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The Choice Is Theirs: Arafat or Statehood

The Palestinians at last must acknowledge the folly of terrorism.

June 25, 2002|ROBERT STEWART

The choice is now clear for Palestinians: Yasser Arafat or a state of their own--a state recognized and supported by the world community. If Palestinians are to ever raise the flag over East Jerusalem with American support, President Bush's speech Monday made quite clear that Arafat must go and be replaced by "leaders not compromised by terror."

Clearly, the United States cannot be the sponsor of a terrorist state--which is what a nation of Palestine would be under the current administration. Bush made clear the three simple preconditions for a state that Americans can support, saying, "when the Palestinian people have new leaders, new institutions and new security arrangements with their neighbors," then the U.S. will support a nation, but Arafat must go.

The proposals outlined in the speech were bred of an administration increasingly frustrated by Arafat's inability--or rank unwillingness--to stop the incessant acts of terrorism in the Middle East or to provide a peace framework of his own.

Arafat's failure to act against Hamas militants and other terrorists in his own backyard ensures there will not soon be a Palestinian state with him as its leader. But that sets up quite the dilemma for the Palestinian people: Trust the U.S. and the world community to follow through on their promise to help create a nation or stand by a leader supported by an overwhelming majority of Palestinians but lose any hope of statehood.

Realizing in the days before the speech that terror had once again delayed--perhaps indefinitely--his goal for a Palestinian state, Arafat desperately agreed to a plan he had rejected during the Clinton administration.

But, as usual, he agreed to just a bit less than what was required for peace, and the offer was made only with his back against the wall. And now it is too late.

If history is any guide, Arafat has no plans to resign, nor do his minions plan to agree with the simple preconditions Bush outlined Monday. And it is doubtful that even the promise of the direct investment Bush has offered from the U.S., the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank would force Arafat to loosen his grip on power, regardless of how much his people need this funding and expertise.

Nabil Shaath, the Palestinian minister of planning and international cooperation, said preemptively Sunday that the idea of preconditions, such as prosecuting terrorists and ending the murder of civilians, "is a problem."

Arafat himself has rebuked outside demands.

In response to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice's statements earlier this month about the nature of the Palestinian Authority, he said, "We are doing what we see as good for our people, and we do not accept any orders from anyone."

Bush's speech, no doubt much to Arafat's chagrin, struck a very different tone than the one the president would have given had there not been the recent spate of terror attacks against Israeli civilians. The first president to publicly call for a sovereign Palestinian state, Bush has since tempered his views as a result of Hamas and other terrorist groups intentionally derailing movement toward Palestinian self-determination.

Hamas, Islamic Jihad and their ilk don't care to see a state. They want only the destruction of Israel. A nation of Palestinians means formal recognition of a Jewish nation and a civilian authority as replacement for their de facto governance. The radical groups can stomach neither.

So it is not Bush's conditions that are preventing progress on a Palestinian flag over East Jerusalem; it is the willful obstruction through violence, and Arafat's refusal to stop it or step aside.

Would-be Palestinian nationals must recognize that the largest barrier to freedom, prosperity and a homeland is not the U.S. or Israel. It is their failure to choose peace and divorce themselves from the terrorists.


Robert Stewart, an Army intelligence analyst from 1990 to 1994, is a writer based in Washington, D.C. E-mail:

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