How Yasser Arafat Led the Palestinians to Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’

Compromises made by the late PLO leader have the paved the way for the most humiliating deal offered the Palestinians yet, comments As’ad AbuKhalil. 

By As`ad AbuKhalil
Special to Consortium News

The Trump administration is hard at work on the “Deal of the Century” that basically seeks to end the Arab-Israeli conflict by excluding the Palestinians from any negotiations about their future.

This approach has been tried before, under different names, including the infamous “Jordanian option” whereby the King of Jordan was assigned to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people, who despised him.

In pursuit of this “deal,” the White House recently took several steps to punish the Palestinians, while Jared Kushner stressed to The New York Times that such punishment won’t hurt the “peace process.” The U.S. government ended funding for UNRWA, the UN agency that helps Palestinian refugees, and cut off $200 million that the U.S. Agency for International Development was spending on infrastructure projects in the West Bank.

The U.S. also stopped $25 million in funding for East Jerusalem hospitals, which would end cancer treatment even for Palestinian children. But the administration kept its $60 million funding for the repressive Palestinian security forces (which basically serves as a replica of the South Lebanon Army—a militia which serves on behalf of the Israeli occupation). The administration knows its priorities.

That we have reached this point of U.S. identification with Israeli occupation priorities should not be surprising at all. This did not start with Trump: this is the culmination of a long process that had been laid brick-by-brick by successive Democratic and Republican administrations.

In fact, this may be a good time for the U.S. to discard, once and for all, its false pretense of an “honest broker.” The entire destructive peace process for Palestinians was built on the false premise that the U.S. merely needs to deceive the Palestinians into thinking that the U.S. can be trusted by them, and that the U.S. would then deliver Israel. In other words, Washington would exert the necessary pressures on Israel in return for major Palestinian concessions.

It got to the point when advisors to the PLO negotiating team in the so-called “peace process” have finally concluded publicly that the U.S. is not an honest broker. The realization would have been far more beneficial for the Palestinian people had it been reached by PLO functionaries during the administration of Bill Clinton, or George W. Bush, or Barak Obama. It was not Donald Trump who ended the mythical US “honest broker” role.

It was ironic to see on Twitter and on op-ed pages, “peace process” officials from successive administrations denouncing Trump’s measures as if the administrations they had served in were in any way less hostile to the Palestinian people that Trump’s. Trump is as hostile to the Palestinians as his predecessors, although he—unlike them—did not mask his feelings or his intentions.

Arafat: Surrendered to the US and Israel. (Scanpix)

PLO’s Culpability

The Palestinian leadership of the PLO (now residing in the corrupt and collaborationist enclave in Ramallah) are directly responsible for carrying the Palestinian people to the abyss. From Yasser Arafat to his corrupt successors, the Palestinian negotiating team operated on the premise that unilateral Palestinian concessions would inevitably lead to Israeli concessions—or that the U.S. would ensure them.

The decision by Arafat to surrender (and this was exactly what happened) to the U.S. and Israel was the direct result of his own miscalculations since the early 1970s. Arafat was not far off from then Egyptian President Anwar Sadat’s dictum that “100% of the cards of the settlement are in U.S. hands.” Arafat was very close to Sadat (he was in attendance at the Egyptian parliament when Sadat pledged to go to occupied Jerusalem) and only broke with him, albeit reluctantly, after the Sadat indeed visited Jerusalem.

The Saudi camp in the PLO leadership (represented chiefly by Khalid Al-Hasan) has been pushing for a settlement with the Israeli state and for confining Palestinian national aspirations to only the West Bank and Gaza for many years. Wealthy Palestinians who funded the PLO (like Munib Masri, Hasib Sabbagh, and Basil `Aql) all pushed for a minimalist settlement with Israel and opposed armed struggle as a path for Palestinian liberation.

But Arafat dragged his feet because the entire base of his Fatih movement was opposed to such a settlement and because there was no serious offer from Israel or from the U.S. Both insisted that Arafat should meet all the conditions that were imposed on him with no clear benefit in return except the willingness of Israel and the U.S. to engage in dialogue with the PLO.

