Ariel Center for Policy Research (ACPR)


ACPR Research - Summary


Arafat's "Peace Process"

Yossef Bodansky

Policy Paper No. 18, 1997
(Revised from Policy Paper No. 8)

The quest for a cataclysmic violent eruption that will compel Israel to succumb to pressure and surrender territories has been a key component of Arafat's strategy since the early 1970s, along with the politically expedient "Phases Program/Phased Plan". Both doctrines, which complement each other, were formulated in the aftermath of Salah Khalaf's [Abu-Iyad] high-level PLO delegation milestone visit to Hanoi (early 1970) for discussions with a Politburo team led by General Vo Nguyen Giap on how North Vietnam could help the Palestinian struggle. The Vietnamese recounted their success in manipulating the American and Western media to the point of having a direct impact on the US ability to wage war against North Vietnam and the Viet Cong.

Abu-Iyad described in his book, Palestinian Without a Motherland, how he brought up the question why the Palestinian armed struggle was considered terrorism while the Vietnamese struggle was lauded and supported throughout the West. The Vietnamese attributed this phenomenon to the different packaging of the goals of the two liberation movements. The Vietnamese team then agreed to sit with the PLO delegation and develop a program for the Palestinians. The Vietnamese told the PLO to develop appealing catchy programs that would appear flexible and moderate. The appearance of political programs should be based on the principle that in dealing with the US one must "sacrifice the unimportant if only in order to preserve the essential."

While in Hanoi, the PLO delegation was introduced to such issues as dealing with the US media, US liberal circles and institutions, and especially the power of the Jewish community. The Palestinians were taught how to manipulate and exploit these subjects and how the west could not stomach the sight of blood and casualties. The PLO leadership stressed that the acceptance of any part of Palestine was legitimate for as long as the entity established there will serve as the basis for the liberation of the rest of the country – the ultimate destruction of Israel. The PLO found that the territories’ Arab inhabitants needed hope and that the idea of a mini state was acceptable, apparently, to the USA. Arafat has constantly stressed that Oslo is the beginning of the establishment of the whole plan, for example to the rejectionist leaders, and others such as Spiegal Salon at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 30, 1996 (40 Arab diplomats). The bombings represent a Palestinian "Tet Offensive". A sudden surge in casualties, particularly on television, shatter the resolve and determination of the Israeli population. Washington will apply tremendous pressure on Jerusalem to offer additional unilateral concessions just to avoid the collapse of the "Peace Process" and Arafat is convinced he can win the resultant media battle.

The Quest for Legitimacy by Arafat the Islamist

An increasingly radical militant Muslim World has forced Arafat to maintain his legitimacy as leader by harnessing the Islamists and by making them a part of the PLO. He must either out escalate or use more powerful partners to create a "wider war". He must stay at the top to satisfy his greed for money. The intifada and the Gulf war have shaped things for Arafat and Abu-Jihad sought to transform the struggle for Palestine into the next "Afghanistan", a focus of Islamic militancy and solidarity: creating a unified umbrella command – a new-style PLO – that would reflect groups’ diversity but ensure Arafat's overall leadership. However differences in emphasis and Hamas popularity in Judea, Samaria and Gaza meant the PLO's experience with the defiant Hamas leadership in 1988-89 drove Arafat to ensure repeatedly their support and legitimization of all his subsequent moves – from committing to the Oslo Accords to repeatedly authorizing the launch of spectacular terrorist strikes.

