Above the fold - Their loss, not ours

All these years later, not much that we can consider positive has emerged from the Oslo Accords, other, that is, than stopping the money Arafat had been funneling from Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures beneath a poster of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat (photo credit: FINBARR O'REILLY / REUTERS)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures beneath a poster of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
(photo credit: FINBARR O'REILLY / REUTERS)
It has been 15 years since the death of Yasser Arafat. In some instances 15 years is a long time. In others the time passes quickly. And it seems like only yesterday that Arafat, at 75 years of age, died. The world has changed in many ways over the past decade and a half, but the world that Arafat occupied, the world he loomed over, remains almost unchanged. Fifteen years later and his succession is still a question mark.
Arafat’s full name was Mohammed Yasser Abdel Rahman Raouf Arafat al Qudwa al Husseini. There is a debate as to what made him most famous – or should we say infamous. Was it his diplomatic role as the first president of the Palestinian Authority, or was it his role as terrorist both before and after he assumed the chairmanship/presidency and before, as the creator and leader of the PLO, the Palestinian Liberation Organization? His advocates paint him as a liberator, and certainly that is how he perceived himself and would want to be remembered. His detractors use those same paint strokes and out emerges a corrupt kleptocrat and terrorist, a sponsor of terrorism bent on enriching himself, who murdered innocent people in pursuit of leaving his mark and conveying his message.
Arafat was a complex figure. In 1969 he became chairman of the PLO, and in 2004, president of the Palestinian National Authority. But it was the decade he spent in Tunisia, the years from 1983 to 1993, which re-shaped Yasser Arafat’s public persona and altered his outer demeanor. Perhaps that was when and where he came to the conclusion that the tactics of terrorism that he had for so long not only embraced but also empowered were becoming less effective.
It was in Tunisia that Arafat changed tactics and made the transformation from terrorist to terrorist diplomat. In Tunisia Arafat adopted a two-front assault. One front included acts of terrorism and the sponsorship of acts of terrorism. The other front, new to Arafat, was diplomacy. Maybe, he figured, that would be a more effective way of attaining his goals – not only would he have money and power, but also international credibility and recognition. And as he reached maturity, international celebrity and recognition were what Yasser Arafat craved more than anything else.
It worked. The Oslo Accords significantly helped Arafat attain international credibility. Receiving the Nobel Prize, even though he shared it with Israelis Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, was undeniable proof of his international status. Arafat was given the imprimatur of “World Leader” by leaders of the Western world.
All the while his followers knew that their hero continued to act as the sponsor of attacks against Israel. Arafat sealed his position. You could say that Arafat laughed, as the expression goes, all the way to the bank. But one of the questions still looming these past 15 years is which bank? His tremendous wealth, to the best of our knowledge, has still not been discovered.
LITERALLY AND figuratively, Arafat dressed to kill. His wardrobe and his look never varied. His keffiyeh with its natty peak shaped to resemble a map of Palestine, his scruffy day-old stubble, his army fatigues, his pistol belt and sidearm never varied; not even when he was playing diplomat, not even when he visited the United Nations. And he got away with it. Very few people questioned him as to why, if he embraced peace, did he still wear army greens and so openly carry a side arm even as a prop.
The keffiyeh is understandable. It was a source of pride. The drape down his back, in a triangle, was the Negev. The day old growth of his beard symbolized that he had no time to shave. It was all image because, truthfully, it takes longer to keep a beard at that length than it does to shave every day. But the scraggly beard went a long way in perpetuating his image. So did the story of how he never spent two nights in the same bed for fear of an Israeli assassination team catching up to him.
All these years later, not much that we can consider positive has emerged from the Oslo Accords, other, that is, than stopping the money Arafat had been funneling from Israel. The VAT that Palestinian goods were charged the value-added tax and collected in Israel was, until it was stopped, deposited directly into Arafat’s personal account in Bank Leumi in Tel Aviv, and that’s where it stayed. Even after Oslo that continued from 1994 until 2000 when Israel stopped the procedure.
That was minimal corruption. So enormous was the corruption under Arafat that Israeli Military Intelligence estimated his personal wealth at $1.3 billion. The International Monetary Fund audited the Palestinian Authority in 2003 and found that Arafat simply took $900,000 and deposited it into his personal account. They never reported it because, by then, Arafat was an international and diplomatic figure. Instead, they whitewashed it.
They reported that most of the funds were used to invest in Palestinian causes internally and abroad. Other audits discovered that Arafat and the PLO had $10 billion in assets abroad, including accounts in the Cayman Islands, massive shares in the Coca-Cola Bottling Company in Ramallah, and a cellphone company in Tunisia. The list went on. All the while, Arafat kept maintaining that the PA was bankrupt and asking for international aid.
Strategically, Arafat was masterful. He manipulated and navigated the international community as he sponsored terrorism against Israel and became elevated to the status of hero and defender of his nation. He had a brilliant understanding of power and asymmetrical war. He knew that the world would deem Israel as oppressors when it retaliated against Palestinian terrorism.
Yasser Arafat was a tremendous threat to the security of Israel, and Israel attempted to assassinate him more than once. The missions have names, Operation Salt-Fish and Operation Goldfish are just two.
Arafat’s tradition of corruption and terrorism continue today. What is missing in today’s Palestinian leadership is his style and mastery of the art of manipulation. Their loss, not ours.