July 21, 2004 -- 'LET the Palestinian street speak!" This was the threat launched by Yas ser Arafat at the end of the year 2000
when the final round of U.S.-sponsored peace talks with Israel hit the wall raised by the Palestinian leader.
Waving a finger at Madeleine Albright, President Bill Clinton's
secretary of state, Arafat forecast "an explosion of anger on the streets of Palestine."
Almost four years later, this is what is happening in the Palestinian
territories controlled by Arafat. But the anger of the "Palestinian street" is aimed at neither the United States nor Israel.
The target is Arafat and the corrupt and cynical nomenklatura that make up his entourage.
What is happening in Gaza and, to a growing extent, in the
West Bank also is a genuine intifada aimed at bringing down yet another Arab tyranny.
Unlike the two previous intifadas, however, this one has a
genuinely popular base. It is not cooked up by some political machine backed by this or that outside power. Nor is it a wanton
exercise in violence against civilians, whether Israeli or Palestinian.
This new intifada has three important aims.
The first is to reassert the power of the people against
a leadership that consists largely of former exiles who had never really lived in Palestine.
Arafat and his cohort were imported into the Palestinian territories
by Shimon Peres, then Israel's foreign minister, as a means of forestalling the rise of a local Palestinian leadership. Many
members of the Arafat entourage are wealthy businessmen with investments in the Persian Gulf, Europe and the United States.
None has put a penny in Gaza or the West Bank. Although many of them were born in Palestine, the Arafat-led nomenklatura are,
in fact, a colonial elite backed by different foreign powers over the past four decades.
The second aim of the new intifada is to prevent the Islamists,
notably Hamas and Islamic Jihad, from seizing control of the agenda at a time when Ariel Sharon's pledge to withdrawal from
Gaza is perceived as sincere by most Palestinians.
Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad had threatened to fight to prevent
the Sharon plan from going ahead. In other words, what matters to them is not the return of any territory to the Palestinians
but the dream of destroying Israel.
The new intifada, however, represents people who wish to accelerate
the Israeli withdrawal and are prepared to make Gaza work.
The new intifada's third aim is to tell the outside world to
stop aiding and abetting the confederacy of rogues created by Arafat. The message is especially directed at the European Union,
which has been giving Arafat almost a billion euros each year to play with as he pleases.
Arafat has used part of the money to buy support. Whenever
faced with a critic, Arafat always asks: How much does he want?
The outside world knows little of the extent of corruption
that the Arafat regime has created. It is common knowledge in the Palestinian territories that a dozen or two influential
individuals, many of them related to Arafat by blood or marriage, control the economies of Gaza and the West Bank.
It is no surprise that one of the most popular slogans of this
new intifada is a demand to end "looting and plundering" by Arafat and his cohort.
The outside world is also oblivious to the reign of terror
that Arafat and his clan have created. More Palestinians languish in Arafat's jails than they do in Israeli prisons. Journalists,
lawyers, human rights activists and even parliamentarians are often beaten up or intimidated by thugs hired by the "Ra'is."
Newspapers are censored and free radio stations shut down. Businesses suspected of siding with Arafat's opponents have their
Arafat has already destroyed three Cabinets, despite the fact
that his men held a majority in all three. A fourth Cabinet, under Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) is also falling apart.
Under such circumstances, the decent thing to do is for Arafat
to step aside and allow the Palestinians to pick a new leadership that reflects the reality of their lives. But this is precisely
what Arafat seems determined not to do.
Arafat's refusal to see the writing on the wall is encouraged
by the attitude of some Western powers that appear to have no clue as to what is really happening in Palestine. French Foreign
Minister Michel Barnier travelled to Ramallah to pay tribute to Arafat as "the symbol of Palestinian nationhood" when "the
Palestinian street" was calling for an end to his despotic rule. And the new Spanish government, anxious to cuddle Arab radicals
of all colors, has voiced its "strong support" for Arafat's "leadership."
The European Union, the United Nations and other members of
the so-called international public opinion chorus, have also fanned the fires of Arafat's ego by pointing to his "historic
Whether or not Arafat has any historic and/or symbolic value
could always be debated. But what is at issue now is that Arafat is a tin-pot despot who has led his people into a political
deadlock while his minions are robbing and torturing them. In any normal society, such a failure would not have the cheek
to hang on to office for a day, let alone for years.
The tragedy in all this is that the Palestinians are the best-educated
of all the nations labeled as Arab. A much better Palestinian leadership could easily emerge from the current intifada provided
the power that has been monopolized by Arafat is restored to the people.
In all this, Sharon's decision to keep Arafat cantoned in his
headquarters in Ramallah may have become counterproductive. At one point it was a good idea to force Arafat to stay in Palestine
rather than travelling the world and playing truant in Paris (where he owns a luxury home). Now, however, Arafat is presenting
himself as a mini-martyr because he is not allowed to venture out of Ramallah.
The truth is that there is nowhere for Arafat to go to in the
Palestinian territories. His last attempt at "bathing in a crowd" ended abruptly in Ramallah — where the hundred or
so people who had gathered to see him started chanting "It is time to go, Yasser!"
Maybe it's time for Sharon to lift the restrictions on Arafat
and let the Palestinian people drive him out of power.
There will be no peace in Palestine until there is democracy.
And there will be no democracy as long as Arafat's despotic regime, financed by the European Union and backed by the "international
community," excludes the Palestinians from the process of decision-making.