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–Ten Years Later

by Elliott Abrams
November 7, 2014


Yasser Arafat died ten years ago, on November 11, 2004.

I am posting this “appreciation” a bit early, and anticipating an outflow of mourning and praise for Arafat next week. In fact, he was a curse to Palestinians.

Courtesy: Mike Segar/Reuters

Courtesy: Mike Segar/Reuters

To measure the damage Arafat did as the Palestinian leader, let’s begin with a comparison. Just 9 days before Arafat’s death, on November 2, 2004, Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan died. Sheik Zayed’s death was not greeted with the global mourning, nor with the ceremonies and speeches at the United Nations that Arafat got. This is grotesque, because he was the father of his country, the UAE, and a model of sober, responsible, constructive leadership. Born in 1918 in one of the Trucial States, he lived as a Bedouin for all his early years. Yet he was wise enough to understand the modern world that was growing up around him, and to see the need for the Trucial States to federate when the British left in 1971. So he negotiated and  then led the federation. The enormous success of the UAE today, and its role as a key U.S. ally, owe an incalculable amount to this man.

That’s one kind of leadership. Arafat provides another model: charismatic to be sure, but also violent, corrupt, destructive leadership that created the political mess in which Palestinians live today. When he had a great chance for peace, a chance to create a Palestinian state at Camp David in 2000, he said no. He had a historic opportunity then–remember, the foreign “leader” with the greatest number of visits to Bill Clinton’s White House was Arafat–but he kicked it away rather than seizing it. The defense of Arafat is that Palestinians were not really prepared for him to say yes, and not prepared for the concessions peace would require. I agree–but whose fault was that? Arafat’s.

The point is not that every problem facing Palestinians is his responsibility, any more than every benefit Emiratis have can be attributed to Sheik Zayed. But leadership matters enormously, and Arafat’s was a plague for Palestinians–and all their neighbors. Under him the PLO was an ingredient in widespread violence in both Jordan and Lebanon. After the Israeli victory in 1967, civic life began to grow in the West Bank and Gaza. Roughly 700 NGOs were formed, the economy grew, and a far better future seemed possible. But after Arafat returned to rule in 1994, he crushed that civic life, made a mockery of the new Palestinian legislature that had been formed, and substituted a corrupt dictatorship. Theft of aid funds was constant and totaled around a billion dollars. Arafat created 13 “security” forces that he manipulated to assure his total control, and most were also involved in acts of violence: Ariel Sharon used to call them “security-terror organizations.” The rise of Hamas owes a great deal to the disgust many Palestinians felt toward the repressive and corrupt PLO and PA that Arafat built.

It’s impossible to prove that had Palestinians had a different leader–someone like Nelson Mandela or Sheik Zayed, who wanted to build states that would assure a decent life for their people–today there would be an independent and responsible Palestinian state. But it’s easy to see what Arafat wrought, and Palestinians sadly continue to suffer from his years in power. Ten years after Arafat’s death, his historic “contribution” seems even more awful than it did in 2004.






Post a Comment 5 Comments

  • Posted by diana

    But the West kept on giving him and his associates money. WHY?

  • Posted by mhloutsidebeltway

    This article of Abrams, a continuing supporter of the 2-Stage Final Solution, is based on the false assumption that the “Palestinians” are a people. They are not. They are an invented people, formed in a cauldron financed by the Soviets and by various Arab states depending on the historic moment. The Fakistinians are linguistically and culturally indistinguishable from Arabs in southern Syrians, most of those living in Jordan, and the Egyptians in the Sinai. The Palestinians have no history prior to the recent Jewish settlement of what the Romans called Palestine, intending to forever erase the name of Israel and Judea. Ethnically there is nothing that connects them. Their only common denominator is a genocidal hatred for the Jewish people. If a Republican president should ever call Abrams back to duty on the Mideast let’s hope he sheds his misleading beliefs about the existence of a Fakistinian people.

  • Posted by Joel

    And his successor is any better? Abbas is a terrorist just like Arafat, only he wears a suit and tie and smiles at the gullible west. The PA remains a kleptocracy and the billions that the US, EU & UN pour into it are funneled to private pockets instead of funding schools, libraries, roadways, hospitals, etc for the common weal.

  • Posted by Daniel E. Levenson

    Arafat and his kleptocratic regime did generational damage to the cause of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as to the possibility of a stable, independent Palestinian state. As you note, it’s impossible to know if a different leader under the same circumstances might have steered things in a more positive direction, but there’s no question that we are all still living with the negative legacy of Arafat. That said, what really worries me now is that President Abbas seems to have taken Arafat as his role model, encouraging violence and ignoring the peace process.

    Veneration of Arafat by Palestinians today is a worrying sign, but the decision by Abbas to resurrect the rhetoric and policies of this deeply flawed erstwhile Palestinian leader is genuinely dangerous.

  • Posted by Zerlenga

    pe your comment in here…eliott abrams forgets the Arafat was a Muslim and Muslims will never make peace with Israel ( one of the authetic democracy of civilized world) s ee Iran $ company Elliott Abrams forgets that the sheik of UAE supported the Taliban government in Afganistan and he did not recognize the state of Israel etc

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