THE PALESTINIAN DEATH WISH

By Avi Davis

The word "Intifada" does not translate easily into Hebrew. Not exactly a rebellion and hardly a war, the 15 months of Palestinian violence has been seen by many Israelis as a violent reflex without a strategic plan. But after Yasser Arafat's address to his people on Monday, the Intifada has adopted a meaning that can be easily understood in any language: national suicide. As Israel closes in on the organizers and perpetrators of terror, the Palestinian dream of independence has begun to resemble an illusion, conjured up by a swindler who understood from the beginning that it would never be realized. Instead, the Palestinian leadership, following in the ill-fated footsteps of previous generations, has proven adept at the kind of internal sabotage that has as its foundation greed, hubris and an unmitigated urge to self-destruction.

Indeed the televised speech appeared less an effort to appease world opinion and more a valedictory address. In a sleight of hand, Arafat used most of his 27 minutes to congratulate the Palestinian people for their bravery and courage while only briefly and tangentially alluding to the need to bring an end to terror. There was no call to close down the Intifada. Nor was there a direct condemnation of suicide bombings.

In fact in his final words of defiance " Have patience -victory is coming," the Palestinian leader sounded eerily like another hapless dictator, broadcasting worthless platitudes from his flattened bunker in Berlin.

One does have to wonder whether Yasser Arafat's actions or inactions reveal any kind of realistic long-term strategy. As long ago as the 1970s, he recognized the value of international legitimacy for both himself and his movement. He skillfully parlayed the PLO's image as a terrorist organization into authenticity as a national liberation movement. Preying on latent European anti-Semitism he won the rhapsodical endorsement of left-wing writers, academics and even poets who thought they had discovered the genuine article – a selfless leader who gives his life to the liberation of his people. The remaining card in the deck tumbled into place in 1993 when, at the signing of the Oslo Accords, the United States gave him endorsement as a world leader.

He fooled them all. Arafat has no more interest in his people's liberation than he has in running for the Israeli Knesset. On the brink of statehood in July 2000, he proved this by rebuffing Ehud Barak's offers of a final settlement and then committing the Palestinians to a futile campaign of violence. The absence of strategy has become even more apparent in the past ten days as increasing U.S and European disaffection has resulted in joint pressure on him to rein in terror. He has proven himself incapable of achieving this, not because he regards his personal survival as dependent on currying favor with extremists, but rather because he is unable to envision a world in which terror and violence can no longer be used as political leverage.

The catastrophe this has brought down on ordinary Palestinians can be described as a national psychosis rapidly swelling into a massive cerebral hemorrhage. Educated by the Palestinian media's and Islamic clerics' unceasing incitement to believe in the legitimacy of jihad, the Palestinian populace has been psychologically drawn into the vortex of violence. They overwhelmingly endorse it as the only means of achieving freedom. No voice of moderation now chastises them that they are staring into the face of disaster. No independent media presents them with a debate on alternative approaches. The support for the Intifada has been nurtured by Arafat's insistence that the world will not allow "defenceless" citizens to be attacked but will respond Kosovo-like to the crisis with extensive intervention.

But the world, it seems, has turned off. Suicide bombings in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are a little too similar in image to the September 11 attacks on the United States for even European comfort. Last week the European Union issued a tart and unprecedented rebuke to Arafat to close down Hamas and Islamic Jihad. And as the U.S. and its allies draw the net around Osama Bin Laden, the reality of the future peril to be faced by the rest of the world presents itself in the form of Palestinian terror.

Ensnared in the web of his own pretensions, Yasser Arafat may be unable to appreciate the gravity of the accelerating collapse of his fortunes. But one day, from his retirement home in Baghdad, the former Palestinian leader might contemplate the irony that the suicide bombers, so cavalierly let loose on his enemies, not only simultaneously destroyed the Palestinian Authority but also crippled the cause he so long advocated but never, apparently, believed in.

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Avi Davis is the senior fellow of the Freeman Center For Strategic Studies in Los Angeles and the senior editorial columnist for the on-line magazine Jewsweek.com.



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