YASIR ARAFAT'S GRAND STRATEGY FOR ACHIEVING
THE CONQUEST & DESTRUCTION OF ISRAEL
By Efraim Karsh
As early as August, 1968, Arafat defined the PLO's strategic objective as "the transfer of all resistance bases" into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, occupied by Israel during the June, 1967 war, "so that the resistance may be gradually transformed into a popular armed revolution." This, he reasoned, would allow the PLO to undermine Israel's way of life by "preventing immigration and encouraging emigration … destroying tourism … weakening the Israeli economy and diverting the greater part of it to security requirements … [and] creating and maintaining an atmosphere of strain and anxiety that will force the Zionists to realize that it is impossible for them to live in Israel." 
The Oslo accords enabled the PLO to achieve in one fell swoop what it had failed to attain through many years of violence and terrorism. Here was Israel, just over a decade after destroying the PLO's military infrastructure in Lebanon, asking the Palestinian organization, at one of the lowest ebbs in its history, to establish a real political and military presence — not in a neighboring Arab country, but right on its doorstep. Israel even was prepared to arm thousands of (hopefully reformed) terrorists who would be incorporated into newly established police and security forces charged with asserting the PLO's authority throughout the territories.
In September, 2000, Arafat launched a war of terror against Israel with precisely the objectives he had set for the Palestinian movement in 1968. Some analysts now argue that the Palestinians have lost that war. But the very fact that Arafat could wage it and plunge Israel into one of its greatest traumas constitutes a triumph of his strategy. Certainly the Palestinians have suffered reversals and losses. But Arafat has achieved his goal: he brought the Palestinian war from Israel's borders into Israel proper by the politics of stealth. He has every reason to hope that the work he began will be continued by the next generation of Palestinian leaders. That work is nothing short of the dismantlement of Israel.
How did Arafat bring it off? First, he articulated a longterm vision of Israel's elimination and succeeded in imbuing all Palestinians with its precepts, even as he shook the hands of Israeli leaders and a U.S. president. Second, he indoctrinated his people with an abiding hatred of Israel and its people so as to fortify them for war. Last, he chose an opportune moment, after he had gained maximum advantage from the "peace process," to resort to war and terror. This article examines each of the three elements in Arafat's visionary plan to liberate Palestine and the meaning of Arafat's legacy for the future.
This vision of a "liberated and Arab Palestine" — that is, a Palestine in which Israel does not exist — was not mentioned in any of Arafat's interviews with the Israeli and Western media at the time. During the next seven years, until the launch of his terrorist war in late September, 2000, Arafat played an intricate game of Jekyll-and-Hyde politics. Whenever addressing Israeli or Western audiences, he would habitually extol the "peace of the brave" he had signed with "my partner Yitzhak Rabin." At the same time, he depicted the peace accords to his Palestinian constituents as transient arrangements of the moment. He made constant allusions to the "phased strategy" and repeatedly insisted on the "right of return," a standard Palestinian euphemism for Israel's destruction through demographic subversion.  He leavened his speech with historical and religious metaphors, most notably the Treaty of Hudaybiya, signed by the Prophet Muhammad with the people of Mecca in 628, only to be disavowed by Muhammad a couple of years, later when the situation shifted in his favor. 
The Palestinian leadership fully embraced this interpretation of the Oslo process as a grand strategic deception, aimed at bringing about Israel's eventual destruction. As early as September 22, 1993, nine days after the signing of the DOP, Yasir Abed Rabbo, a senior PLO official and future "Minister of Information" in the Palestinian Authority (PA), categorically denied that "the mutual recognition document between Israel and the PLO contains any Palestinian pledge to stop violence." Several months later, in July, 1994, Abed Rabbo went a step further and vowed that the Palestinians would regain "all of Palestine." 
Other Palestinian leaders were equally explicit. In August, 1994, Faruq Qaddumi, head of the PLO's Political Department, openly called for Israel's destruction, while Faisal Husseini echoed the same sentiment in an interview with Syrian television in September, 1996:
Husseini remained committed to this vision to his final days. In March, 2001, a few weeks before his death by heart attack, he said this:
By this time, Arafat had already launched his war of terror against Israel, and Husseini, if he wished, could have reassured his Israeli peace partners that its goals were limited to the attainment of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank and Gaza. He did not, instead choosing to underscore Israel's demise as the ultimate Palestinian objective.
