The Chairman has, it seems, very nearly succeeded in dealing himself back into the game. Having successfully purged Mahmud Abbas and appointed a self-admitted puppet to the (largely meaningless) post of PA Prime Minister, Yasser Arafat remains firmly in control of the PA and its terrorist activities. Despite Israel's fairly obviously hollow threats to expel him and the United States's resolute (so far) refusal to deal with him directly, the palsied old terrorist mastermind is still alive and kicking, if a little greyer around the temples.
There can be no question that Arafat's continued presence in Ramallah and his continued stranglehold on Palestinian affairs is an obstacle to any peace process or even cessation of hostilities. He continues to encourage and to finance terror, to sabotage all possible challenge to his leadership by more moderate voices, and to generally engage in the type of vicious, bloodthirsty rhetoric that tends to get people killed in this part of the world. Why then does he remain so seemingly impossible to dislodge from his perch atop the besieged Mukhatah?
Without doubt, the foremost reason is the unwillingness of the United States, in particular its foreign policy establishment, to contemplate his ouster. In recent days both the Israeli threats to expel or kill Arafat and the tightening seige around his headquarters have been met with opposition and often outright condemnation by the Bush Administration and the State Department. This has had a decidely negative effect on the situation, emboldening Arafat and boosting his credibility among a population discontented with his imcompetency and corruption. This miscalculation on the part of the US is, however, not unprecedented, for the US also foiled an earlier attempt by Israel to rid the world of Arafat, securing a pledge in 1982 from then Prime Minister Menachem Begin to allow Arafat to escape unharmed from Beirut, a city he had, over the course of a decade, terrorized, and plundered the city as well as rendering diligent assistance to the attempted ethnic cleansing of its Christian population. This astonishingly short-sighted coda to the Lebanon War, engineered by the State Department, not only allowed the escape of one of the world's foremost war criminals, but also allowed Arafat to rebuild himself as a legitimate international leader and statesman, a reputation which has both made a callow joke out of the Nobel Peace Prize and brought us to our current impasse.
American policy in regard to Arafat, however misguided, does not exist in vacuum. In a perfect world, there is no question that most high-ranking members of the Bush Administration would be more than happy to be rid of Arafat (the same, I fear, could not be said of most of our university intellectuals), but feel constrained by two factors: the United Nations and the European allies.
It is no secret to any student of the Middle East that Arafat has long been the darling of the United Nations. Spoiled, corrupted kleptocrats of all nations naturally find a common kinship, and Arafat has long used his special relationship with the UN as leverage to guarantee his safety. The UN's formost gift to Arafat is legitimacy. When the UN, at its 1970's nadir, agreed to allow Arafat (weapon and all) to address the General Assembly, it gave him an imprimatur which has never left him. Others may simply be terrorist leaders, but Arafat is a terrorist leader of international diplomatic standing. Benjamin Netanyahu recounts an amusing anecdote in his excellent book A Durable Peace, in which he encounters Arafat in a hallway at the UN building (Netanyahu was Israel's Ambassador to the UN at the time) and cannot come within 100 feet of him due to the enormous crowd of reporters, diplomats, and various jetsetters crowded around him. It was, Netanyahu notes, the biggest crowd he had ever seen following a UN figure. It often appears to objective observers that the whole culture of the UN, in its violent denunciations of Israel, its constant funding of dubious Palestinian charities, and regular indifferance to Israeli life and limb, often seems to exist for the sole purpose of granting legitimacy to both the man and his cause.
While it is true that the United States has often acted independently of the United Nations, it will never move against someone who is a beloved totem of the organization. Whereas both Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden were essentially diplomatic isolates, Saddam having fallen out of favor and Osama never having bothered to acquire it, Arafat is the UN's favorite celebrity and, however debased and brutal his actions, the US will not collaborate in his downfall so long as this situation continues.
