On Point: Arafat's Uncertain Future

by Austin Bay

Louis XIV ran a powerful country. In fact, he may have inventedthe modern nation state. A few rays from the Sun King still illuminate 21stcentury France.

Louis Quatorze could lay down the occasional le mot juste. "I amthe state," he said, a sound bite ratifying his autocratic centrality. Hisgreat-grandson, Louis XV, gets credit for another Gallic wisecrack. Uponassessing his realm's decaying power, Louis XV allegedly mumbled "Apres moi,le deluge." After I split the scene, expect a biblical flood of trouble.

Yasir Arafat doesn't have a state, but he's always wanted one.Arafat didn't invent modern terrorism (nor, for that matter, did formerIsraeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin), but he did show a generation ofpolitical leaders how to run a global media campaign as part of a long-termguerrilla war.

For two Palestinian generations, Arafat embodied the hope for aPalestinian state. Though not quite "L'etat c'est Arafat," it was darnclose. Yasir went to Moscow, he addressed the U.N., he danced in a tent withVanessa Redgrave and an AK-47. Superpower contacts, U.N. presence, leftycelebrity hobnob -- the man had the media corona of a national leader, ifnot the crown.

When times got tight, Arafat relied on a revised Louis XV riff:"Without me, utter Hell. Fail to deal with me, then Israel and America canexpect the worst from every Arab nation."

Originally, the bloody flood Arafat "prevented" consisted ofsecular revolutionary outfits like the Popular Front for the Liberation ofPalestine-General Command and other groups more radical than Arafat'sPalestinian Liberation Organization.

Over time, however, the cosmopolitan killers like George Habashfaded as "threats beyond Arafat," to be replaced by fanatical religiousgroups like Hizbullah and Hamas, and Islamist sociopaths like Osama binLaden. Victory over Russia in Afghanistan burnished the reputation of "holywarriors," and bin Laden cleverly hijacked their success to his own ends.

To the Islamists, Arafat was "ancien regime," as dead as anyFrench king. Arafat tried to adapt his politics, but Hamas used Arafat'sautocratic corruption against him. Hamas backed health clinics and aidedimpoverished Palestinians, the domestic state burdens Arafat's PLOleadership cadre neglected in favor of building themselves Mediterraneanvillas in Gaza. No, a Gaza villa isn't Versailles, but it beats a bunker inBeirut.

The Islamist pitch to the Palestinians said secular revoltfailed. Fat cat Arafat chats with Washington, the real source of Muslimmisery, while our martyrs (suicide bombers) kill Israelis. Our version ofHoly War will is God-driven. We are the future.

Yes, Arafat has a record for surviving his mistakes. He sidedwith Saddam and beat that goof. However, his biggest strategic error was hisrejection of Israel's peace deal in the summer of 2000. Perhaps any dealwould have ignited an internecine Palestinian war, but instead of wagingthat necessary civil war with the support of the United States and Israel,Arafat chose renewed intifada with Israel. Arafat gambled"internationalizing" the issue of Palestinian statehood might result in a"better deal." Intifada, no doubt, appeased the Islamists.

However, intifada brought Ariel Sharon, he of the "bluntinstrument school" of politics, to power in Israel.

On Sept. 11, a different kind of deluge struck not just theMiddle East, but the rest of the planet's anarchic fiefs that thrive onembedded grievances, reactionary anti-Americanism and violence. That delugeis an aroused and active America angered by terrorist assault -- adramatically changed geo-strategic environment Arafat did not expect.

Israel and Palestine are now fighting a dirty war, and Israel iswinning. Sharon is taking "all the necessary steps" to ensure Israelisecurity -- an offensive against Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Arafat now indicates he's ready to fight that civil war withHamas. Yes, the Islamist collapse in Afghanistan could actually give Arafata chance to whip them. Al Qaeda has suffered utter defeat, diminishing theappeal of Islamist violence.

However, what Arafat does or does not do may no longer matter.Israel and the United States are both on the offensive against the chaosbeyond Arafat. After Arafat will come ... someone else. It may be thatsomeone is a chastened Hamas leader who notices bin Laden's "God-drivenrevelation" has led to defeat and Arafat's lack of decisiveness has led tohis irrelevance.

Chastened terrorists can act in the cause of peace. After all,Menachem Begin returned Sinai to Egypt.

Read Austin Bay's Latest Book

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.


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