Arafat, who handled leadership of the Palestinian national movement far worse than the notorious Hajj Amin Husayni, treated his relationship with the Saudi regime as a top priority. Declassified U.S. documents from the 1970s reveal that the U.S. pressured the Saudi government to derail the PLO leadership’s path of armed struggle and to push it in a more accommodationist direction. Gradually, Arafat—once he established his control in Lebanon—undermined all Palestinian and even Lebanese revolutionary activities against Israel, and only allowed PLO groups to engage in symbolic military operations on the anniversaries of their founding.

The PLO’s bureaucratic behemoth required a regular flow of funding: the Saudi regime imposed a tax on Palestinians in Saudi Arabia and gave the money to Arafat, who also benefited from oil money contributions. Other Arab regimes also contributed funds to PLO coffers and Arafat shared a portion of the spoils with other PLO leaders and organizations to ensure their loyalty and preclude their independent revolutionary action. This tactic unfortunately worked: even the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine’s rejectionism waned over the years and by 1982 it allowed Arafat to manage the negotiations with the U.S., which resulted in the disastrous evacuation of all PLO forces from Beirut.

Arafat expected great rewards from the U.S. and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) for his decision to leave Lebanon, but he only received the Reagan Peace Plan, which Israel simply ignored. The Reagan administration was instead more interested in disregarding Arafat and pushing King Husayn of Jordan, detested by Palestinians, to speak on their behalf. Husayn tried, but by the eruption of the first Intifada in 1988, he read the writing on the wall—literally in this case—and knew that the Palestinians would not settle for a non-PLO leadership to speak for them.

Banking on Saddam

Saddam: Arafat’s great hope.

Arafat then had great hopes for Saddam Husayn of Iraq, who opportunistically exploited Palestinian frustrations to build up his Arab popularity in the wake of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Arafat and his team in their minds highly exaggerated Saddam’s military power and were convinced that he would prevail in the ensuing confrontation.

The Palestinian academic Edward Said (among others) tried to dissuade Arafat, but his chief aide, Bassam Abu Sharif, kept assuring Said in New York that Saddam had secret weapons that would alter the Middle East balance of forces. It was too late for Arafat to retract (although King Husayn, who championed Saddam far more enthusiastically than Arafat, was quickly forgiven by Western powers and GCC countries probably at the behest of the Israeli lobby in Washington). Arafat lost a major source of funding for his organization from Iraq, and wealthy Palestinians were also pressured by both the U.S. and GCC regimes to end funding him.

It was in this context—when the PLO leadership was at its weakest stage ever—that Arafat made the foolish decision to enter into direct secret negotiations with the Israeli occupation state. Having lost his military base in Lebanon, and having lost his Gulf funding, Arafat decided that it was an opportune time to negotiate with his occupiers.

The Oslo Debacle

The entire premise of Oslo, signed 25 years ago this summer, was flawed especially since Arafat chose the weakest members of the PLO leadership to manage the negotiations. (Of all the PLO leaders and Fatih founders, Mahmoud Abbas was perhaps the one without any political base of support inside the movement).

Arafat was too eager to return to occupied Palestine from Tunisia (where a 1985 Israeli bombing of PLO headquarters killed 60 people). The Oslo agreement set the stage. The PLO leader recognized Israeli right to occupy all of 1948 Palestine, and he also recognized the U.S. as the qualified party to arbitrate between the two sides despite its clear and unequivocal endorsement of all Israeli stances.

Furthermore, Arafat unilaterally denounced the military struggle of his people and forswore the use of political violence against Israeli occupation and aggression.

In return, Arafat only received the right to enter an Israeli-run open-air prison in the West Bank and Gaza. He did not insist on, nor did he receive, recognition of Palestinian statehood. Nor did he and his team insist on a pledge to end all settlement activities or for assurances that East Jerusalem would belong to the Palestinian side.

Arafat did not achieve the liberation of a millimeter of the West Bank or Gaza from Israeli occupation.

Under Oslo, Israel divided the West Bank into three zones, but the division was symbolic: Israel allowed itself the right to enter, invade and attack whenever and wherever it chose. Water resources, airspace and the sea were all under Israeli control, and Israel decided—and still decides—who gets to enter and exit from all Palestinian territories.