Nabil Shaath, another supposed moderate and dedicated advocate of the Oslo process, also threatened a return to the "armed struggle" whenever he found Israel to be insufficiently accommodating of Palestinian demands. "If the negotiations reach a dead end, we shall go back to the struggle and strife, as we did for forty years," he told a Nablus symposium in March, 1996:
Even the supposed moderates in the Palestinian leadership, Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala), expressed their hope (albeit implicitly) for Israel's eventual destruction. In an interview with an Israeli newspaper in January, 1996, Abu Mazen gently reiterated the PLO's old formula of a democratic state comprising the whole of Palestine: he expressed the hope that, in the future, Jews and Palestinians "will reach a state of complete mixture" in Palestine.  "We did not sign a peace treaty with Israel, but interim agreements that had been imposed on us," said Abu Ala in June, 1996:
Palestinians have been told of the most outlandish Israeli plots to corrupt and ruin them, which are wholly congruent with the medieval Christian (not Muslim) myth of Jews as secret destroyers and poisoners of wells. Thus, Arafat has charged Israel with killing Palestinian children to get their internal organs,  while the PA's Minister of Health, Riad Zaanun, has accused Israeli doctors of using "Palestinian patients for experimental medicines."  The Palestinian representative to the Human Rights Commission in Geneva charged Israel with injecting Palestinian children with the AIDS virus.  The director of the PA's Committee for Consumer Protection accused Israel of distributing chocolate infected with "mad cow disease" in the Palestinian territories.  The PA Minister of Ecology, Yusuf Abu Safiyyah, indicted Israel for "dumping liquid waste ... in Palestinian areas in the West Bank and Gaza."  Suha Arafat famously amplified one such charge when, in the presence of Hillary Clinton, she told an audience in Gaza, in November, 1999, that "our people have been subjected to the daily and extensive use of poisonous gas by the Israeli forces, which has led to an increase in cancer cases among women and children." 
Perhaps the most successful anti-Semitic import in the Muslim-Arab world is the theory of an organized Jewish conspiracy to achieve world domination, as spelled out in the notorious Protocols of the Elders of Zion. The PA has repeatedly referred to the Protocols, and its tightly controlled media have been rife with stories about Jewish "plots" and "conspiracies." Arafat himself borrowed from the Protocols in his welcome speech in Jericho in July, 1994.  In late 1997, when a dispute ensued about the scope of Israel's military redeployment in the West Bank, the PA's largest daily, al-Hayat al-Jadida, derided the maps presented by the Israeli government as the latest manifestation of the alleged Zionist grand design, revealed in the Protocols, to expand from the Nile to the Euphrates. Subsequent articles elaborated on the devious plots revealed in the Protocols for manipulating world public opinion on behalf of Zionism. 
This pervasive denigration of Jews has been accompanied by a systematic denial of the Jewish state's legitimacy by both the PA and the PLO. Israel is often referred to by the pejorative phrase, "the Zionist entity." Israel is glaringly absent from Palestinian maps, which portray its territory as part of a "Greater Palestine," from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. In 1998, when Prime Minister Netanyahu made an issue of this, the PA's press responded contemptuously:
Since the Holocaust is viewed as the most powerful modern-day justification for the existence of a Jewish state, the PA and its media have gone out of their way to minimize the genocide, if not deny it altogether. At the same time, the Palestinians are portrayed as the Holocaust's real victims: they have been made to pay for the West's presumed desire to atone for the Holocaust through the establishment of a Jewish state. (The Palestinians offer no explanation why, if the Holocaust did not happen, European nations should feel sufficiently remorseful about it to have foisted Israel upon the Palestinians.) Even Abu Mazen, the Oslo architect and one of the foremost symbols of the supposed Palestinian reconciliation, argued, in a 1984 book, that less than a million Jews had been killed in the Holocaust and that the Zionist movement was a partner to their slaughter. 
