June 6, 2009
Obama's Arafat Amnesia
While in Cairo, President Obama had a roundtable interview with a group of Mideasts reporters, one of whom asked him about Arafat and why Clinton's Camp David summit ended in failure. Here's Obama's reply:
"Let me just say this. One of the things that I've learned about being President is I always read about things that I don't remember happening, even though I was in the room -- probably because they didn't happen. So I don't try to guess or speculate on what happened a decade ago with respect to why a peace deal was not completed. What's more important from my perspective is how do we now move forward."
Obama's self-induced amnesia about Arafat's rejection of the generous Clinton-Barak offer to create a Palestinian state in all of Gaza, 95 percent of the West Bank, and all the Arab neighborhoods in East Jersualem, including the Old City, is nothing short of astounding.
Although pro-Palestinian revisionists have tried to exculpate Arafat, both President Clinton and Dennis Ross, his chief Mideast envoy and adviser, are on record as blaming Arafat for torpedoing Camp David and a subsequent round of futile negotiations at Taba in early 2001. History is very clear on this point.
Also, how does Obama square his avoidance of Arafat's pernicious role in not only snuffing out a two-state solution -- Obama's desired objective -- but in then unleashing a bloody intifada that took the lives of more than 1,000 Israeli civilians? How does that square with Obama's insistence that he's interested in a "frank" and "honest" dialogue with the Muslim world?
Nor does an honest accounting of Arafat's legacy matters as proper respect for historical truth. Arafat remains to this very day a seminal, iconoic figure in Palestinian politics.. He is revered by Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority -- today's presumed "moderate" peace partners -- the way George Washington commands the highest spot in America's pantheon. His lavish mausoleum has become an obligatory stop for foreign leaders on visits to Ramallah.
To refuse to deal with Arafat's legacy and contnuing impact on Palestinian society is to blind oneself to one of the greatest obstacles to the peace process. Does Obama expect Abbas to get a sweeter deal than Clinton and Barak offered to Arafat? No way. So if Obama wants to resurrect what Israel offered nine years ago, shouldn't it behoove him to speak truth to the Palestinians about how Arafat betrayed their political aspirations? Shouldn't that, in fact, be the starting point of any "frank" and "honest" discussion with Palestinians about what compromises they will have to make to end up with something close to the peace deal that Arafat rejected out of hand?
How is it that Obama can speak candidly and very specifically about what he views as Israeli obstacles to peace like settlements, but can't bring himself to tackle the ghost of Arafat, which stands atwarth his peacemaking agenda?
And how does Obama square his evocation of real history at Buchenwald with his refusal to confront the history of Arafat's denial of peace to Israelis and Palestinians? Remembering the Holocaust is critically important, but so is remembering Arafat when you're engaging the Muslim world in an effort to revive peace hopes in their region.
In his roundtable interview in Egypt, as in his speech at Cairo University, Obama unfortunately glossed over the Palestinians' self-inflicted wounds and portrayed them instead as victims of Israeli "occupation." This merely reinforces their Naqba ("catastrophe") neurosis that all their woes stem from the founding of Israel in 1948 and the continuing existence.of the Jewish state, while Arafat gets a pass from Obama.
Not exactly a smart way to secure a two-state solution.