Arafat realized too late that he gave away too much and that the U.S. was not “delivering” Israel to him. He also complained that the entire Middle East “peace process” team of successive U.S. administrations was practically run by functionaries of the Israeli lobby (from both parties).

In his last few years Arafat wanted to surreptitiously revive the military wing of Fatah in the West Bank and Gaza (Kata’ib Shudada’ Al-Aqsa) especially after the Bush administration dealt with Palestinian leaders as a terrorist menace not unlike Al-Qa`idah in the wake of Sep. 11. It was at that moment that Arafat was killed, in my estimation, certainly by Israel with U.S. acquiescence.

Abbas: Further humiliated.

Mahmoud Abbas concluded from Arafat’s experience that even more Palestinian concessions are needed while no Israeli concessions are required at all. He transformed the Palestinian security forces into an effective arm of the Israeli occupation. They had been initiated under Oslo by Arafat who allowed Palestinians contemplating resistance to Israel to be tortured and murdered.

To boost his political fortunes, Abbas never gave up on Israeli and American promises of a mini-state—and only in a part of the West Bank and Gaza (i.e. in less than 24 percent of historic Palestine). It is unsurprising then that the Trump-Netanyahu team have decided to humiliate the Palestinian leadership more than before by pressuring them to accept a non-state in return for “industrial zones” in occupied Palestinian territories. That’s supposed to be the deal of the century. Abbas has refused to take part in this charade.

The MbS Sell Out

Just as the U.S. sought to appoint King Husayn as representative of the Palestinians for much of the 1970s and 1980s, the Trump administration and Israel have decided that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman should be the representative of the Palestinian leadership. But the Saudi King recently woke up to the concessions being made by his son. He retracted some of the Saudi positions adopted by MbS, and the Saudi government distanced itself from the “deal.”

The Palestinian people are at an impasse. The Palestinian struggle won’t advance until and unless the entire Oslo setup in Ramallah is dismantled. Palestinians need to fashion new forms of struggle—without worrying about approval from the Western governments, media and human rights organizations. The creativity of the Palestinian people has been underestimated before.

As’ad AbuKhalil is a Lebanese-American professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus. He is the author of the Historical Dictionary of Lebanon (1998), Bin Laden, Islam and America’s New “War on Terrorism” (2002), and The Battle for Saudi Arabia (2004). He also runs the popular blog The Angry Arab News Service

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17 comments for “How Yasser Arafat Led the Palestinians to Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’

  1. September 30, 2018 at 09:38

    The author:

    “The Palestinian people are at an impasse. The Palestinian struggle won’t advance until and unless the entire Oslo setup in Ramallah is dismantled. Palestinians need to fashion new forms of struggle—without worrying about approval from the Western governments, media and human rights organizations. The creativity of the Palestinian people has been underestimated before. ”

    Amen, amen, amen

    Force is futile. Calling on the world to denounce discrimination that exists and demand equal rights like any Israeli citizen now has is the path to follow Demanding freedom has a history of struggle and accomplishment throughout the history of the world. It will be no different on the land called Israel or Palestine or any other name

  2. Zenobia van Dongen
    September 25, 2018 at 13:16

    In 1914, 1% of the Ottoman Empire´s population consisted of Jews. When the Ottoman Empire lost World War I, it was broken up in stages into numerous states, which eventually became independent. All of those states except two – Lebanon and Israel – had Muslim majorities, and all of those Muslim-majority states except one – Syria – systematically oppressed, persecuted and massacred their non-Muslim populations and continue doing so today, unless such populations have been exterminated or expelled.
    In Syria only a stroke of luck has prevented the Christian and Druze minorities from being likewise exterminated or expelled. Egypt separated from the Ottoman Empire more than a century before World War 1 and still contains a substantial Christian minority, which is however subjected to brutal and systematic persecution.
    Accordingly, it is apparent that the only way a non-Muslim population can live safely in the Middle East is if it has its own army and its own state to defend its interests.
    Since 1% of the Ottoman population was Jewish, it only stands to reason that the Jews are entitled to 1% of the empire’s territory. I% of the Ottoman territory in 1914 comes to some 22 thousand square kilometers, which is about the size of present-day Israel plus the Palestinian-occupied territories.
    Consequently all this quibble about Zionist colonialism is merely hogwash intended to cheat the Jewish people out of their rightful share of the Ottoman Empire.
    There are 57 countries in the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, of which about 54 are populated mostly or solely by Muslims. Those countries have plenty of space in which they can grant hospitality to the Palestinian Arabs. There is no need to displace the Jews from their rightful property in order to make way for Palestinian Arabs, a population that – in contrast to the Jews – has been noted throughout history for its complete obscurity and utter inability to make a single contribution to human civilization.