The PA has also gone to great lengths to repudiate any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem or, by implication, to the Land of Israel itself. Even at the Camp David summit of July, 2000 —the most ambitious single effort to bring asbout an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict — several Palestinian negotiators denied the existence of King Solomon's Temple. Arafat himself told Clinton that the temple had been located in Nablus rather than in Jerusalem.  Three days before the start of Arafat's war of terror in September, 2000, Abed Rabbo adamantly denied the temple's very existence:
Nor has Arafat refrained from utilizing the immense inflammatory potential of Islam, which has constituted the linchpin of the Middle Eastern social and political order for more than a millennium, as a primary tool to discredit his Israeli peace partners, if not peace itself. Week after week, preachers have used their pulpits to discredit the peace process and to instill hatred for Israelis and Jews. Worshippers have been taught that Jews are the "descendants of apes and pigs" and been warned of Zionist machinations to divide the Palestinian people and spawn internecine strife. In December, 1994, when Palestinian police shot and killed fourteen Hamas militants during the first bloody confrontation between the PA and its opponents, the PA-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, Ikrama Sabri, blamed Israel for the massacre in a sermon.  (In making this accusation, Sabri was taking his cue from Arafat, who never tired of repeating the allegation that extremists within the Israeli army and security services were flooding the territories with weapons in order to precipitate a Palestinian civil war. Arafat even claimed that Israeli extremists were masterminding the suicide bombings against Israeli civilians. )
There is correlation between the vicissitudes in the PA's policy and the tone and direction of Friday sermons. In the Summer of 2000, when Arafat chose to use the question of Jerusalem as the pretext for bringing about the collapse of the Camp David summit, Sabri quickly mounted a spirited propaganda campaign denying any Jewish attachment to the city. After Arafat launched his war of terror in September, 2000, the Friday preachers embarked on an orgy of unmitigated anti-Jewish invective. "They think that they scare our people," Sabri said in his Friday sermon, on May 25, 2001, one week before a suicide bomber murdered twenty teenagers at a Tel Aviv disco:
Arafat refused to disarm the terrorist groups, Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as required by the Oslo accords, and he tacitly approved the murder of hundreds of Israelis by these groups. He created a far larger Palestinian army (the socalled 'police force') than was permitted by the accords. He reconstructed the PLO's old terrorist apparatus, mainly under the auspices of the Tanzim, which is the military arm of Fatah (the PLO's largest constituent organization and Arafat's own alma mater). He frantically acquired prohibited weapons with large sums of money donated to the PA by the international community for the benefit of the civilian Palestinian population. 
What enabled Arafat to pursue his war preparations with impunity was a combination of international sympathy for his cause and Israeli self-delusion. Israelis, fatigued by decades of fighting and yearning for a normalcy that would allow them at last to enjoy their new affluence, turned a blind eye to the danger on their doorstep. Even Binyamin Netanyahu, for all his scathing criticism of Oslo, proved unable to win from Arafat the reciprocity he demanded and followed in the footsteps of his two predecessors, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, in surrendering territory to the PA, without any tangible return.
These preparations gave Arafat the wherewithal to launch war. It is often claimed that the violence that broke out on September 29, 2000, was the result of Ariel Sharon's "provocative" visit to the Temple Mount the day before. In fact, the initial Palestinian reaction to Sharon's visit was surprisingly mild. The actual turnout on the Temple Mount on the day of the visit was far lower than expected, despite the violent incitement by the official Palestinian media and outright calls by various Palestinian groups for mass demonstrations against the intended "desecration of al-Haram ash-Sharif." During the visit, there were minor clashes between Israeli policemen and rock-throwing Palestinian youths. These were limited in scope and intensity and resulted in thirty lightly wounded Israeli policemen and four injured Palestinians. Not a single Palestinian was killed.  It was only on the next day that serious violence erupted — in anything but a spontaneous manner. As a number of prominent Palestinians have candidly admitted, the leadership quickly seized the initiative. 
Most ordinary Palestinians did not welcome war; they were enjoying a healthy economic recovery, after several years of deep recession. Nor was the population groaning under an onerous occupation. In early 1996, Israel had withdrawn its forces from the West Bank's populated areas (withdrawal from Gazan towns and camps had been completed by May, 1994) and dissolved its civil administration and military government. This was followed by the Israeli redeployment from Hebron in January, 1997. As a result, 99 percent of the Palestinian population of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip no longer lived under Israeli occupation. All of the Gaza Strip's residents and just under 60 percent of West Bankers lived entirely under Palestinian jurisdiction. Another 40 percent of West Bank residents lived in towns, villages, refugee camps, and hamlets where the PA exercised civil authority but where, in line with the Oslo accords, Israel maintained "overriding responsibility for security."
In September, 2000, only about two percent of the West Bank's population lived in areas where Israel had complete control. By no conceivable stretching of words, could the violence be described as a popular uprising against foreign occupation. This "popular uprising" was launched and choreographed by the leadership — and above all, by Yasir Arafat.
