Terrorism is Arafat's medium
by Robert Fulford

(The National Post, June 1, 2002)

A Reuters photograph, taken in Ramallah last weekend, shows Bill Graham, the foreign minister of Canada, and Yasser Arafat, the notorious murderer, in genial conversation. Mr. Graham beams a warm smile down on Chairman Arafat, as if listening to comments from a gentle old constituent in Rosedale. Mr. Arafat directs his wolfish grin upward at his latest visitor from Ottawa.

That photo can serve as the perfect emblem of Canada's wretched diplomatic performance in the Middle East since the 1970s. As an allegorical depiction of Innocence & Evil, it would be suitable for hanging in the National Gallery if it were not so shameful.

Year after year, we send our foreign ministers to Israel on fact-finding missions, and year after year they look at everything except the facts. As Israel's situation grows worse, Canada's response grows more simplistic. But even for a Canadian foreign minister, Mr. Graham seems exceptionally perverse and moralistic. He has learned with astonishing speed his role as Minister of Equivalence, Evasion and Pomposity.

He treats Mr. Arafat and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon as moral equivalents, and believes that these seasoned leaders need advice from a Toronto professor whose own Cabinet experience can be counted in months. The Palestinians are running an offensive war against civilians and the Israelis are running a defensive war against terrorists. To Mr. Graham these projects are both deplorable. As he helpfully puts it, "We believe strongly that violence on both sides has got to stop."

Mr. Arafat listened to him with equanimity, no doubt regarding this fool as another political tourist whose function was to provide some publicity and legitimacy for the Palestinian cause before going on his way. Mr. Sharon, however, showed no gratitude for Canada's opinion. He's heard it too often and knows too well where it leads. Mr. Graham told him that Israel should end its siege of Palestinian towns, in order to provide a better opportunity for peace discussions and help Palestinians return to normal economic life. All this would lead to a Palestinian state, "democratic and open."

Canadian policy still depends on clinging to the bizarre illusion of a democratic Palestinian state. But the views we gratuitously give the Israelis, while perhaps well intended, defy logic, sense, and history. We say: Treat the Palestinians better, grant them freedom of movement, and your lives as Israelis will improve. Experience demonstrates the opposite. The more that Israel co-operates with the Palestinians, the more suicide bombs go off in the streets and cafés of Israel. As Evelyn Gordon noted in the Jerusalem Post on Monday, the Oslo Accords of 1993, which led to Israeli withdrawals, were followed by increased killing. Within two and a half years after Oslo, "Palestinian terror had claimed as many victims as it had during the entire preceding decade." In the five years after the accords, the terrorist death toll surpassed the 12 worst years of the pre-Oslo era, 1970-82. Since September, 1993, about 800 Israelis have died by terror, five times the number killed in 1970-82. Terrorism was most prevalent under the generous and optimistic Israeli governments led by Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak.

We prefer to ignore these uncomfortable facts. Instead, we ground our policy in the vain and arrogant belief that people who say they are different from us will nevertheless embrace our attitudes, if only we are nice enough. They will want what we would want if we were in their position: Prosperity, freedom, democracy, honest government and the friendship of neighbours.

But what if Mr. Arafat does not desire this pleasant future and never did? What if the idea of Mr. Arafat as statesman and peacemaker was never more than a fantasy? It became clear in the Camp David meetings under Bill Clinton that Mr. Arafat did not want any version of the land-for-peace deal the Israelis were offering. He turned it down, shook hands, smiled for the cameras and went home to reign over another era of death and maiming.

To outsiders this seems insane, but to Mr. Arafat it may have looked like an intelligent career move. Terrorism is his medium, as language is the medium of a poet. It is what he does. He has been the main Palestinian leader, a power in the Middle East, since the 1960s. All those years of anguish, blood and hateful rhetoric have produced nothing for the Palestinians but poverty and frustration. We assume this makes him a failure. But his logic is not our logic. Consider what would have happened if he had somehow arranged a workable peace two or three decades ago, had stopped killing both innocent civilians and his own colleagues, and had created a prosperous Palestinian democracy.

In the normal course of things, the voters would have retired him by now. Even if by a miracle he were still in power, he would be no more influential than, say, the president of Uzbekistan, a nobody in world politics. Instead, he has remained a hero to Israel-haters and Jew-haters across the globe while outlasting the six American presidents who tried in vain to deal with him as well as five Canadian prime ministers and an army of politicians from elsewhere. Today he stands among the world's most famous and feared dictators. He laughs all the way to CNN.

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