic revolutionary to statesman. All he seems capable of offering Palestinians now is a communal form of the martyrdom he seems to covet ... That the Palestinian lands are in total ruin, that the fruits of the Oslo accords are in tatters, seems of no importance to him. His reflexive insistence that this is all the fault of `Zionists,' the West, other Arabs, is unsustainable. Arafat himself bears a large share of the responsibility for these misfortunes."
This about-face by The New York Times has really given Arafat's dwindling prestige the final push. Terje Roed-Larsen blamed Arafat this week for the collapse of the Palestinian Authority. Colin Powell called him a master of yo-yo rhetoric.
With three opinions on every subject and a degree in doublespeak, Arafat is a pro at fooling the public. He's never kept to any agreement and has turned his nose up at every possible offer. Clinton, Bush, and now John Kerry, are united in the belief that he is an obstacle to peace. Even Shimon Peres told Javier Solana that Arafat is a fruitcake.
In the Palestinian Authority he is also being raked over the coals. Hanan Ashrawi ripped him to shreds in a Swiss newspaper and told him to go home. "The time has come to put this solo performance behind us," she wrote.
Dr. Ibrahim Hamami, a prominent Palestinian physician, says Arafat has become a liability to his own people. "You treat the Palestinians like a pair of shoes," writes Hamami, "to be worn or kicked aside as the mood strikes. The solution is for you to pack your bags, take your crooked friends and go somewhere else. Just go. Get out of here!"
Many times, since Arafat came to Israel as a beribboned peacemaker planning to establish a Palestinian state, I have wondered in this column why, as soon as he set foot here, he began to incite his people to war and terrorism. Didn't it ever occur to him that a Palestinian state would rise or fall over terror? What did this Nobel Peace Prize winner think? That the Oslo accords were a license to terrorize the country and spill Israeli blood?
From his first day here, it was obvious that Arafat was suffering from schizophrenia. He couldn't decide what he was: the head of an emerging state, a terrorist ringleader or a globe-trotter. He built around himself a corrupt Mafia-style regime with the gang he brought over from Tunisia. He kept a handle on things by greasing palms, torturing his rivals and brutally bumping them off.
I am not belittling Israel's role, with its overuse of force against the Palestinian Authority and the widespread destruction it has caused. But somewhere along the line we began to realize that we are sick and tired of living year after year in the grip of bloody terror.
There was a time when both Clinton and Barak offered Arafat 97 percent of the territories. Arafat's response was the Al-Aqsa Intifada that claimed thousands of lives. Israel is now preparing to leave the Gaza Strip. But Arafat, over in the Muqata, is busy sabotaging the start of Israel's withdrawal from the territories and dragging his people down into the depths of despair.
"Occupation" is not some kind of magic word that makes everything okay. Once Israel was under occupation, too - British occupation. Our leaders fought the British, and the British hit back hard: They arrested, deported, shot and hung. But the struggle did not keep our leaders from building infrastructure for the day the state was born. Not only has Arafat built nothing, but he has turned the Israeli right into the majority. It's hard to say which is worse.
Arafat is now in the classic dictators' bind: The moment he weakens, the Palestinians will rebel against him. Which means he will hang on for dear life until enough is enough, and the Palestinians - and only them (not Israel, God forbid) - get up the nerve to settle the score and kick him out. Now, they even have a permit from The New York Times.
Want to enjoy 'Zen' reading - with no ads and just the article? Subscribe todaySubscribe now