Yasser Arafat is not Adolf Hitler, and Ehud Barak is certainly not Winston Churchill or Charles De Gaulle, but Arafat is a dictator whose strategic goals-like Hitler’s-are no secret, if we will only pay attention to what the dictator says.
The British and the French might easily have defeated Hitler-even as late as 1940–by focusing on what he said to his people, rather than what he said to British and French negotiators, according to “Strange Victory,” a new book by Professor Ernest R. May of Harvard University.
“Except in cases where he had pledged his word, Hitler always meant what he said,” says Professor May, quoting another historian, Sir John Wheeler-Bennett. (“Strange Victory: Hitler’s Conquest of France,” By Ernest R. May, Hill and Wang, 2000, p. 453)
The same is true of Arafat.
Over the last half year, Arafat has met Barak and President Clinton several times, promising them many things, including a televised denunciation of terror and a clear call for an end to attacks on Israeli civilians. But Yasser Arafat really did not want to call off attacks on Israel, and he really does not like lying to his people about his strategic goals.
So, when Arafat returned from the Sharm al-Sheikh summit on November 2, 2000, Barak, Clinton, CNN, Sky News and the Israeli press all waited with baited breath for Arafat to speak up for peace. At the time, the newest so-called “Intifada” was only five weeks old, and it might have been possible to stop it before it totally destroyed any remnants of the Arab-Israeli peace process.
Everyone waited. BBC waited. CBC waited. Israel’s Channel One waited. They all waited and then waited some more. But the first thing Arafat did when he came home from the Sharm al-Sheikh summit was cancelling any televised address to his people. Then, his advisors promised that Arafat would give a live radio address.
After two hours he cancelled that, too, allowing release of a very problematic statement, which, ironically, was broadcast only two hours after a Palestinian car bomb exploded in a crowded Jerusalem market area, murdering several civilians.
The Palestinian communique, which called for Palestinians to use “peaceful means” to achieve national aims, did not condemn the car bombing. Indeed, there was no mention of the bomb blast on VOP Radio (for several hours), nor any clear condemnation of this attack or any earlier violence (except by Israeli forces) at any time during broadcasting today.
“The Palestinian National Authority and the government of Israel reached an understanding for the two sides to implement the understandings of Sharm al-Sheikh as set forth in the statement of President Clinton and the speech of President Mubarrak,” the radio statement began.
It was clear that the communique was both more and less than what many Western diplomats and Israeli officials wanted. The PA statement did not speak directly about the need for Palestinian restraint, but it made many demands on Israel, thus leaving potential “escape clauses” for itself if Israel failed to meet all Palestinian conditions.
But what Arafat does tell his people is critically important, because Palestine State Television and the Voice of Palestine Radio are not like the CBC or BBC. They are government organs controlled solely by “the leader, the symbol, his excellency, President Yasser Arafat” (as the official Palestinian broadcast media call him).
Major violence against Israeli civilians and Israeli soldiers (even in joint patrols with Palestinian soldiers) actually began several days before Ariel Sharon’s much-discussed visit to the Temple Mount area on September 28.
A September 8 mosque speech broadcast on Palestinian tv (Sheikh Abu-Sneina) said, among other nuanced niceties: “slaughter the Jews.”
For days-even weeks–before the Sharon visit, Arafat’s official radio and television outlets were mobilizing Palestinians to violence.
On September 26, VOP called for “the defense of Al Aqsa” even as one Israeli was murdered and other injured in an attack on an Israeli civilian convoy in Gaza. VOP radio, keeping to its own standard of “fairness,” reported “Israeli atrocities.”
The next day, September 27, there were even more calls to violence against Israel, and a Palestinian “policeman” shot his fellow joint-patrol mate, Israeli soldier David Biri. Subsequently Israel State Radio wanted to believe that Arafat really opposes terror and violence. and it broadcast reports that Arafat condemned the attack. In fact, the “condemnation” was really an Arafat phone call to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. VOP radio and Palestinian television broadcast NO report, no quote, no live-voice insert of anything remotely resembling a Palestinian attack on Israelis of any kind-not even attacks on Israeli civilians or Israeli soldiers patrolling together with their Palestinian colleagues.
I have been listening, monitoring and recording Palestinian broadcasts for more than five years, and I am still waiting to hear a clear condemnation of any violence aimed at Israelis. But like those tv crews from CBC, CNN and BBC who waited for Arafat to speak up for peace after returning from Sharm al-Sheikh, I think Arafat will just keep me waiting. [first of two articles)
Michael Widlanski, who holds a certificate in Arabic with distinction from American University of Cairo, holds a Master’s Degree in International Relations at Columia University and is now completing his PhD on the subject of the PA media at Bar U Ilan University in Israel.