Like a bad movie on late night TV, we are once again being exposed to the inner workings of the Sharon-led Israeli government's policy processes. Should he or shouldn't he; should Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat be expelled, deported, exiled? And like an old, black & white, b-grade western, where it is so clear who the good guys and the bad guys are, the guy in the black (and white) keffiya is being told that he might be ordered to get out of town. Here we go again, being exposed to the inept workings of an Israeli government that cannot make up its mind. Either expel him already, or shoot him, or bring him to trial like Eichmann - ideas that politicians and pundits have recommended - but stop teasing us already!
Israeli politicians have been raising the question of what to do with Arafat since the start of Operation Defensive Shield in April 2002. Israeli intelligence has been advising against it for a while now, because of the concern that he could do more damage floating around the world as a loose cannon.
Arafat has been sequestered for almost 18 months in his Mukatah compound in Ramallah. I have to admit that Israel hasn't yet been too smart in dealing with him. Israel should have long ago cut Arafat’s access to the telephone, the media and visitors.
Israel has held the position that Arafat can travel abroad, but might not be allowed to return. Then, every so often, Israel will roll out the "threat" of expelling him. And like that old rerun that we've seen so many times before, we already know the ending to the story. There's no drama here, just two tired old men, Sharon and Arafat--two old adversaries locked in a love-hate relationship of their own making.
The real question is why do we have to be exposed, like some voyeur, to their struggles? Put Arafat on trial for crimes against humanity (i.e. the Jewish people), his war crimes in Lebanon, the American diplomats he's already admitted years ago to having ordered killed in Sudan, and all the other victims of his decades old serial murder spree in the name of Palestinian independence. Get it over with already!
After having worked hard to prove that Arafat and the "old" Palestinian Authority government was directly behind ongoing terrorism in Israel, Sharon has yet to bring himself to a serious decision about the next step. Catching Arafat and the PA red-handed in the Karine A weapons smuggling scandal, Sharon has exerted every effort to sideline Arafat in the diplomatic process. The Quartet - the US, EU, UN and Russia - proposed the "roadmap process", called for democratic political reform in the PA, and forced Arafat to appoint a prime minister, not to replace him but to displace him.
Who did they appoint prime minister, but Arafat's second-in-command, co-founder of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen. Abu Mazen is a holocaust denier who has been implicated in the 1972 Munich Olympic massacre of Israeli athletes. As late as March 2003 - just before his appointment - Abu Mazen called for the killing of Jewish settlers. Since attending summits with George Bush in Egypt and Jordam, and accepting the Road Map, however, Abu Mazen has often been portrayed as a peacenik. He has even received an invitation to the White House, an honor that Bush has denied Arafat.
At a recent meeting with UN envoy Terje Larsen - no friend of Israel - Arafat accused PA Prime Minister Abbas of "betraying the interests of the Palestinian people." According to a Palestinian source present at the meeting, the ferocity of the outburst even surprised long-time Arafat associates. This followed a number of attacks on Abu Mazen by Fatah Central Committee members, and his recent resignation from the central committee. Abu Mazen also offered to resign as prime minister. Arafat's associates have accused Abbas of crimes ranging from misconduct in negotiations with Israel to conspiring with Israel to keep Arafat under siege in Ramallah. But in the latest twist - the honor amongst thieves - Abu Mazen and Arafat announced they've worked out their differences.
So here we are, watching this "old movie" again, Arafat is being blamed for holding up the peace process as he is now interfering with Abu Mazen's "attempts" to move along the roadmap. As Sharon aide Raanan Gissin recently noted, Israel told the United States "that we would have no other choice but to re-examine the status and condition of Mr. Arafat due to the fact that he continues to attempt to scuttle the road map to peace and undermine Abu Mazen and his government in his efforts to implement the road map." Other Israeli officials, however, say that deportation is not being discussed. Rather, the discussion has been focused upon ways through which Arafat can be neutralized.
Before leaving for his recent three-day visit to Britain and Norway, Sharon accused the Europeans of undermining PA Prime Minister Abbas by maintaining contact with Arafat. Sharon stated that "He [Arafat] controls the larger part of their armed forces, still part of the money, and he got all those telephone calls from leaders, mostly from Europe, and he receives messages, ministers of foreign affairs and others.” “Every act of this nature only postpones the progress in the process”, Sharon continued. “Most European countries are doing that. By that they are undermining Abu Mazen. This is a major mistake. I hope with time they will understand this."
But the British didn't buy it. During talks with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw in London, Sharon urged Britain to cut ties with Arafat. A British official said that Straw "made it clear that the British position, which is also that of the European Union, is that we would continue to have dealings with Arafat, who is the democratically elected president of the Palestinian Authority." Later that day Sharon had dinner with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, who rebuffed his attempt to persuade Britain to sever all contact with Yasser Arafat.
There you have it. The commercials come on, you start to get tired, and you ask yourself if it is worth staying awake to watch the ending. You've seen the flick before. You know how it's going to end. And like an old movie you've seen before, you hope that the bad guy is "gonna get it", even though you know that in the end, he is just going to get away again.