Bush’s Stern Approach to Arafat a Welcome Sign, by Grant Threlfall

American Presidents have spent countless, exasperating hours trying to create a lasting peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. Unfortunately, all have utterly collapsed. Now, President George W. Bush is using more stick and less carrot as a means to stop the out-of-control Middle East violence.

It’s fair to wonder if Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat wants peace at all. Realistically, a more productive for the Israeli government in light of recent events may be to prepare for war against Arafat instead of bellying up to the negotiating table to forge yet another empty agreement.

Former President Bill Clinton felt “amazed, exasperated, bewildered and even betrayed”1 when Arafat refused to halt the violence that began in September of 2000. The August suicide bombing in Jerusalem that killed 14 people, including six children,2 is another graphic illustration of Arafat’s unwillingness to use his influence to stop the violence.

Up to now, Arafat may have simply sought the economic benefits of peace talks. After the Oslo and Wye River accords, the U.S. government rewarded him each time by giving the Palestinian Authority $300 million in aid.3 Perhaps another peace conference, in Arafat’s mind, could mean another fiscal windfall from Uncle Sam.

And Arafat’s stubbornness may have reached its limit. After the 2000 Camp David accords, he was welcomed home as a hero for not giving concessions to the Israelis. New polls, however, show the Israeli populace is moving dramatically to the right because of recent terrorist attacks.4 After the failure of appeasement under liberal Labor Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, new Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon is under increasing pressure within many Israeli circles to end the terror by simply taking out the Palestinian Authority altogether.

Now, after only a few months in office, President George W. Bush is indicating signs of a new diplomatic style regarding the Israel-Palestinian problem that shows no tolerance for Arafat’s apparent use of terror as diplomacy. Bush recently invited Sharon to the White House, but did not invite Arafat. This is a clear message that a new set of rules is in effect.

Sharon’s predecessor, Barak, tried to negotiate in good faith with Arafat. Barak offered more than Israel can probably afford – 97% of the disputed West Bank territory – but Arafat still said no.5 On Arafat’s mind was probably his repeated promise to the Palestinian people of a homeland with Jerusalem as its capitol – a point to which the Israelis will never agree. Arafat went into the Camp David negotiations fearing he would be killed if he signed a deal that did not include Jerusalem.6

The result? Barak now says he was wrong to try to negotiate with Arafat. On his last day as President, Clinton told incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell that Arafat was a liar and a completely unreliable partner in the peace process.7

As it stands, the Middle East is looking down the barrel of another regional war. The Israeli Defense Force is moving more heavy tanks and troops into the borders of the West Bank where Palestinians live, mostly in refugee camps with poor economic opportunities. Since last September, hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis have been killed. But the worst part is who is doing the fighting and the dying.

The Palestinian uprising is being fought by children. Children as young as 12 years old are taken by the Palestinian Authority from their parents – often against their will – and taught how to make fire bombs and use assault rifles.8 Children are routinely rounded up after school by people in vehicles belonging to the Palestinian Authority and used to provide distractions to help Palestinian snipers target Israeli soldiers.

During Wye River negotiations, Arafat agreed to abide by international law. The Palestinian Authority is violating those laws by allowing vicious acts of terrorism against Israeli civilians to occur. The Palestinian Authority was treated as an equal by the Clinton Administration, but President Bush seems unwilling to continue that disastrous policy.

President Bush has already spoken directly to Israeli Prime Minister Sharon, but only used lower level officials to communicate with Arafat. By not acknowledging Arafat on the same level as Sharon, Bush is showing American displeasure of the tactics and practices of the Palestinian Authority. It’s a clear sign Arafat should not be rewarded for negotiating in bad faith.


Grant Threlfall is a research associate with The National Center for Public Policy Research, a Washington, D.C. think tank. 


1 Jane Perlez, “Whose Holy Land? Clinton, After Courting Arafat, Feels Frustrated by Latest Turn,” New York Times, October 11, 2000.
2. Clyde Habermen, “Palestinian Suicide Bomber Kills At Least 14 in Jerusalem; Israel Retaliates Swiftly,” New York Times, August 10, 2001.
3 Perlez.
4 Clyde Haberman, “Sharon Booed By Fellow Rightists Who Say He’s Too Soft,” New York Times, July 23, 2001.
5 Mortimer Zuckerman, “A Surfeit of Cynicism,” U.S. News and World Report, August 13, 2001.
6 Jane Perlez, “Holy Places, Stormy Night: A Palestinian View of Camp David,” New York Times, September 17, 2000.
7 Zuckerman.
8 Matthew Kalman, “Let Our Kids Alone, Arafat Told,” USA Today, December 8, 2000, p. 16A.

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