Who needs Chairman Arafat? Groomed by the KGB, the predominant figure in the Palestinian revolution for over three decades is promoted by his European apologists as having abandoned the ways of terror. No longer does he plan the murder of Israeli athletes at Olympic games or the massacre of Christians in Lebanese villages like Damour.
Christopher Patten (the outgoing European Commissioner for External Affairs) and others have frequently stressed that Chairman Arafat is the man to lead the Palestinians to their own state and to peace. As President Prodi said after meeting Chairman Arafat, three years ago: “We are satisfied by the commitments made by the PA (towards economic and institutional reform)… Mr. President, the European Commission will continue to support you."
So why are Palestinian Arabs in Gaza and elsewhere beginning to revolt against the mechanisms of Arafat’s rule? And, why does the EU insist on executing its Middle East policy as if nothing has changed?
The background history is simple and brief. The security services of the USA, UK and Sweden in 1990, 1991 and 1997 respectively had all declared that the PLO and the PA leadership were involved in racketeering at the expense of the Palestinians themselves. In 2002, the Israelis submitted documentary evidence to the EU, exposing the philandering of the PA, even to the extent of supporting violence. And yet, by the end of 2003, the EU and member countries had transferred around EUR 4 billion directly and indirectly to the PA.
This year’s growing evidence of corruption has been startling. Aside from the French investigation into the luxurious living of Mrs. Arafat in Paris, mayors in the West Bank have resigned in disgust at the internal nepotism and continuing violence. Similarly, hundreds of members have left Fatah, the backbone of Chairman Arafat’s domestic political power. In May and June, King Abdullah of Jordan and President Mubarak of Egypt joined the calls for swift and meaningful change.
As if this was not enough, the UN’s special envoy in the Middle East Terje Roed-Larsen recently condemned the failures of the PA, led by Chairman Arafat. The Norwegian diplomat, who is known to have a close relationship for at least a decade with the Palestinians, stated in his July report to the Security Council: “Regarding the crucial area of security reforms, the president of the PA has lent only nominal and partial support to the commendable Egyptian effort aimed at reforming the ailing Palestinian security services.” Amazingly, this criticism has led him to become a persona non grata with his former friends. It is reported that he cannot visit Palestinian territories under threat of death.
History tells us that the end of totalitarian regimes is often preceded by chaos. Today, in Nablus, Jenin and elsewhere, local gangs have taken the law into their own hands. Rioting and kidnapping abound in Gaza.
The commander of PA’s civil police in Gaza, Ghazi Jabali, has been thrown out of office by the mob. He is accused of extorting sexual favours and embezzling over $20 million. This money comes from the PA budget - 60% of which is covered by overseas donors such as the EU. The Palestinian street erupted again over the appointment of Jabali‘s successor, Musa Arafat, a cousin to the great beholder of European hopes. As a result, his appointment lasted only a few days.
Where does this leave the European Union? The brutal fact is that the EU is finding that its wonderful relations with the Palestinian leadership – bought with wads of unsupervised money - is not enough to bring it the influence it seeks. Brussels has spent years backing the PA, an institution, which is evidently pervaded with corruption and violence. Even the possible current alternatives to Chairmen Arafat, including Mohammed Dahlan and Abu Ala, do not posses backgrounds coated in democracy and appeasement.
Nevertheless, the EU has made it clear where it will continue to channel its energies. The meeting of Foreign Ministers in Brussels in mid July was dominated by criticisms of Israel’s security fence. Europe is determined to force Israel to listen to their demands. Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, declares: "And if Israel is not prepared to engage in dialogue in a satisfactory way with the European Union, then obviously the European Union must also consider possible consequences of that…”
As this was not enough, Europe is also demanding a par with the Americans in influencing the peace process. The EU Ambassador to Israel, Giancarlo Chevallard, was subtle but direct: “The EU does not oppose the US position in the driver’s seat, but Israel should take into account that the EU can be of great help. We have good relations with … the Palestinians, and we therefore constitute a potential lever for influencing them, provided that we can have a similar influence on Israel…”
Chevallard and his colleagues conveniently ignore the fact that the Americans have also given over $1.3 billion in aid to the Palestinians over the past decade, in addition to their aid to Israel. And Washington has pressured the Israelis at the key moments, as well as being critical of the Palestinian leadership.
Israel has a plan to withdraw from Gaza. It may not be perfect, but it offers a clear way forward to peace. Brussels should use their rhetoric to encourage the Palestinians to meet their Roadmap obligations and abandon their weapons. European money should be directed from supporting a negligent PA to backing the Israeli disengagement and the costs involved. The neglected Palestinian Arabs, denied money and responsible leadership for years, will be the first to benefit.
Instead of bullying Israel into capitulating to terror, Europe should start to earn its place as a diplomatic force.