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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

A New Palestinian Agenda After Iraq?

Filed under: Iraq, Palestinians, Terrorism
Publication: Jerusalem Issue Briefs

Vol. 2, No. 10    October 29, 2002

  • Arafat is determined that, within any peace agreement, Israel must absorb approximately 300,000 Palestinians from Lebanon, and that the independent Palestinian state must be free to absorb more than half a million more Palestinians.

  • Arafat’s long-term goal is to combine these with the 3.2 million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, and the 3.2 million in Jordan, to create an overwhelming Palestinian majority from the Mediterranean Sea to the Iraqi desert. This would result in a new political entity replacing both Israel and Jordan.

  • Although Israel wants to change its anti-terrorist measures to ease the life of the Palestinians, there is not the slightest sign that Arafat and his colleagues are ready to change their attitude toward terror.

  • A U.S.-Iraq war that topples Saddam Hussein, if it occurs, would create dramatic change in the Middle East because Saddam is a leading symbol to tyrants like Arafat and others.

  • There is no viable alternative to replacing Arafat, although such a transition need not be violent.


Arafat’s Perception of “Peace”

The year 2003 could be the most important in Israel’s history in terms of relations with the Palestinians. Israel and the Palestinians are now locked in a bloody confrontation, largely because Yasser Arafat’s perception of “peace” is totally different from the peace Israel has already achieved with Jordan and Egypt.

Arafat’s position is based on four demands: a return to the 1967 borders, an Arab capital in Jerusalem, a Palestinian right of return, and control of the mosques. Arafat considers himself the most important Palestinian, Muslim, and Arab leader in the world, and this is why it is so important to him to keep control over the mosques. He similarly insists upon the right of return, in his positions as leader of the PLO, leader of Fatah (the ruling party of the PLO), and chairman of the Palestinian Authority (a position that actually expired two years ago).

Within any peace agreement, Arafat is determined to force Israel to absorb the 300,000 Palestinians now living in Lebanon. These Palestinians, living under the influence of Syria and Iran, are very bitter and they remind Arafat daily of his obligation to solve the problems of all Palestinians. So Arafat wants Israel, suicidally, to grant all of these Palestinians (whose families originally hailed from the Galilee/Haifa area) full Israeli citizenship, including full voting rights in elections for the Knesset.

Arafat is further determined that the independent Palestinian state should have the full right to absorb more than half a million overseas Palestinians into the Palestinian territories. Arafat mentally adds these to the 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank, the 1.2 million in Gaza, and the 3.2 million in Jordan, and hopes to create an overwhelming Palestinian majority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Iraqi desert.

This is Arafat’s dream, if not his obsession. The Camp David talks failed mainly because Arafat simply cannot give up his dream. He is determined that, in 30 to 50 years, there will be one sweeping pan-Palestinian state in place of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, with Israel losing its Jewish majority. Within that timeframe, the demographic factor becomes crucial. Today Arafat may be losing power locally, but, because of his dedication to the Palestinian cause, he is still a powerful national and supra-national leader.


Violence and Terror

Israel fully expected an eruption of violence in September 2000. As a member of Israel’s delegation to the peace talks in Washington and at Wye Plantation, I often had private discussions with Palestinian leaders. One told me secretly: “I like you personally, not nationally, and I’ll help you with your job in national assessment. In 2000, if Arafat does not get what he wants, we will use violence and terror. I’m not threatening you or trying to manipulate you. I’m telling you in order to help you.” While one can suspect their motives, the atmosphere at Wye Plantation often included this kind of personal dynamic.

Thus, Israel is facing state-sponsored terror. Murder and terror have become a local “industry.” Almost every day Israel has to try to prevent bloody, cruel acts of terror as the Palestinians use explosive devices specifically constructed to cause mass casualties.

At the same time, the Palestinian Authority (PA) does not consider these people as terrorists and they are neither detained nor deterred. There is no punishment, no trial. Under such conditions, the PA’s commitment to “fight terrorism” is meaningless.


Humanitarian Considerations

As the coordinator of government activities in the territories, I recently recommended that the Chief of Staff and the Defense Minister lift the curfew in Nablus for “humanitarian reasons.” The Chief of Staff accepted my recommendation, but the General Security Services (Shabak) representative firmly resisted. He said that lifting the curfew would result in terror, bloodshed, and casualties within 5 to 7 hours. It was decided to take the risk.

Five hours after the curfew was lifted, two dangerous terrorists left Nablus. Neither the Israeli intelligence agencies nor the IDF were able to prevent them from doing so. Miraculously, Israeli civilians caught one terrorist and killed the other, but, in fact, professionally we failed. We endangered our countrymen because my “humanitarian” recommendation to lift the curfew was accepted.

There is a dilemma here. On the one hand, we do want to ease the life of the average Palestinian. On the other hand, there is not even the slightest sign that Arafat and his colleagues are ready to change the prevailing mood (which they encourage) that sees terror as a legitimate strategic tool against Israel. To be more precise, Arafat himself still believes that Israel can be broken through terror. This is his main motivation. He drew inspiration from the way Israel unilaterally left Lebanon, which made him think Israel had become so soft that it would not defend itself. But Arafat was totally mistaken. The Israeli army and public are determined to defend themselves. Morale is very high in Israel, despite all the tragedies we have suffered.