In the Wilderness

The Gulf Crisis proved just how detached Arafat was from the real power dynamics in the Middle East. The May 30, 1990 Nitzanim strike could have been a major Iraqi-Libyan-PLO diversion for the Iraqi preparations for the invasion of Kuwait and a source of incitement for the masses had it not been foiled. After the Gulf War Arafat’s leadership came into question and seemed threatened by younger men. During 1991-92, the US was self-intoxicated by the seeming progress of the "peace process" it had initiated in the aftermath of the Gulf Crisis, pointing to the on-going talks between Israel and the Arab delegations. Reality could not have been different. The Arab regimes had to go along with the US plan for reasons of their own bilateral ties with the US not because of a sudden conversion towards peaceful relations with Israel. Arafat gravitated towards Sudan making every effort to present himself and the PLO as central figures in the emerging Islamist camp: "Khartoum will become the springboard for the liberation of Jerusalem" (Arafat, Arab and Islamic Peoples' Conference, April 1991). Syria’s Assad stepped in, pushing the PLO into militant radicalism and potential prominence in order to further his own agenda. Many were drawn to radical Islam in Israeli prisons in the 1980s: Jabar Ammar found it expedient to build working relations with both Khartoum and Tehran, using channels of communications in Lebanon and Syria. Since 1995-96, the Han Yunis-Rafah area of the Gaza Strip has been his stronghold, following a period commanding training in advanced sabotage techniques in Sudan. He serves as a contact man between Arafat and Turabi.

Between 1991 and 1993 Arafat and his PLO were virtually irrelevant to the political process in the Middle East. While official representatives were engaged in one phase or another of the US-imposed "peace process", key members of the same entities struck deals and reached understandings with the most militant Islamist leaders. After the trauma of his Libyan air crash, by late 1992, Arafat was increasingly petrified by the extent of the popular support for the Hamas and other Islamist radicals. In light of the 415 activists banished to Lebanon, Arafat approached Turabi and the Hizbullah leadership in Lebanon asking for help in organizing a summit with the Hamas. The transcript of the Khartoum summit, as published in Al-Safir of February 2, 1993, shows a nervous Arafat on the defensive. The Hamas leaders were adamant against recognizing the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, and against Arafat as the undisputed leader and refused Arafat’s offer of second place to Fateh. All agreed that their common objective is the entire Palestine "from the sea to the river" and that no territorial compromise was legitimate. Even so, after Oslo rescued Arafat from marginalization (he was saved by the Israeli negotiators and the Rabin Government) he kept Hamas informed fully and endorsed the wave of Islamist terrorism unleashed in February and March 1993.

The Peace Maker

Even to the West European senior officials that had staunchly supported the Palestinian cause as well as applied tremendous pressure on the Israeli governments to recognize, compromise and negotiate with the PLO, Arafat insisted he was a reluctant participant. He insisted that it was Israel's economic strength and military superiority that compelled the PLO into the negotiation table, rather then a genuine desire for reaching a negotiated solution, let alone recognizing Israel's right to exist. This logic of forced solution was to serve Arafat's real objective – legitimizing from the very beginning a future breakout from the negotiated settlement. The main reason for the PLO's participation in the "peace process" was Arafat's desperation to ensure international recognition that would guarantee his survival as a leader. The reason for Arafat's anxiety was his belief that for the first time there emerged an opportunity for the destruction of Israel through the Islamists by then convinced they had for example broken the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. The Jihad would now work against Israel and so it became imperative for Arafat to harness the Islamists and portray them as part of his PLO. Uri Savir asked for a symbolic gesture even though unaccompanied by change on the ground but the PLO stuck to its refusal to endorse an end to the Intifada (in the final session of the Oslo negotiations on August 20, 1993).

Arafat whilst publicly talking in more Islamic terms with more Quranic references also told the Israelis that he dare not look like an agent of theirs by attacking the Islamists; yet he never hid his true intention: the destruction of the state of Israel although he had to stress this for example in the Johannesburg speech of may 1994.

