Even the Israeli left has concluded that Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat is no partner for negotiations. The only medicine to be administered after such a diagnosis is "unilateral separation now, peace later." However, the left's diagnosis is badly flawed and the medicine might just kill the patient.
Arafat has never been a partner for negotiations. He makes tough decisions only when the forces surrounding him back him into a corner and leave him no exit route. Arafat is a partner only when the partners facing him seal off every crack in the wall through which he can wriggle. Loose talk for "a Palestinian state" that cannot be backed up by deeds - like the loose talk not be backed up by deeds for unilateral separation - will ensure that Arafat will never be a partner for peace, let alone for a separation.
Most of Israel's diplomatic successes vis-a-vis the Palestinians have been forced on Arafat. In 1991, it was the Americans, with the help of the Russians and Europeans, who twisted his arm until he agreed to send a delegation from the territories to represent the Palestine Liberation Organization at the Madrid peace conference.
Two years later, his own representatives, Abu Ala and Hassan Aspour, with the help of the Norwegians, maneuvered Arafat into signing the first Oslo agreement. A year late, he signed the Cairo Agreement, complying with the famous order issued by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak: "Sign it, you dog!" Former president Bill Clinton forced Arafat to sign the Wye Agreement after he swore he would never accept a "symbolic redeployment" of Israeli troops on the West Bank that would not include villages in the vicinity of Jerusalem.
An article by Yezid Sayigh - "Arafat and the Anatomy of a Revolt," in the latest edition of the periodical Survival - who was a member of Arafat's team of advisers, confirms that the Palestinian leader does not have, and has never had, a strategy for negotiations.
When he talks to Israelis, Arafat manages to drive them crazy. He does the same Western mediators, his Egyptian allies, even his own Palestinian advisers. Even if Prime Minister Ariel Sharon were ready to launch negotiations with Arafat on the borders of a Palestinian state, on a compromise arrangement for Jerusalem, and on a solution to the Palestinian refugee question, the initiative would be doomed to failure.
Until Arafat arrives at a decision to waive his demand for fully exercising the right of return for all Palestinian refugees (if one can even assumption he would ever reach such a decision), Hamas, Tanzim, or perhaps a solitary Palestinian who has lost all hope, could kill the negotiations.
Former prime minister Ehud Barak's biggest mistake was to persuade Clinton that only direct negotiations with Arafat in a closed camp could produce an agreement on an end to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute. Clinton's mistake lay in not sealing off all Arafat's possible escape routes, especially the Arab-Muslim escape route. Unless sealed off, that dooms - and has doomed - any attempts to reach an arrangement for east Jerusalem.
One can repeat over and over again that Arafat passed up a solid-gold opportunity to cut the best deal of his life with Barak. However, the conclusion remains that Arafat is not a partner for a peace agreement and will never achieve peace, let alone a separation, or maybe even a cease-fire.
The general contours of a final status agreement between Israel and the Palestinians have been known for more than a year. They are recorded in Clinton's compromise proposal, which was approved by the Barak government. Anyone paying close attention to the new tunes wafting into the air from Arafat's camp can detect hints that the members of his inner circle have begun to pressure him to adopt the "Clinton principles."
Arafat's advisers have concluded that Palestinian terrorism can also jeopardize the achievements of Oslo agreement as well as the standing of the elite group in the Palestinian regime. The second circle around Arafat - the Egyptians and the Saudis - are also prepared to force Arafat to adopt realistic solutions to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Egyptians and Saudis are afraid the unrest in the territories could intensify the current war against Islamic fundamentalists and could even destabilize their own regimes.
The third circle - the international community, especially the United States - is still an open book. The Americans see no point in pressuring Arafat as long as on the Israeli side there is not even half a partner for a peace agreement, let alone for negotiations based on "Clinton understandings."
If a Nobel Peace Prize winner can sit in a government that was established on top of the ruins of Camp David and Taba, and if that Nobel laureate's colleagues in his own political party are announcing that there is no one to talk to, what kind of peace initiative can one expect from American President George W. Bush?
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