Does Yasser Arafat really want a “Palestinian homeland”? Or, as many have suggested, is this 35-year-old demand merely a ploy to conduct asymmetrical warfare against the Jewish state of Israel?
While there is no doubt in my own mind that Arafat has no interest in governing a new Arab state neighboring Israel and living at peace with it, many in the West – even in Israel – remain convinced pursuing such a plan still represents the best hope for the region.
I just read a 1998 book, “Arafat,” by Said K. Aburish, an author quite sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, which should dispel any such fanciful notions by those still daydreaming about any peace brokered by this man.
The most enlightening section of the book deals with the 1970 civil war in Jordan between Arafat’s forces and those of the late King Hussein’s.
Israel and the West could learn quite a lesson from this history.
“Between mid-1968 and the end of 1969, there were no fewer than 500 violent clashes between members of the various Palestinian guerrilla groups and the Jordanian army and security forces,” Aburish writes. “Serious incidents included the kidnapping of Arab diplomats and unfriendly Jordanian journalists, unprovoked attacks on government offices, rape and the humiliation of army and security officers. The Palestinians, who were legally entitled to set up road blocks, molested women, levied illegal taxes and insulted the Jordanian flag in the presence of loyal Jordanians.”
Just like today’s conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, there were debates as to whether Arafat controlled the violence or whether he was unable to impose discipline on his followers or challenge groups behind the attacks.
Repeatedly, shows Aburish, Hussein and Arafat hammered out extensive and specific agreements to bring the chaos under control. Repeatedly, Arafat ignored the treaties and personally violated them.
Aburish documents in detail the many steps Hussein took in trying to defuse the conflict between his regime and the Palestine Liberation Organization, which had established a nation within a nation in Jordan. Even while members of Arafat’s coalition were actively working on behalf of Hussein’s overthrow, the king made the unprecedented and astonishing gesture of offering to form a government with Arafat – one in which the PLO leader would serve as prime minister.
“An amazed, almost speechless Arafat turned him down because he had no plan for Jordan, or for incorporating the PLO into a functioning nation state with or without Hussein,” writes Aburish. “With this refusal Arafat, who survives on improvisation and constantly turns turmoil to personal advantage, was left with no option but to continue to contribute to the existing untenable chaotic state of affairs. Unable to control his followers or assume power, he was cornered into trying to maintain the status quo. As if to underscore the absurdity of the situation, immediately afterwards, in June, there was yet another failed attempt by renegade guerrillas to assassinate Hussein by ambushing his motorcade.”
How far did Hussein bend to accommodate Arafat? So far as to offer him a partnership in the Jordanian government – one in which Arafat would serve as prime minister.
If Arafat was even tempted to govern a Palestinian state, this opportunity represented the best chance. Jordan’s population is 80 percent Palestinian. There are far more Palestinians in Jordan than there are in Arafat’s Palestinian Authority today.
Arafat would have none of it. Why? Because he knew that such a deal would come with a string attached. He would have to curtail his terrorist operations against Israel. That price tag was too high for Arafat – and it always will be.
Instead, following more terrorist operations against Jordan – including what was until Sept. 11 the most dramatic series of airline hijackings in history on Sept. 6, 1970 – Hussein declared war on Arafat’s forces. As many as 15,000 people died in the fighting that lasted nearly a year. So ferocious was the final Jordanian attack on Arafat’s forces that many of his fighters chose to surrender to Israelis rather than face the terror from their own Arab brethren.
Arafat fled with about 2,000 of his fighters first into Syria and later into Lebanon – where they were eventually responsible for launching yet another bloody Arab civil war.
What’s the lesson here?
It is one that has been overlooked by history. Arafat will settle for nothing less than all of Israel. There is little point in negotiating with him. Other Arab leaders have learned this first hand – which is why he will never again be allowed to operate on their turf.
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