    • September 30, 2018 at 09:51

      Zenobia, nice re-write of history. Earns the label as a screed, but you do speak for millions of Christians and Jews who think as you do. Bar room talk like that in America, less prevalent now, about blacks and Latins. That is felt by so many very wealthy Jews is an imposing obstacle, but it will dissipate over time. Tragically there is a in the meantime that the Palestinians must bear

  3. mark
    September 19, 2018 at 16:29

    The situation may not be as bleak as it appears on first sight.
    Israel could have had a peace settlement on very favourable terms to itself any time over the past 50 years.
    This outcome, unlikely to offer the Palestinians very much, would have been a disaster for them.
    Zionist arrogance and intransigence prevented this unwelcome result.
    Now even the pretence of a “peace process” has been discarded.
    Netanyahu openly states there will never be any Palestinian state of any description – not even the pathetic Bantustan that may previously have been on offer.
    If he is unable to come to a settlement with a cringing, contemptible, servile stooge like Abbas, he will never be able to find any credible Palestinian leader to agree to his terms.
    Hence the attempt to impose a wish list of Zionist demands over their heads with no Palestinian involvement whatever. Jerusalem – Israel can have that. The Golan Heights – Israel can have that. The settlements – Israel can have them. The refugees – they don’t exist any more. Trump has airbrushed them away.
    All that is on offer is an industrial estate and maybe some scruffy little village the Jews don’t want as a Palestinian “capital.”
    This will rightly be treated as a joke. Attempts to impose it will fail. The Saudis and any other Arab leader who endorses this will be committing political suicide.
    The Arab dictators couldn’t care less about Palestine – but hundreds of millions of Muslims do.
    This may be the final nail in the coffin of the Quisling Palestinian Authority. For all the good it has done (apart from enriching a few corrupt Palestinians) it might as well not exist. Something else will emerge to fill the vacuum, maybe a grass roots organisation of local committees.
    There are now more Arabs than Jews in Mandate Palestine. They are not going to go away, no matter how much Netanyahu and Trump and Kushner would like them too. Gaza and Hebron and Nablus are not going to go away.
    The cost of maintaining the Zionist Apartheid Regime, financially, politically, diplomatically and morally, continues to grow for its western accomplices.
    One war after another incited by Israel and fought for its benefit, including a coming war against Iran. All involving enormous cost with the potential for uncontrollable escalation.
    The ugly nature of the Zionist Regime, which can no longer be hidden as 16,000 unarmed demonstrators are gunned down in the Gaza Concentration Camp with dum dum bullets and British sniper rifles.
    Netanyahu and Trump may have come to a dead end – rather like Napoleon in Moscow in 1812, waiting for a deputation to surrender to him, finally realising that nobody was coming.

  4. R Davis
    September 19, 2018 at 01:34

    Rumors can be so cruel –
    Wasn’t Golda Meir sweet on Yasser Arafat & the affection returned by Yasser Arafat.
    He was her golden boy.

  5. September 18, 2018 at 14:43

    The struggle is now recognized by many Palestinians supporters to be to achieve the same rights as citizens that the Israelis now have. Oslo Accords were not entered into in good faith, which the most polyannaish among us now admit. Built on the fantasy of two states that was dead before the Accords were reached, it seemed to be kept alive by those Palestinians leaders who profited from the agreement. Perhaps that is too harsh but Hamas as the people’s choice seemed to be evidence of that. Of course, the Zionists and their important friends profited by continuing the charade while they gobbled up real estate and water.

