The collaborator who failed
Arafat symbolized and organized the national struggle of his people, but he neglected almost entirely the civilian infrastructure of the state he wants to establish. The majority of Palestinians did not benefit in any way from Arafat's return to the territories or from the peace process; in many cases their life took a turn for the worse.
Cabinet minister Danny Naveh this week issued a pamphlet entitled "The involvement of Arafat, the `Palestinian Authority' and the [security] apparatuses in terrorism against Israel." A better title would have been "The collaborator who failed." For, as long as Yasser Arafat agreed to collaborate with Israel and ignore the expansion of the settlements, he was a partner. As such, Israel let him do whatever he pleased with the tens of millions of dollars that he received every year from the United States, Europe, Japan and Arab countries. When he lost his ability, and by the same token his readiness, to prevent terrorism, Israel decided it was time to denounce him for his corruption too. The Palestinian Authority is in need of a reform without Arafat, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said this week, even before the discussion began on Arafat's expulsion in the wake of the terrorist attack in Rishon Letzion on Tuesday night.
The Zionist movement worked for 30 years to lay Israel's national infrastructure, and when David Ben-Gurion declared its independence, the state already existed de facto. Arafat, too, symbolized and organized the national struggle of his people, but in contrast to the leaders of the Zionist movement, he neglected almost entirely the civilian infrastructure of the state he wants to establish. So we have to take with a large grain of salt the contention that Operation Defensive Shield brought about the destruction of the Palestinian Authority's civilian infrastructure: there wasn't a great deal to destroy. Arafat did not bring a national administration with him from Tunisia, and in the eight years that have passed since he was allowed to return, he surrounded himself with a relatively small oligarchy of salaried individuals, many if not all of them in uniform and bearing arms. His government is corrupt and despotic. The majority of Palestinians did not benefit in any way from his return or from the peace process; in many cases their life took a turn for the worse.
Few Israelis took an interest in the welfare of the Palestinians, and the international community believed, in the spirit of political correctness, that it should not attach conditions to the money donated to the PA. That was a serious mistake. Both Israel and the donor states had a large interest in having as many Palestinians as possible enter the peace process. But instead of sending Arafat computers and obliging him to install them in the homes of schoolchildren, they gave him money in order to buy rifles. What they should have done is force an economic plan on him with the aim of creating jobs and launching a major national housing project, in order to improve the situation in the refugee camps. They should have forced an education system worthy of the name on him. Funding should have been made conditional on his introducing an independent judiciary and respecting freedom of the press along with other human and civil rights. Very little of this occurred in practice. Many Palestinians were frustrated to see the burgeoning of the newly rich - Arafat's confidants - while they suffered from repression. It is not surprising that they are ready to accept the social services being offered by Hamas together with a national-religious fundamentalism that sanctifies terrorism.
The peace process obliges both sides to forgo part of their national aspirations and therefore it needs to be accompanied by a concrete improvement in the standard and quality of life. That is especially the case with the weak side in the conflict, namely the Palestinians. When Sharon talks about the need for reform without Arafat, he is perhaps talking only about the need to find a new collaborator. But the Palestinians need a leadership that can ground its status in genuine achievements, including true independence and the dismantlement of the settlements. That also necessitates a new leadership in Israel.
An analysis of the mistakes that have been made since the start of the Oslo process does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that the process itself was flawed: it was the management of the process that was flawed. New leaders in Israel and in the PA might be able to take Oslo back to square one and do what the songwriter Naomi Shemer once proposed, at a moment of national gloom like that which resurfaced this week in the wake of the Rishon attack: to get up tomorrow morning and start from the beginning.