But then, for all his rhetoric about Palestinian independence, Arafat has never been as interested in the attainment of statehood as in the violence attending its pursuit. As far back as 1978, he told his close friend and collaborator, the Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, that the Palestinians lacked the tradition, unity, and discipline to become a formal state, and that a Palestinian state would be a failure from the first day.  The past decade has seen this bleak prognosis turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy, driving Israelis and Palestinians in their bloodiest and most destructive confrontation in half a century.
 Al-Anwar (Beirut), Aug. 2, 1968.
 "Political Program for the Present Stage Drawn up by the 12th PNC, Cairo, June 9, 1974," Journal of Palestine Studies, Summer 1974, pp. 224-5.
 Jordan Television Network (Amman), in Arabic, Sept. 13, 1993.
 For evidence from the early 1990s, see Daniel Pipes and Alexander T. Stillman, "Two-Faced Yasser," The Weekly Standard, Sept. 25, 1995.
 Daniel Pipes, "Lessons from the Prophet Muhammad's Diplomacy," Middle East Quarterly, Sept. 1999, pp. 65-72.
 Jordan Television Network, Sept. 24, 1993; The Jerusalem Post, July 17, 1994.
 The Jerusalem Post, Aug. 10, 1994; Focus, Syrian television, Sept. 9, 1996, in International Media Review Analysis (IMRA), Sept. 9, 1996.
 As-Safir (Beirut), Mar. 21, 2001.
 The Jerusalem Post, Mar. 15, 1996.
 Ma‘ariv (Tel Aviv), Jan. 19, 1996.
 Al-Ittihad (Baghdad, internet edition), June 24, 1996; Ha'aretz (Tel Aviv), July 13, 1997.
 Al-Jazeera (Doha), Jan. 13, 2002; al-Hayat al-Jadida (Gaza) Dec. 24, 2001.
 Al-Hayat al-Jadida, Dec. 25, 1997.
 The Jerusalem Post, Mar. 17, 1997.
 Al-Hayat al-Jadida, Dec. 8, 1997.
 Ibid., Sept. 26, 2000.
 Reuters, Nov. 11, 1999.
 Radio Monte Carlo, in Arabic, July 1, 1994; Voice of Palestine, July 5, 1994.
 Al-Hayat al-Jadida, Nov. 30, Dec. 21, 1997; July 2, Nov. 7, 1998.
 Ibid., Dec. 17, 1998.
 Mahmud ‘Abbas, al-Wajh al-Akhar: al-‘Alaqat as-Sirriya bayna an-Naziya wa's-Sihyuniya (Amman: Dar Ibn Rushd, 1984), introduction.
 "Camp David and After: An Exchange: An Interview with Ehud Barak," The New York Review of Books, June 13, 2001.
 Le Monde, Sept. 26, 2000.
 Khaled Abu Toameh, "Sermons of Fire," The Jerusalem Report, Mar. 23, 1995, pp. 20-1.
 The Jerusalem Post, Nov. 28, 1994; Ma'ariv, May 2, 1995.
 Palestinian Authority television, May 25, 2001, in Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Special Dispatch Series, no. 226, June 6, 2001, at http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=archives&Area=sd&ID=SP22601.
 Die Zeit (Hamburg), June 7, Aug. 15, 2002.
 The Jerusalem Post, Sept. 29, 2000; Ma'ariv, Sept. 29, 2000; The Economist, Oct. 7, 2000.
 Imad Faluji in al-Ayyam (Ramallah), Dec. 6, 2002; Sakhr Habash, in al-Hayat al-Jadida, Nov. 7, Dec. 7, 2000; Mamduh Nawfal, in Majalat ad-Dirasat al-Filastiniya, Summer 2001, pp. 44-5; Marwan Barghouti's interview with al-Hayat (London), Sept. 29, 2001.
 Ion Pacepa, Red Horizons. Inside the Romanian Secret Service—The Memoirs of Ceausescu's Spy Chief (London: Coronet Books, 1989), p. 28.
The Israeli-Arab Conflict
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Efraim Karsh is Director of the Mediterranean Studies Programme at King's College, University of London, and Editor of the quarterly journal Israel Affairs. He is the author of Arafat's War: The Man and His Battle for Israeli Conquest (Grove Press).
The foregoing article by Karsh was originally published in the Middle East Quarterly, Spring, 2004, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum.
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