Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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Arafat and the Second Intifada

by Elliott Abrams
January 4, 2013

Former Palestinian president Yasir Arafat salutes during a rally at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah September 14, 2003. (Courtesy REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic GOT/jm). Former Palestinian president Yasir Arafat salutes during a rally at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah September 14, 2003. (Courtesy REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic GOT/jm).


Analysts have long debated the role of Yasir Arafat in the second intifada, the violent Palestinian uprising that followed on the failure of Camp David in 2000.

The PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA) have long denied that Arafat was behind the violence, instead calling the second intifada a spontaneous uprising. This claim was endorsed in the so-called Mitchell report, the “Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee” of 2001: “We have no basis on which to conclude that there was a deliberate plan by the PA to initiate a campaign of violence at the first opportunity….”

That story began to fall apart for good in 2010, when Hamas leader and co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar stated that “President Arafat instructed Hamas to carry out a number of military operations in the heart of the Jewish state after he felt that his negotiations with the Israeli government then had failed.”

Now there is an additional source: Arafat’s widow, Suha. In an interview in December on Dubai TV she said this:

Yasser Arafat had made a decision to launch the Intifada. Immediately after the failure of the Camp David [negotiations], I met him in Paris upon his return, in July 2001 [sic]. Camp David has failed, and he said to me: “You should remain in Paris.” I asked him why, and he said: “Because I am going to start an Intifada. They want me to betray the Palestinian cause. They want me to give up on our principles, and I will not do so. I do not want Zahwa’s friends in the future to say that Yasser Arafat abandoned the Palestinian cause and principles. I might be martyred, but I shall bequeath our historical heritage to Zahwa [Arafat’s daughter] and to the children of Palestine.

The debate over Arafat’s role should be over. Many Palestinian leaders have always understood it to be a phony, in any event. I recall a conversation about five years ago with one PA official, whom I asked whether he shared the fears expressed then in the press about a new intifada. No, he replied, because such things do not start spontaneously. The last one started when the Palestinian leadership decided to start it, but the current leadership is against violence–so there will be no intifada.

Let’s hope that remains true. But meanwhile, there should be no doubt about the origin of the second intifada: it happened when Yasir Arafat decided that more violence was useful to him. That case is closed.

Post a Comment 6 Comments

  • Posted by diana

    only “Useful Idiots” could say what the Sharm el Sheik Comm. under Mitchell said. Arafat controlled everuthing, especially the money………….

  • Posted by Joel

    A leopard can’t change it’s spots.

  • Posted by Yochanan

    The story about Arafat’s involvement in the Second Intifada is far from over. He personal gave orders to pay terrorists who killed Israeli citizens. I assume the US government obtained the evidence about this part of Arafat’s role in the Intifada from the Israeli’s. The EU got this evidence as early as 2006.

    So please explain – since you were part of the Bush government – why the US government as well as the EU continued to pay huge amounts of money to the PA.

    Untill this day nobody really knows where the money goes. But we do know that the PA has an enormous security apparatus and more than half of the PA budget goes to the ministry of internal and security affairs. (to pay the salaries of this mini army)

  • Posted by Elliott Abrams

    To Yochanan:
    As best I recall the Bush period, the United States gave no cash to the PA while Arafat was alive. Support started after his death, and we were able to trace all that cash when Fayyad was Finance Minister. Indeed, the first tranche was $50 million, and when later we asked for it back (after the Hamas election victory) roughly $47 million was returned. As to PA budget payment to PA security forces, those forces work closely in the West Bank with Israeli security forces, as IDF and Shin Bet officials have publicly stated.

  • Posted by Elihu Daviso

    In a 2001 speech in Beirut, PA spokesman Imad al-Faluji recounted Arafat’s ordering preparations for the 2nd Intifada as early as October, 2012–almost twp months prior to Camp David II. So in fact this is very old news. The only question then is why Suha Arafat is speaking about this now.

  • Posted by Kevinexcess

    Did he or didn’t he? Mr Abrams asks with the sarcasm thick as malaises. After what has taken place through-out the Middle East. I think Mr. Abrams still remains in his isolated world of presumptuous enlightenment, without the sentiments of others intervening in his self-righteous confidence. Not surprising to me that he worked with Donald Rumsfield through two separate administrations. I take it from what he wrote that he does not believe that Palestinians could spontaneously conceive of the concept of self determination by any means necessary? I tend to believe he does not because he has been so wrong on every other controversial foreign policy decision he has made in the last decade. It seems that Mr. Abrams is still not aware of the Palestinian purpose and this unnecessary and self-indulgent rant proves it. I think Mr Abrams may not be conscious of the term “Equal Condition” when dealing with foreign policy issues. I would like to ask Mr. Abrams if he thinks Palestinians citizens,through-out the Diaspora are simply a burden to Zionist? Does he not consider any resistance from the Palestinian Leadership as a refection to their condition, a condition that they feel is unfair and was forced on them against their will?

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