This plays into the second factor in US reluctance to end Arafat's reign, the states of the European Union. All of these countries (with the exception of Italy) boast center-Left governments run by men who came of political age in the late '60s and early '70s, when, even as his men were slaughtering Israeli schoolchildren, Arafat's PLO was the darling of the European Left (one often wonders if the two phenomena were connected). Leaders like Gerhard Schroeder simply find it difficult to conceive of Arafat as something other than the noble leader of a Third World revolutionary, anti-imperialist movement. Raised on Fanonian theories of violence as liberation, the very fact of Arafat's brutality legitimizes him in their eyes. His every inhuman act of violence merely indicts Israel in the eyes of the Europeans, for whom bloodletting on the part of Third World peoples is only a testament to the obvious evil of their enemies. For who but the most brutal of oppressors could drive human beings to such methods as suicide bombings?
Thus Arafat has become the focus of Europe's highly ideological and simplistic view of foreign policy. If people commit violence, the Europeans feel, it is only because they are being so badly mistreated by those they kill. Thus the assumed, if often unspoken, conviction among Europeans that America deserved 9/11, and the transformation in the European mind of Arafat (and bin Laden) from an incompetant and murderous leader of a terrorist organization into a fearless defender of the wretched of the Earth. There is also no question that most European leaders, who largely avoided military service, are often transfixed and intimidated by men of violence, and ascribe to them importance and power they do not necessarily deserve. Arafat must be given credit for exploiting so deftly this European neurosis, but it is doubtful that, in his mind, the likes of Joshka Fischer or Jacques Chirac are anything other than what Lenin called "useful idiots".
The effect of Europe's irresponsibilty on this issue is, however, extremely negative. The foreign policy establishment of the US, like the American intellectual elite, has an inbuilt inferiority complex in regards to Europe, and believes any European conception of foreign affairs, however naive and ill-advised, to be inherently superior to the American one. Thus any president who wants to marginalize or remove Arafat (as I believe president Bush does) must fight not only United Nations and European intransigence, but also the unquestioning deference of most of his foreign policy beaurocracy to these forces.
Which brings us to where we stand today, with the (mostly European authored) Road Map irrelevant and Arafat playing the role of the perennial spoiler. Both the United Nations and Europe must bear a large measure of the responsibility for this impasse. By seizing upon Arafat as the sole legitimate leader of the Palestinian national movement they have, in effect, guaranteed that no peace agreement will be forthcoming in the near future since, as almost all observers (Arab and Israeli) of the situation believe, Arafat will never sign one. This condemns the Palestinian people to perpetual statelessness, economic collapse, and subjugation under a regime universally acknowledged to be among the most corrupted in the world. It condemns Israel to endless acts to terror and the world to deal with the attendant political conequences. Rarely have two such collossal political forces acted in such an egregiously incompetant and counterproductive manner. Were they to revise their policy to demand Arafat's total removal and his replacement with a more moderate and democratic leadership which would not be subjected to his perpetual attempts at sabotage, peace would in all likelihood be possible in the near future. Their failure to do so must be regarded as irresponsibility bordering on the criminal.
There is no question that, for anything resembling peace, or even simply quiet, to be achieved in the Middle East, Arafat must be exorcised from the scene. He is an uncomprising ideologist of a genocidal creed which espouses terrorism and violence as its only means of advancement. For various reasons, some ideological, others purely racist, Europe and the United Nations are unable or unwilling to assist in his replacement by forces more amenable to peace and compromise. Only the United States can face down this opposition and purge the Chairman from power. To accomplish this, however, would involve an end to twenty years of deference to Europe and the UN on this issue, and the long record of inconsistant and unfocused policy in regard to Arafat and his status. Arafat is immensely adept at exploiting weakness, he must be dealt with summarily and with resolve. As Israel seems unwilling to undertake unilateral action against him, it is clear that the possibilities for an end to the current impasse now rest on the question of whether the United States can once again defy its burdensome allies and muster that resolve. I regret to say that, judging by recent history, one ought to adopt the motto of the Israeli Defense Forces and, for the moment, hope for the best and prepare for the worst.