When Arafat says ‘No,’ what does he mean? The Rais’s ‘No’ is not an absolute rejection. It is a strategy of brinksmanship, designed to achieve a bit more, to squeeze one more accomplishment.

Arafat’s ‘No’ is designed to show his people that he doesn’t give in easily. This is a ‘No’ that is valid only now, and can change in hours or days. It isn’t a ‘No’ of principles. It is a ‘No’ on the way to a ‘Yes’.

Yesterday Arafat essentially said ‘Yes,’ but with conditions and reservations. Arafat understands that he has not yet reached the limit of Israeli concessions. He has time left before January 10th, the final date set by Clinton. Until then he can squeeze more out of Israel. Yesterday evening he heard that Barak requested from the cabinet approval to transfer 97% to the Palestinians. From his perspective, what is that, if not proof that he shouldn’t be in a hurry to say ‘Yes’?

At Camp David everyone told Arafat: “You will not receive a better offer than this one.” And still he insisted, and backed up his refusal with violence. A few weeks ago, when he felt that the hour had arrived, he returned to the negotiating table, and received a better offer.

Why does he insist so much? Arafat has serious internal problems. The offers are definitely more generous than in the past, but they are still far from the Palestinian strategy. He understands that if he says ‘No’ or a weak ‘Yes,’ he will get a bit more.

At the same time, he understands that he will not be able to dream of a better agreement than this in the future. Thus he prefers at the moment not to give a clear answer. It is more advantageous to him to demand more improvements, concessions, and guarantees. He has not broken all the rules of the game or caused an explosion. He just wants more.

This article appeared in the daily Israeli newspaper on Dec. 28, 2000

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