Arafat knows Israelis, but he doesn’t understand us. Thinking, wrongly, that we could be broken through terror, he released all the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists from Palestinian jails. We warned against it, but he sent them into the streets nonetheless. He deliberately has not let any Palestinian intelligence organization deal with terror. Quite the contrary, he actively encourages the terrorists.

Monetarily, terrorism is a good investment for poor families, who automatically receive $35,000 when a child blows himself up. They get $25,000 from Iraq, $5,000 from Saudi Arabia, and $5,000 from the PA, and are publicly lauded as “heroes” in the Palestinian national pantheon. Compare this sum to an average monthly family income of $400 a month.

When the IDF entered the Palestinian cities, its only achievable goal was to diminish, not to stop, the terror. Only the Palestinians themselves can accomplish that. But there has been no change in Arafat’s attitude, despite all that has happened. Arafat’s series of mistakes will be particularly relevant next year if Iraq is attacked, defeated, and politically reformed.

Arafat’s initiated confrontation with Israel has caused considerable suffering to the Palestinian population. Some 80% of Palestinians in Gaza live below the poverty line, as do, perhaps, 60% in the West Bank. Nearly 1.8 million are living on charity from international organizations. Although there is no hunger or any humanitarian crisis in the territories – a statement I can readily defend – the economic situation there is very poor, and having a poor population is, in the long run, against the interests of Israel, the Palestinians, and the world at large.

To help bolster their economy, we recently recommended that the Israeli government approve the entry of 25,000 Palestinian workers and 8,000 Palestinian businessmen into Israel proper. (This includes 4,000 Palestinians allowed to work in the industrial zones between Gaza and Israel, and another 1,000 allowed to work in Israeli villages in the Gaza district.) Only about 19,000 Palestinians have applied for work permits so far, although I expect that almost all of the quota will be used eventually. Last year, we also invested half a million shekels to improve the roads to Bethlehem, although, due to the threat of continued Palestinian violence, there unfortunately are almost no tourists. It is my dream to see the tourists return to Bethlehem because Bethlehem is a potent symbol, especially during the Christmas season. That is why we are taking risks yet again, this time regarding the entry of Palestinian workers, in order to help diminish unemployment.

It is very difficult to solve this contradiction between terror, on one side, and humanitarian assistance, on the other. For example, to ease the daily life of Palestinians we must open the roads between cities, but the moment we do that, we are hit with terrorist attacks. Similarly, without the IDF presence in the Palestinian cities, we would be suffering a totally unacceptable toll of casualties.


Time for Change

Palestinian suffering and discontent are some of the main reasons for the increasing criticism of Arafat. Arafat has constantly failed in his most recent attempts to organize demonstrations in favor of the PA and himself. (There are no spontaneous demonstrations in the Palestinian territories; they are all organized and financed by the PA.) The Palestinians despise the current combination of rampant corruption and unnecessary suffering. They don’t understand why, after two years, instead of having a political solution, they have the IDF inside the Palestinian cities. This growing criticism represents a major change on the Palestinian side, and we even hear unprecedented criticism from some of Arafat’s closest friends. People think Arafat is leading them to a dead end. This gives us some hope that a way may be found to reach a reasonable, defensible political arrangement, one that would leave room for two entities living without terror and with hope for a better life for their civilian populations.

I head the civilian administration, but I do not head an occupation system. The current arrangement is a temporary one which helps international organizations assist Palestinians. The only way to solve the problem with the Palestinians is to reach a political solution, but any such political solution must exclude terror.

Arafat made another mistake when he failed to distinguish between September 10 and September 12, 2001. The world woke up, and Arafat lost legitimacy because he supports terror. Even the President of the United States, after seeing the intelligence presented him, came to the conclusion that “there is a need for new leadership” for the Palestinians. As long as Arafat remains in control, there will be no real reforms and no real change in the Palestinian territories, just more corruption and terror.

There is no alternative other than to replace Arafat. This does not have to be through violence; there are many other ways. According to Israeli government regulations, Arafat has reached retirement age, so I recommend that he retire!

Arafat is also cooperating with Iraq. We have documents that show this clearly, and we have even arrested Saddam Hussein’s representative here. He was personally directed by Taha Yassin Ramadan, Saddam’s closest friend and aide. There still is tight cooperation between Iraq and Arafat.

Arafat also cooperates with Iran. It was Iran that gave Arafat the Karine A ship, complete with $15 million worth of weapons. By the way, the weapons were covered by 120 tons of rice. Israel gave the rice to UNRWA, who in turn gave it to the Palestinians. Arafat was especially eager to bring katyusha rockets into the territories because he has liked katyushas ever since the PLO’s stay in southern Lebanon in the 1980s.

A U.S.-led war against Iraq, if it actually occurs, will create dramatic changes throughout the region because Saddam is a major symbol for tyrants like Arafat and others. If Saddam collapses, this would create a positive “earthquake” in the Middle East that could lead to an unparalleled opportunity to change things in the region, especially with regard to the use of terror as a strategic tool. Saddam is now at his weakest point. He has lost part of his power, his regime is corrupt, and he is hated by most Iraqis. If his regime collapses, this could lead to new initiatives to change the entire situation in the region. But to take advantage of this opportunity, the Palestinians must be willing to adopt practices that reject terror and corruption.

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Maj. Gen. Amos Gilad is Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories for the Ministry of Defense, a post he has held since July 2001. Previously, Gen. Gilad served as the Director of the Research Division for the IDF’s Intelligence Branch and as the IDF Spokesman.