Ever since he arrived in the Gaza Strip in 1994, Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat has been seeking to internationalize the conflict with Israel by involving as many countries as possible. His objective is to isolate Israel in the international arena to force it to make more concessions to the Palestinians.
Now that the International Court of Justice has ruled in favor of the Palestinians on the West Bank security fence, Arafat is feeling upbeat because he feels he is approaching the end of his mission.
He has another reason to be satisfied: The ruling is likely to ease the pressure on him to give up most of his powers and to end corruption. For the next few weeks, or months (he hopes), everyone will be busy talking about the fence as the case is brought before the UN General Assembly and other forums.
Arafat is now hoping to pursue the case against Israel by seeking a series of UN resolutions that would impose sanctions on Israel once it fails to comply with the court ruling, and that Israel will succumb to the pressure.
Over the past few years, Arafat has repeatedly called for dispatching an international force to the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He hopes that such a force would keep the world’s attention focused on what’s happening in these areas and guarantee continued financial aid to the PA.
Money plays a key role in ensuring Arafat’s continued control over the PA and, more important, the dozen or so Palestinian security forces.
Since the current wave of violence erupted in September 2000, Arafat stepped up his efforts to internationalize the conflict. A few days after the fighting broke out, Arafat called for dispatching an international force to the West Bank and Gaza Strip “to defend the Palestinians against Israeli atrocities” and has not missed an opportunity to repeat this call since then.
Arafat now appears to be on the brink of fulfilling his dream. For him, the fact that he managed to raise the issue of the “Apartheid Wall” before the court is in itself a significant achievement. Indeed, many Palestinians are hailing the court opinion as an “historic and major” achievement for Palestinian diplomacy.
As one senior PA official told The Jerusalem Post on Saturday, “even if the wall is not torn down immediately, this is undoubtedly one of the most significant victories for the Palestinians. The Palestinian cause is back on the top of the world’s agenda.”
Arafat is hoping that the trial would set a precedent for other cases he wishes to bring to international forums. According to sources close to the PA, Arafat will now try to persuade the international community to put some of Israel’s political and military officials on trial for war crimes against the Palestinians.
“Israel is a state of terror and apartheid and this is what we are planning to prove to the entire world,” said a Palestinian legal expert. “The fence is only part of the problem. We want to dig deeper. We want to see people like [Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and [Defense Minister Shaul] Mofaz stand trial like [former Yugoslav President Slobodan] Milosevic.”
Finally, the timing of Friday’s court ruling could not have been better for Arafat, who is under immense pressure to implement reforms in the corruption-riddled PA.
Only last week representatives of the Quartet announced that they were “sick and tired” of Arafat’s foot-dragging on the issue of reforms and threatened to halt financial aid to the Palestinians.
The Egyptians, who have been trying for months to persuade Arafat to cede control over security and to share powers with others, are now threatening to cut off their ties with the PA unless the reforms are implemented. In addition, Arafat is facing pressure from a growing number of Palestinians on the same issues.
The court ruling has turned the fence into the Palestinians’ No. 1 problem. Now Arafat will tell all those who are pressing him to reform that he will do so only when Israel respects the court ruling on the fence.
This article ran in the Jerusalem Post of July 10th, 2004