exploiting the palestinians

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    Max Boot
    Weekly Standard, January 13, 2003

    In an interview last month with Britain's Sunday Times, Yasser Arafat rebuked Osama bin Laden for seeking to exploit the Palestinians' cause for his own ends. "Why is bin Laden talking about Palestine now?…He never helped us. He was working in another, completely different area and against our interests," Arafat was quoted as saying. "I'm telling him directly not to hide behind the Palestinian cause." Good advice, but it's doubtful bin Laden will take it. Just about everyone else exploits the Palestinian cause--Arafat first and foremost, but also, according to the latest reports, some of his Israeli "peace partners"--so why shouldn't old fur face?

    Whenever the serious issues of the Middle East are raised, from oppression in Saudi Arabia to nuclear weapons development in Iran, the answer one hears from Europeans, Arabs, United Nations functionaries…is invariably the same: The real issue is the Palestinians. Until we resolve their horrible plight, peace will never come to the Middle East. This is an absurd argument since even if Israel ceased to exist tomorrow, this would not affect in the slightest the tensions between Islamic fundamentalists and secularists, between rich Gulf kingdoms and their poor cousins, between Shiites and Sunnis, between democrats and dictators, or the countless other San Andreas-sized fault lines that run through the Dar al-Islam (House of Islam). It is helpful to remember that all of the dead in the Arab-Israeli wars of the past half century amount to only a tiny fraction of the million killed during the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, the 100,000 killed in Algeria's civil war since 1992, or the 100,000 killed in Lebanon's civil war from 1975 to 1990.

    Surely anyone with a modicum of knowledge about the Middle East knows that the plight of the Palestinians isn't "the" issue. So why do so many people insist that it is? Let us count the reasons.

    For the Europeans, championing the Palestinian cause allows them to assuage lingering colonial guilt by championing the aspirations of a Third World people who claim to be oppressed by Western imperialists--in this case, Israelis. It also allows Europeans to trumpet their moral superiority over pro-Israel Americans. And, last but not least, it allows them to curry favor with both oil-rich Arab states and their own growing Muslim minorities… All of this comes at a price, though: The E.U. is one of the Palestinian Authority's main non-Arab bankrollers, to the tune of $10 million a month.

    For Middle Eastern states, championing the Palestinian cause…provides an important pillar of legitimacy for their manifestly illegitimate governments. Naturally the Arab states' interest is in preserving "the struggle," not in succoring the Palestinian people who (along with the Israelis) are its chief victims. There are almost 4 million Palestinians and most live in conditions of unrelieved squalor…The only Arab state that has granted citizenship to Palestinians is Jordan; the others prefer to keep them as an unassimilated, militant minority.

    More than 1.1 million Palestinians are jammed into 59 refugee camps whose support comes mainly from the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and other international bodies. As former U.S. ambassador to Morocco Marc Ginsberg points out, all the Arab states combined donate less than $7 million to UNRWA, just 2.4 percent of its $290 million budget… By contrast, the Great Satan forks over $110 million, or 38 percent of UNRWA's budget. The Arabs prefer to spend their money to support Palestinian suicide bombers. Saddam Hussein alone has paid an estimated $20 million over the past two years to "martyrs'" families. The Saudis held a telethon to raise millions more. The Arab League as a whole contributes $55 million a month to Arafat's tyrannical Palestinian Authority…

    Much the same calculus seems to govern Yasser Arafat's thinking. He is…the chief exploiter of the Palestinians, followed closely by his senior goons. They reap the adulation of useful idiots abroad( must be talking about Fooguy & Gaweb) who celebrate them as "freedom fighters," but senior PA officials aren't the ones strapping dynamite to their chests and blowing up Israeli buses. Arafat's wife Suha has generously said that there would be "no greater honor" than to sacrifice her son as a martyr. But she doesn't have a son. She has a daughter and they live in Paris. It’s doubtful that seven-year-old Zahawa Arafat will be blowing up an El Al office on the way to her école. Her life, and her mother's, are far removed, literally and figuratively, from those of ordinary Palestinians.

    Anyone who visits the West Bank and Gaza Strip is struck by the contrast between the general conditions of abysmal poverty and a few glittering villas that wouldn't be out of place on the French Riviera. Who owns these palazzos? Arafat's men….

    The pervasive corruption of the PA…seldom comes out into the open, since Arafat doesn't allow freedom of the press. Revelations in the Israeli press during the past month have lifted the veil of secrecy a bit, revealing a circle of exploitation that includes not only Arafat but also some of his Israeli negotiating partners. On December 2…Ma'ariv printed a fascinating interview with a businessman and former military intelligence officer named Ozrad Lev. He claimed that he and his former business partner, Yossi Ginossar, had undertaken extensive and lucrative dealings with Muhammad Rashid, Arafat's chief financial adviser. In return for fat management fees, they set up Swiss bank accounts into which Rashid transferred more than $300 million of PA money, with Arafat's apparent authorization. Lev said he decided to go public after $65 million mysteriously disappeared…

    Who is Yossi Ginossar? A former agent of Shin Bet…who in the 1990s acted as an informal envoy to the Palestinians on behalf of prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak. Ginossar is a leading "dove" who sits on the executive board of the Peres Center for Peace… He also hobnobs with the American think tanker Stephen P. Cohen, another incorrigible peace advocate (the website of his employer, the Israel Policy Forum, recently featured a report claiming "Oslo didn't fail"), who, Ma'ariv reports, profited from the Ginossar-Rashid business deals. (Cohen told me he was involved in some deals with Ginossar, but doesn't know anything about Swiss bank accounts.) Ginossar…participated in the 2000 Camp David talks, where he pushed Barak to make greater concessions. And, according to the Jerusalem Post, when the Gaza Strip was declared a military zone and closed to Israeli travelers, Ginossar was chauffeured to Arafat's office in Shin Bet armored cars. Israel's attorney general, Elyakim Rubinstein, is now investigating this case, which has become a huge scandal in Israel…

    The Israeli governments of the 1990s wanted to encourage closer economic cooperation with the Palestinians in the hope that this would give their enemies a stake in peace. Unfortunately, instead of creating small businesses that could be the building blocks of Palestinian civil society, what developed was the kind of crony capitalism that is endemic to places like Russia. Arafat's confidants…were the big beneficiaries. Along, it now seems, with some select Israeli friends. The Palestinian people and the cause of long-term peace were of course not helped by any of it. Instead these "business" dealings helped foster a gangster state more interested in war-making than economic development. It is striking that at the same time that news of Rashid's $300 million slush fund leaked out, the PA claimed it had no money to pay 100,000 civil servants. But the PA's transgressions…have long been overlooked by professional doves like Ginossar. Indeed, Lev says that he and Ginossar continued managing the $300 million fund for the Palestinians until at least August 2001--almost a year after the Al Aksa Intifada had begun. So to the list of those exploiting the Palestinian cause add leading "peace" advocates…

    The Iranian government has recently tried to deflect the student demonstrations over the death sentence handed down to a history professor who dared to suggest that Muslims not "blindly follow religious leaders." Instead of protesting Seyyed Hashem Aghajari's fate, President Mohammad Khatami urged students to demonstrate for International Qods Day, a holiday invented by the late Ayatollah Khomeini to protest Israel's supposedly unlawful occupation of Qods (Jerusalem). The Student Movement Coordination Committee for Democracy in Iran threw this demand back into Khatami's face… Pretty smart, those Iranian students. They aren't fooled by pro-Palestinian rhetoric. But there is at least one group left that takes seriously the protestations that no progress can be made in the Middle East until the Palestinian issue is settled.

    You can find them in Foggy Bottom.

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