"Like the Wings of a Bird"

Arafat’s position was acknowledged by the Oslo process and it was not lost on him that some of the key military units of the PLO most loyal to him had turned Islamist. Thus, his support for the Islamists was now both ideologically motivated and very pragmatic – a quest for self-survival. Both PA and Islamist activists knew that Arafat's threats of an all out suppression of the Hamas and Islamic Jihad, or even his promises of a crackdown, were empty gestures. Occasional arrests and destruction of property in no sense meant Arafat could, or wanted to, dismantle Islamist infrastructure. Several of Arafat's key intelligence and security senior commanders supervising the PLO's campaign against Hamas, including Jibril Rajub, the Chief of Internal Security, have repeatedly declared their total support for the Hamas. Conspiracies against Arafat, not Israeli security needs, alone prompted what action was taken. The Hamas' Sheikh Mahmoud Zahar defined the relationship between the PLO and the Hamas: "Like the wings of a bird, they must work together."

This was the theme of the 1995 negotiations whereby Arafat rather than Hamas made the most compromises although Hamas agreed to do nothing which would damage Israeli withdrawals; the Jihad against Israel would continue. in early January 1996, the PLO and Hamas finally concluded their agreement after about two years of on-and-off negotiations. The key provisions for enabling the Hamas to continue its terrorist operations remained. The Hamas would continue to adhere to its principles regarding the uncompromising Jihad for the destruction of Israel. Operationally, the Hamas would continue to strike at will except from Zone A to avoid embarrassing the PA. For its part, the PLO committed itself to not acting against the Hamas. The Hamas-PA agreement reflected the reality on the ground, not the self-delusions of politicians.

Arafat’s secret speech in front of 40 Arab diplomats in the Spiegal Salon at the Grand Hotel in Stockholm, Sweden, on January 30, 1996. Was titled "The Impending Collapse of Israel". "We will take over everything including all of Jerusalem," he declared repeatedly. Arafat's plan has two main components aimed to cause the Jews to abandon Israel. "Within five years we will have six to seven million Arabs living on the West Bank and in Jerusalem. All Palestinian Arabs will be welcomed back by us." Arafat explained that this will be the beginning of a pressure campaign resulting within a few years in Israel's ultimate destruction. "You understand that we plan to eliminate the State of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian State. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion; Jews will not want to live among us Arabs!"

These two main components in Arafat's plan are Islamist dominated. The key to making life unbearable to the Jews is through terrorism campaigns. More important is Arafat's declared intention to increase the Arab population to 6-7 millions. These will be Islamist, hence Arafat's own conclusions in Stockholm are befitting Hamas, not the PA: "I have no use for Jews; they are and remain Jews! We now need all the help we can get from you in our battle for a united Palestine under total Arab-Muslim domination!"

Knowing that the Peres government was vulnerable to pressure, by early 1996, the operational collaboration was going beyond the routine Hamas-PA coordination of activities or even their recent understanding/agreement. Arafat knew all along about the Hamas desires. Now, in late February, when he needed to jolt and shock Israel, he approved the launching of a series of martyrdom operations provided they could be attributed to a Hamas revenge on the killing of Ayash. There is clear evidence that the PA uppermost leadership must have met and worked together with their Hamas counterparts even after the Tel-Aviv bombing. Thus, as the Islamist terrorism campaign was building up, the PA security authorities went beyond a mere tacit cooperation with the Islamists. The PA was now sliding into active participation in the armed struggle against Israel. This was a reflection of more than Arafat's commitment to the destruction of Israel. Arafat and his close aids knew that the majority of Palestinians supported terrorism. This was confirmed by a contemporary poll in the territories in which 76% of these polled expressed support for the continuation of terrorism against Israel, and 84% opposed the PA's actions against the Islamists, particularly in order to satisfy Israel (irrespective of the existence of formal agreements). This reality was not lost on Arafat and his commanders. ‘’Moderate’’ Nabil Shaath waned in March: Discussing outstanding disagreements with Israel, Shaath warned that "if and when Israel says 'That's it, we won't talk about Jerusalem, we won't return refugees, we won't dismantle settlements, and we won't retreat from borders,' then all the acts of violence will return. Except that this time we'll have 30,000 armed Palestinian soldiers who will operate in areas in which we have unprecedented elements of freedom."

