Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Why Save Arafat?

James Skillen


May 3, 2004

Just over a week ago, Israel's Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said that he no longer felt bound by a promise to the U.S. not to dispose of Yasser Arafat, head of the Palestinian Authority. President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, responded that the White House still opposed the killing of Arafat. But why?

President Bush believes that those who support terrorism are a threat to the U.S. and its allies. The president has not stood in the way of Israel's assassination of two Hamas leaders. Sharon is convinced that Arafat supports Hamas and other violent opponents of Israel. The Bush administration is intent on disposing of regimes like the Taliban and Saddam Hussein. Why not give Israel the green light to do away with Arafat or at least to send him into exile?

Does Rice's verbal assertion of respect for Arafat's life arise from the administration's regard for the Palestinians and their leadership, or is it the opposite? Neither Bush nor Sharon will deal with Arafat any longer and they have shunned and humiliated him. Israeli forces now have him pinned down in a small compound. Does the White House want to keep Arafat from death just so Israel's growing control of everything Palestinian can add to the humiliation?

Walter Russell Mead, hardly a liberal antagonist of President Bush, recently commented that after five weeks of travel through the Middle East, he had concluded that "the greatest single cause of anti-Americanism" in the region "is a widespread belief that the United States simply does not care about the rights or the needs of the Palestinian people." (New York Times, 4/21/04). Not surprising.

President Bush says he wants a democratic Palestinian state. He also hopes that having disposed of Saddam Hussein, Iraq might become a major wedge for freedom and democracy in the region. Yet for these things to happen, doesn't there have to be some sympathy among the people of the Middle East for what the U.S. is pushing? If the way to bring freedom to Palestinians is by getting rid of terrorists, why not dispose of Arafat? If, on the other hand, the way is to win some sympathy from the Palestinians, then why not do more to support them?

There is little evidence, for example, that the White House is giving encouragement to Palestinian leaders like Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian university president, who has joined with Israeli peace proponents like Ami Ayalon, a former top security official, in organizing the People's Campaign for Peace and Democracy. That campaign represents a joint Israeli-Palestinian negotiating strategy and is now drawing in other Palestinian political leaders who are calling for a peaceful Intifada to displace the violent one.

Last year, the U.S. joined with the European Union, Russia, and the U.N. to endorse a "road map" to an eventual Middle East peace settlement. Then, suddenly, in the middle of April, without consulting the other three partners or considering the Palestinians, the president endorsed an Israeli plan by Sharon to annex permanently some sizable, illegal, Israeli settlements in the West Bank and to remove Israeli settlers in Gaza sometime next year. Most of the deal violates 40 years of U.S. and international agreements. Senator, and presidential candidate, John Kerry, also endorsed the plan.

On April 27, following the Bush-Sharon meeting, 100 former British diplomats, hardly America's enemies, wrote to Prime Minister Tony Blair, to express dismay. The "new policies" announced by Bush and Sharon "are one-sided and illegal and...will cost yet more Israeli and Palestinian blood."

Do Bush and Kerry imagine that U.S. interests in freedom, democracy, peace, and oil can all be secured with only one Middle East ally amidst growing anti-Americanism both in and far beyond that region?

—James W. Skillen, President
    Center for Public Justice


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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”