On Friday, November 13, 1998, the editor of the Jerusalem Post, Mr. Jeff Barak, condcuted an interview with Yassir Arafat. The article was entitled “Arafat’s charm offensive”. Media Reasearch Analyst and Israel Resource News Agency bureau chief David Bedein presents an interactive critique of Barak’s interview.
[Bedein’s comments are shown in italics.]
“Arafat’s Charm Offensive”
by Jeff Barak
(November 13) – PA Chairman Yasser Arafat took his turn at ‘spin’ this week, sitting for the first time with a select group of Israeli journalists to give his side of the story.
Why a select group? Was Arafat afraid of tough questions?
Five years after the signing of the Oslo Accords and more than two decades after Anwar Sadat made his dramatic visit to Jerusalem to woo his one-time enemy, it seems Yasser Arafat has finally decided to sell himself to Israelis.
How? By speaking to them in English? The way in which sadat established his credibility was by speaking words of peace to the Arabs, something which Arafat has yet to do.
Colonel Jibril Rajoub, the PA’s Preventive Security service chief – whose name usually strikes terror in the hearts of those he summons – picked up the phone this week to personally invite a select group of Israeli journalists to meet the PA chairman in his Ramallah office.
Rajoub is known as the guy who has been ordering summary executions and arrests of Palestinian citizens. Is it an honor to be invited by Rajoub?
Speaking in faultless Hebrew learned in his years in an Israeli jail, Rajoub promised that we would be safer in Ramallah on Wednesday night with his men than we would be in Tel Aviv.
Is this an admission that this is a police state.
Safety and security, in fact, was what Arafat was trying to sell in his first real briefing to Israeli journalists.
Sounding like the Shimon Peres of old, Arafat talked about his vision of a Benelux-style confederation in a New Middle East where there would be open borders and full cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians.
The logical question of a journalist would be: “Have you ever conveyed such a vision to your own people?”
As in his public speeches, the Palestinian leader promised 100 percent effort in combating terror, while noting that no one could guarantee 100% success.
Did Arafat ever promise such a commitment in speeches to his people?
The meeting took place in a comfortably furnished lounge in Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters, with well-stuffed sofas and armchairs for the chairman’s guests, and a firmer chair for the chairman, whose lips trembled and feet tapped throughout the evening, although he showed no signs of tiredness or any mental fatigue.
Have you ever considered the fact that Arafat may have had some trouble functioning of late?
Armed Palestinian security men, some in uniform, others not, milled around the office. Unlike at the entrance to the Prime Minister’s Office, there were no metal detectors or body searches. Cellular phones and pagers, however, had to be left outside the room.
When was the last time that you interviewed someone with armed officers “milling around”? were you not intimidated by the sight of such?
At the very same time as the cabinet was meeting in Jerusalem to ratify the Wye Memorandum – and impose a list of conditions that were to raise Palestinian ire – Arafat, joined by his top aide Tayeb Abdel-Rahim, Rajoub and spokesman Marwan Kanafani, patiently spent 90 minutes answering questions in a mixture of English and Arabic.
“Conditions that were to raise Palestinian ire” means that you somehow understand the PLO refusal to cancel the covenant and to arrest murderers.
He carefully refused every proffered chance to criticize Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu, said Arafat, signed the Wye Memorandum at the White House, and “I am sure he will honor his signature.”
What about arafat honoring his signature?
The Palestinian leader also stressed that the “kitchen cabinet” was at Wye with the prime minister, and so there should be no problems pushing the agreement through on the Israeli side.
What about stopping his incitement, etc?
And, unlike previous agreements which were signed by then-secretary of state Warren Christopher, Arafat placed great import on the fact that President Bill Clinton was a co-signatory to the Wye accord.
Shouldn’t you then assume that Clinton has turned into an advocate for Arafat?
Arafat denied reports Netanyahu had been rude at Wye, saying “we differed in a respectable way.”
and what about Arafat’s behaviour?
The word respect cropped up repeatedly in the conversation.
Asked about Ariel Sharon, all Arafat would say at first was that Sharon is Israel’s foreign minister. Pressed on Sharon’s refusal to shake his hand, Arafat answered: “He said he wasn’t going to shake my hand; I respected that.”
What about sharon’s more substantive criticism of Arafat? or are we only dealing in posturing?
Arafat insisted that the vexed question of the Palestinian Covenant had already been dealt with at the Palestine National Council meeting in 1996 in which, he said, the clauses in the covenant calling for Israel’s destruction had been annulled.
Do you take Arafat at his word that the charter had been cancelled in 1996?
“Has the Knesset ever voted twice on an issue?” he asked rhetorically. But, he added, “if it is necessary, we will do it.”
Isn’t this an insult to the Israeli political system to compare his PNC to the Knesset?
Arafat also said that May 4, 1999, did not necessarily spell the end of the Oslo process.