Further radicalized and rejuvenated, Arabs and Muslims now demanded the return to the uncompromising Jihad. An emboldened Arafat was only too eager to comply. Ultimately, however, 1996, was a year of military preparations. Most important was the consolidation of the PLO's capabilities to operate in the context of a regional crisis and war. Most significantly, in late September, 1996, the Palestinian Authorities, not the PLO, entered into a major military agreement with Syria, thus explicitly committing the Palestinian forces in the territories. This means the Palestinian "police" forces and other armed elements (terrorist organizations) should flare-up the Israeli interior in case of an escalation in the north. Weapons and training have followed. In the Fall of 1996, in accordance with the joint agreement, the Syrians began deploying their own personnel to both Gaza and the autonomy zones in Judea and Samaria. These Syrian teams are comprised of Syrian intelligence personnel and Palestinians they control (networks of Jibril, Habbash, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, etc.). The PA and Syria are in agreement that only a fresh team, employing ruthless means, will be able truly to eradicate the remnants of the Shabak's networks. This means further harming Israel's ability to prevent and fight terrorism. Syrian teams will be able to collect intelligence about Israel, and identify and designate targets in the deep Israeli rear. In Gaza Arafat built deep bunkers and stockpiled heavy weapons. The late September mini war showed that Arafat could wage the armed struggle and helped create adversarial relations on the Palestinian side. This rehearsal failed to provoke a stern response from Israel

Arafat;s "Peace Process"

On March 9, 1997, Arafat and a few close aides secretly met with the heads of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and numerous rejectionist organizations to discuss the resumption of terrorism at the heart of Israel. Thereafter, in Islamist mosques and gatherings in Gaza and throughout the West Bank, the youth openly talked about Arafat's permission ('green light') to strike Israel in retaliation for building in Har Homa. All was agreed with Teheran and Damascus. The March bomb in the "Apropos Cafe" in Tel Aviv and the incitement and controlling of violent riots in Hebron, showed the implementation. From Gaza, forbidden weapons were being carried into the urban enclaves in Judea and Samaria in the trunks of Palestinians VIPs with immunity-passes provided by Israel. Working with Iran reduces any chance of an Islamist coup against Arafat.

Preparing for the Jihad

The Syrians now suggested a campaign of relentless and attritiating attacks on the transportation and other infrastructure of the IDF and settlers conducted from Arab cities. There has been a widespread growth in militancy, anti-Israel sentiments, and practice of radical Islam among the Palestinian urban population. These trends in the Palestinian population are confirmed by a series of polls conducted by the Jerusalem Center of Communications. The law against land dealing with Jews applies to Arab holders of Israeli citizenship and also within the Green Line – that is, the PA insisted on having legal authority over Israeli territory. New elite Tanzim special forces highly suitable for clandestine and covert operations have been created. The storm unit teams for fighting Israeli attacks will use heavy weapons – RPGs and mortars, anti-tank, human bombs and anti-aircraft missiles (against helicopters). The primary objective of these forces is to bleed the IDF on live TV. The Palestinian media incite and promote a war-like mood, stressing that no solution or even co-existence are possible between Jews and Muslims irrespective of who's in power in Jerusalem. Arms manufacture and smuggling continues apace.

Escalation and Confrontation

In June, 1997, Arafat convened his closest aides and ordered the gradual escalation of violence under the tight control of the PA security organs, particularly Jibril Rajub's Preventive Security. Terror bolsters Arafat’s position and may be conducted under circumstances which allow for denial. A series of terror activities and Israeli interceptions have revealed a dangerous escalation in the PA's sponsorship of violence and terrorism, borne out by the statistics for June and July.

