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Arafat leads, misery follows

Posted: Wednesday, June 06, 2001

The following editorial appeared in today's Chicago Tribune:

For eight months, Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has incited violence and encouraged the uprising by Palestinians against Israel. He believes he can get concessions through violent resistance that he wasn't able to negotiate peacefully with Israel. There is a cold, calculating logic to his game plan.

There is cold logic to his thinking, but there is also blood on his hands. He bears ultimate responsibility for the suicide bombing of a Tel Aviv disco last week that killed 20 Israelis, mostly teen-age girls and young Russian immigrants. That was murder, and Arafat is to blame. These weren't soldiers in uniform. They were youths lining up for a "girls get in free" night of dancing.

Arafat condemned the bombing and called, for the first time during the eight-month uprising, for Palestinians to cease fire. But words aren't enough. His leadership has fueled the terrorism against Israel. Now he has to stop it.

He has to arrest the Hamas and Islamic Jihad extremists he freed from his jails, which increased the likelihood of such bombings. He has to use his Palestinian Authority security forces to stop his people from launching gunfire and mortar attacks against Israel. He has to halt the use of terrorism as diplomacy. He has to make his people recognize Israel is here to stay.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has outmaneuvered Arafat in the battle for international opinion by holding largely to a cease-fire Sharon declared two weeks ago, promising not to initiate attacks. Sharon, long known as a hawk, has shown great restraint since Friday's disco bombing. Israel clamped a crushing closure on the occupied territories but Sharon has opted thus far not to launch a major military counterstrike. He must, as well, recognize that there is little incentive for the Palestinians to return to peace talks without a freeze on the building of Jewish settlements. Israel must address this if it wants a lasting peace.

But the question lingers: Does Arafat have any interest in peace? He failed the test of statesmanship at Camp David last summer, when Israel made him the most far-reaching offer ever to remove most Jewish settlements and negotiate over Palestinian refugees and sharing Jerusalem. Arafat didn't even make a counter-offer. He rejected using Israel's offer even as a basis for negotiation and instead unleashed the violent intifada.

Life for Palestinians is far more miserable today than it was when the intifada began. Unemployment is rising, the economy is in ruins - and scores of Palestinians are dying.

There's a question as to whether Arafat can still command enough support among his people to stop the violence. Is he ultimately going to lead Palestinians back into tough negotiations toward their long-cherished dream of an independent state, or has he chosen to end his career as a 1960s-style national liberation rebel without a coherent cause?



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