Probed on what he thought would happen on that date, he said: “May 4 is the end of the five-year period we agreed upon in Oslo. If there are other ideas, I’m ready to listen.”
The Palestinian leader also warned that Iranian elements, led by Iran’s spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei, were spreading incitement within the PA and had threatened his life, and that of other PA leaders.
Why not ask Arafat about the May 1995 decision of the Palestine Authority, as reported on PBC radio, and affirmed by the associated press, to license weapons for the Islamic Jihad and the Hamas?
The most dangerous thing the Iranians ever did, Arafat said, was “putting a gun over the Koran.”
And Arafat did not? is this not a consistent theme of Arafat’s speeches in Arabic?
Abdel-Rahim, the secretary-general of Arafat’s office, said he had begun talks with the Hamas leadership, calling on them to instruct their fugitives to turn themselves in to the PA, and that the Hamas leadership abroad was discussing this.
Can Abdel-Rahim provide any substantiation to his claim?
Arafat pledged to continue the PA crackdown on Palestinian terror and incitement, saying that whoever is involved in such issues “will be dealt with by us the way that we dealt with Sheikh Yassin.” The sheikh, Hamas’s founder, was put under house arrest following the attempted bombing of a school bus in Gaza last month.
What about reports that Sheikh Yassin’s house arrest was lifted, and that Sheikh Yassin’s very passport reads ‘Special Advisor’ to Arafat?
Arafat said an agreement had been reached with the Islamic Jihad, under which they had agreed to stop “military action.” Last Friday’s suicide bombing in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda seemed to be a puzzle to him, and Arafat did not repeat his suggestion, earlier this week, that the General Security Service was behind the attack.
The ‘cessation of military action’ was specifically designed to curtail actions that emanate from the palestine authority. and if Arafat did not say this accusation in front of the journalists, then why did he not change his tune in the official Palestine Authority media, which is under the direct control of Arafat?
The only time Arafat talked of cooperation between Palestinian and Israeli undesirables was in the context of car thefts, in which Israelis steal the cars and then hand them over to Palestinians.
Is this not a baseless claim?
The real villains here, according to Arafat, are settlers: “Most of the [stolen] cars come to Gaza via the settlements,” he said, without a trace of doubt apparent.
Did anyone of the journalists present not challenge this Arafat claim. silence is agreement.
The prospect of an American strike on Iraq worries the Palestinian leader.
What about the official and consistent support given to Iraq by the PBC?
“I hope and urge that there will not be an attack against Iraq… an attack will affect negatively the Wye environment,” he said.
At the 1991 Madrid Conference, he continued, “we talked about peace in the Middle East. Peace in the Middle East will be affected negatively by a US attack.”
Indeed, Madrid and not Oslo seems to be the starting point of the peace process as far as Arafat is concerned.
He said that while at Wye the Palestinians again accepted and approved the principle of reciprocity, “let’s not forget – in Madrid we agreed to reciprocity: land for peace. [Former prime minister Yitzhak] Shamir went to Madrid on this principle.”
When has arafat ever said ‘land for peace’ to his own people? and which land?
As for the future of the process, the current crisis with Iraq notwithstanding, Arafat pronounced himself an optimist.
“If there is a will, there is a way. Who could have imagined we could have reached the Oslo Agreement? Who could have imagined that we will arrange the Madrid Conference? Who could have imagined that the PNC would cancel the [Palestinian] covenant? But that happened.”
Did no one challenge arafat’s repeated pronouncement that the PNC had cancelled the PLO covenant?
Talk of early elections in Israel, Arafat said, shouldn’t pose a problem for the peace process. He denied giving instructions to Israeli-Arab MKs on how to vote, saying he merely met with them in order to listen.
Then why do Arab MK’S mention that they get directives from Arafat?
Pleading unfamiliarity with Israel’s legal framework, Arafat insisted that agreements made between leaders – such as the one between Menachem Begin and Anwar Sadat – could not be changed later because of changing political circumstances.
It was Begin, Arafat added, who was the first to offer the Palestinians an independent, if limited, form of statehood, referring to the autonomy plan cited in the Camp David Accords.
Once we start the implementation of Wye, Arafat added, the morale of the Palestinian people will improve, lessening any domestic criticism of the peace process.
“There is no doubt that the hesitation in implementing agreements between us and Israel left a very bad impression on all the Palestinian people. For two years we did not do anything.”
On hearing from an aide that the cabinet had just announced it had ratified the Wye Memorandum, Arafat broke into a huge smile and flashed a thumbs-up sign to all in the room.
It was only after we left that Arafat learned of the Netanyahu government’s conditions for ratification.
This remark about ‘conditions’ makes it look like Netanyahu invented the wheel. At Netanyahu’s press conference on wednesday night, he read from the Wye accords that Arafat had signed. What were these new conditions?