The Beginning of What's Next

Arafat intends to build pressure on Israel through gradual escalation and expansion of violence. Through a major provocation, the IDF may "invade" Zone A – the main Arab cities controlled by the PA. Such an escalation will bleed Israel, incite the "peace camp" opposition, and embarrass the US Government with carnage against Arab civilians (to be placed intentionally in harm's way and in front of TV cameras). By now, the threat of fighting in the territories escalating into a regional war and oil embargo will bring pressure from Western Europe, the US and the Israeli opposition on the Netanyahu Government to succumb to Palestinian and Arab demands. Syria and Iran feel that this would be their time for a major surprise attack. The bombs in Jerusalem conveniently occurred on the same day as the PNC conference on corruption. Arafat has gained promises from Saddam Hussein giving in exchange support for the destabilization of Jordan. A series of conferences saw Arafat agreeing effectively with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the ‘rejectionists’ on the necessity of escalation the armed struggle and terrorism shortly before the martyrdom bombing in Jerusalem.

Arafat's Warnings

Arafat himself no longer conceals his perception of where the Middle East is heading, warning the leadership of the Arab World about the return to armed struggle through interviews with Saudi-owned periodicals read by the Arab elites. Several knowledgeable Arab observers are increasingly apprehensive that Arafat is instigating a major clash with Israel aimed to draw the rest of the Arab World into a major war. The trend is thus a revived spate of terrorism in Israel leading to a regional war despite Arafat’s repeated promises to enhance security cooperation with Israel. Hardly the state of mind of a "partner in peace". For Arafat, Oslo – as an instrument of eliciting unilateral concessions and withdrawals from Israel – is dead. Hence, there is no alternative to returning to the old and proven ways of the armed struggle.

Palestinian officials acknowledge now that Arafat is suffering from several illnesses including Parkinson's disease that is already apparent in the shaking of his hands and lower lip. He is increasingly determined to complete his Jihad before he dies while seeking seek solace and guidance in Islamism. The PA incites the Palestinian street to the point that it is impossible to even contemplate a compromise with Israel on anything, including Israel's very existence. Arafat argues in Washington, and the Clinton Administration concurs, that if the PA attempts to implement further the accords he, Arafat, would be toppled by the irate public and the entire "peace process" would collapse. It is therefore in Israel's own interest that the process of Israeli unilateral concessions and withdrawals continues, he argues. Sermons in mosques inciting hatred, delivered in a growing frequency and virulence, put the PA's crackdown on Islamists in perspective. Jerusalem continues the high-level meetings and negotiations with the PA – choosing to ignore the duplicity openly displayed by Arafat and his coterie. For example in October 1997 the three senior PA security officials that met with Ayalon – Amin al-Hindi, Mohammad Dahlan and Jibril Rajub – must have known about Arafat's unyielding position before meeting with their Israeli counterparts. Thus, they arrived at this meeting with no intention to actually implement any agreement with the GSS.

Arafat began using the freed Shaykh Yassin's growing popularity as a lever to having the Clinton Administration exercise greater pressure on Israel, pushing Washington to demand unilateral concessions or else Arafat will be pushed to the corner by a growing popular swell of populist Islamism. In reality, the Islamists now dominate Arafat's policy formulation and overall position. Yassin declares publicly the need for Jihad and ‘martyrs’ [suicide bombers]. In the Fall of 1997, the Middle East is rapidly sliding toward conflagration and perhaps a major war. For the first time in the history of Arab-Israeli wars, Palestinian forces can strike out at the very heart of Israel, threatening roads and air bases. Arafat knows that the Arab states would eclipse him as a result of the war but he cannot gain Israeli concession rewards from the "peace process" because the PLO's veteran elite and the dynamics of his relations with the Islamists will not permit it.

The Israeli Government is under relentless pressure from the US-led West to persevere with the fallacy of the "Peace Process" and "Oslo Accords" simply because the Clinton White House has deemed their collapse untenable and intolerable for American domestic political considerations and from an Israeli Peace Camp dreading to see their pipe dream shatter. The argument that there's no alternative to Arafat as a negotiations partner does not hold water because there is nothing to talk about with Arafat who will settle for nothing less than Israel replaced by an Islamic State.

It's high time to face reality...

The omission of precise source notes is the least one can do to shield and protect those brave individuals who, at great risk to themselves and their loved ones, provide crucial and distinct information.