|U.S. vs. Arafat. A necessary policy.
If "failure is not an option" in the war on terror, and if we are determined to win this war "to make our kids and grandkids... and our nation safer," as Vice President Dick Cheney stated on Face the Nation last Sunday, then the U.S. should support Israel in her quest to remove Arafat. Now that President Bush has clearly declared that "Arafat failed as a leader," leaving him in place is dangerous and counterproductive to U.S. national-security interests, the war on terror, and the effort to stabilize the Middle East.
More than a year ago, the Bush administration called on the Palestinians to change their leadership. But now the U.S. has joined the U.N.'s warning to Israel not to remove Yasser Arafat. How does this correspond with President Bush's statement that "You can't negotiate with these [terrorist] people, you can't try to talk sense to these people. The only way to deal with them is to find them and bring them to justice"?
Yasser Arafat has been the terrorist prototype since the inception of the Palestinian Liberation Organization in the mid-1960s. Both he and the PLO served as a model and a precedent for other terrorist organizations. It is reasonable to assume that they inspired Osama bin Laden when he set out to create the infrastructure of al Qaeda.
The PLO was the first and, until al Qaeda established itself in Afghanistan, the only terrorist organization that had its own territory for a base of operation (first in Lebanon and later in the West Bank and Gaza). Even the use of "martyrdom" as a tool of terrorism was incorporated into the PLO agenda as early as 1978. And the PLO, like al Qaeda later, enjoyed multistate sponsorship.
Despite continuing terror attacks, the U.N. embraced the PLO in 1974 by granting it observer status. This legitimization - which was accompanied by financial backing - allowed the PLO not only to continue its terrorist and criminal activities with impunity, but also to fund a worldwide propaganda campaign, win great popularity, and increase its influence.
The PLO opened offices worldwide, obtained financial backing, and significantly increased its assets and income between 1974 and 1981. Two months after the Camp David agreement of September 1978, which ended the state of war between Egypt and Israel, ten Arab heads of state met in Baghdad and agreed to provide $3.5 billion annually to aid the PLO, and countries such as Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan; the money was meant to help fuel anti-Israel activities. Of a total of $250 million allocated annually to the PLO, $10 million was designated for the "families of the martyrs."
Like al Qaeda, the PLO received financial and political support from many countries, not all in the Middle East. The money came from the Soviet Union and its satellites in Europe (until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991), and from Latin America, Africa, and members of the Arab League, third-world countries, and the U.N.
In 1987 the U.S. finally declared the PLO a terrorist organization, a 1988 presidential waiver was issued that "permitted contact" with it. The PLO used this waiver to increase its influence, fundraising, and propaganda capabilities as well as their cooperation with other terrorist groups, international criminal organizations, drug cartels, and rogue states.
Nor did the PLO's transformation into the Palestinian Authority (PA) in 1993, as a result of the Oslo Accords, impede the organization's illegal activities. On the contrary, lead by Arafat, it accelerated them. Now granted legitimacy by the entire world, the PA abused this status to expand its illegal activities and to rob the Palestinian people of their money and their lives.
For decades, the West turned not only a blind eye to the PLO's and PA's terror activities, fundraising endeavors, and hate propaganda, as they did with Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, but it continued to negotiate and fund them. Arafat even supported Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait. The more concessions were made, the bolder their demands and their terror activities. The PLO/Arafat "martyrdom" strategy set the tone and became the leading weapon in their terror arsenal.
The Palestinian example did not escape al Qaeda, Hezbollah, or Hamas as their new terror networks organized and strategized. Concessions and appeasement have only one interpretation for Middle East terrorists: weakness.
Arafat made his own roadmap clear in a June 6, 2001, interview on Radio Palestine: "War is a dream, peace is a nightmare," he said. Everything that Arafat did and continues to do proves that he meant what he said. Since September 2000, close to 900 Israelis and other - including Americans - have been killed by Palestinian terrorists and about 6,000 have been wounded. How many more dead Israelis and Americans will it take for the U.S. to understand that as long as Arafat and his henchmen control the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, he serves as inspiration to all other terrorists?
- Rachel Ehrenfeld is the author of Funding Evil; How Terrorism is Financed — and How to Stop It, released earlier this week. She is also the director of the Manhattan-based American Center for Democracy.