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Arafat's Palm Pilot

Michael Freund

If you think you're a busy person, just imagine what Yasser Arafat's Palm Pilot must look like.

Over eight years have passed since Arafat signed the Oslo Accords back in 1993, in which he renounced the use of violence against Israel. And yet, while that renunciation was a central element of the deal between Israel and the Palestinians, Arafat never managed to find the time in his busy schedule to pass that message on to his own people.

Despite repeated requests from successive American and Israeli administrations, Arafat was apparently too preoccupied all these years to deal with such "minor" matters as discouraging the murder of hundreds of innocent Israelis.

Until this week, it seems.

In an address broadcast on Sunday on Palestinian television, Arafat condemned "military activities" against Israelis and called for an end to suicide bombings. Not only that, but he even said it in Arabic.

So if you are now wondering why Arafat's speech was greeted by a round of diplomatic yawns in both Washington and Jerusalem, the answer is really quite simple: it was far too little, and way too late. It was as if Arafat checked the "to-do list" on his Palm Pilot and finally got around to doing what he should have done nearly a decade ago.

Had Arafat delivered the same speech back in 1993, had he turned then to the Palestinians with an impassioned plea to put aside their hatred and put down their guns, things might have been different. And had he followed up that speech with action, by disarming and disbanding terrorist groups, shutting down their training camps, closing off their financial pipelines and arresting their members, the speech itself might have come to be considered a milestone.

But his speech on Sunday was not delivered in 1993 or 1994, or even in 2000. It was only now, after sensing that his rule may be coming to an end, that Arafat was willing to utter the magic words. As a result of his tardiness, rivers of innocent blood were shed over the past decade.

And one speech, no matter how compelling or forceful it might be, cannot make up for the fact that Arafat has spent the past eight years sending an entirely different message to his people one of hatred and cruelty. He has repeatedly called for jihad (holy war) against Israel, lauded suicide bombers as "martyrs" and vowed to liberate Jerusalem. Unlike Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the American President who reassured his people with "fireside chats" in the 1940s, Arafat has spent the past decade giving the Palestinians "firebomb chats", urging them on to violence and destruction.

Thus, it should hardly come as a surprise that Arafat's attempt at a Sunday sermon was not taken very seriously.

As Prime Minister Ariel Sharon pointed out, there were 17 Palestinian terrorist attacks against Israelis in the 24 hours after Arafat's speech. These included the firing of mortar rounds against Jewish communities in Gaza, gunfire against Israeli soldiers near Elon Moreh, Shilo, Gush Katif and Ramallah, and grenade attacks near Rafiah and Neve Dekalim. Three Israelis, including a father and his three-year old son, were wounded.

Apparently, the Palestinians had no trouble reading between the lines of Arafat's speech. They heard what he said on Sunday, but they also heard what he did not say. He did not call for an end to the intifada, and he did not mention Hamas or Islamic Jihad. Instead, he mouthed a few platitudes, hoping this would remove some of the American pressure on him to truly clamp down on terror.

But the time for words is long past. Eight years ago, the government of Israel put its faith in Arafat's words, but those words only amounted to hundreds of additional Jewish funerals. Arafat's credibility among Israelis is non-existent, and for that he has only himself to blame.

Astonishingly, however, there are still foreign leaders who are nave enough to believe Arafat's declarations. On Monday, a parade of European diplomats paid Arafat a visit in Ramallah, complimenting his speech and fawning over him like devoted fans greeting a television star. With all the kissing and hugging going on, it looked more like an episode of the "Dating Game" than a diplomatic gathering.

But if Arafat thinks that a batch of European sycophants will rescue his political career, he is gravely mistaken. The people of Israel are tired of being murdered on a daily basis, and they are no longer willing to tolerate the fiction that a serial killer like Arafat should be considered a partner for peace.

So if Arafat is smart, he will take a closer look at that Palm Pilot of his, and clear his schedule a bit. At last, it seems, the batteries are finally about to run out.

The writer served as Deputy Director of Communications & Policy Planning in the Prime Minister's Office from 1996 to 1999.

This article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post.



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