    For me, I hope the Palestinians started demanding equal rights in one state, recognizing how difficult their struggle would be but a struggle with hope that a positive outcome is possible as has been the outcome in America and elsewhere. For those who know Palestinians, those people understand that in such a nation, they would do extremely well. A black President. Nonsense. Palestinian Prime Minister. Crazy

  6. Marc Isacson
    September 18, 2018 at 11:21

    You might find this information interesting.
    How Polonium 210 was found in Yasser Arafat’s corpse after his exhumation .

  7. Mathew
    September 18, 2018 at 11:12

    The discovery of Polonium 210 in Yasser Arafat’s corpse after his exhumation .

  8. Dunderhead
    September 17, 2018 at 18:00

    Great article, for the financial division of consortium news, you folks really need to start a Patreon on account.

  9. backwardsevolution
    September 17, 2018 at 14:56

    If there’s an understanding, the West double-crosses you. If there’s a promise, a signed treaty even, the West double-crosses you. They smile, speak with forked tongues, then stab you in the back. Arafat trusted, and he got “had”. They stalled for time, all the while weakening him. The other Arab leaders strung him along also. He was up against Israel and the United States – jackals!

    This article “The remarkable disappearing act of Israel’s car-bombing campaign in Lebanon or: What we (do not) talk about when we talk about ‘terrorism’” highlights the type of tactics that Arafat was up against. The Israelis set up an organization called the “Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners” which enabled them to target select Palestinians in Lebanon, but blame it on the Front.

    “‘Indeed,’ he adds, ‘subsequent Israeli propaganda notwithstanding, the border between July 1981 and June 1982 enjoyed a state of calm unprecedented since 1968.’

    Sharon was losing patience. As Bergman writes, ‘in the face of this Palestinian restraint, the leaders of the front decided to move up a level.’

    According to the plan, several trucks loaded with about two tons of explosives were to be stationed around a Beirut theater where the PLO leadership planned to have dinner in December. ‘One massive explosion would eliminate the entire PLO leadership,’ Bergman writes. The idea was abandoned (Bergman gives no explanation as to why) and immediately replaced with an even more ambitious (and potentially destructive) scheme. Code-named Olympia 2, it would take place on January 1, 1982. The target: a Beirut stadium where the PLO planned to celebrate the anniversary of its founding.

    Ten days prior to the attack, agents recruited by Dagan positioned large amounts of explosives under the VIP dais where the Palestinian leaders would be sitting, all of them ‘remotely controlled detonation device.’ That was not all however. ‘At one of the unit’s bases three miles from the border,’ Bergman explains, ‘three vehicles – a truck loaded with a ton and a half of explosives and two Mercedes sedans with 550 pounds each – had been prepared.’ On the day of the celebration, ‘three Shiite members of the Front for the Liberation of Lebanon from Foreigners’ would drive these vehicles and park them outside the stadium. ‘They would be detonated by remote control about a minute after the explosives under the dais,’ the author writes, ‘when the panic was at its height and the people who had survived were trying to get away,’ before adding: ‘The death and destruction were expected to be of unprecedented proportions, even in terms of Lebanon,’ in the words of a very senior officer of the Northern Command.”

    Begin got wind of the operation, and it was halted one day before it was about to take place, but only because he was worried that the Soviet ambassador may attend the event. He didn’t.

    • September 17, 2018 at 21:41

      Whoever wrote this article should understand, those of us who have been following this debacle for decades, know the real truth, nothing he has written here is truthful. In fact, HBO just did a documentary over the weekend, which explained how the zioiniat bastards (just like they do today) lied to Arafat, along with blood sucking Bill Cliton. Carter was the last hero for the Palestinans. Kushner will be in jail soon, hopefully before he can do more harm.

  10. September 17, 2018 at 08:37

    I read this with huge doubts.

    If Arafat was so good for American-Israeli interests, why did Israel first humiliate and intimidate and then kill him?

    For assassinate him, they certainly did.

    We even managed to get one report, when Sharon was visiting Bush, that Sharon asked to be released from Israel’s pledge not to harm Arafat.

    Of course, Bush complied.

    • September 17, 2018 at 10:47

      I nodded while reading you comment, John. This article is more opinion than fact, and its author’s bias against Arafat is obvious.

    • Joe Lauria
      September 17, 2018 at 11:38

      The author is exceedingly clear. Arafat gave away too much to Israel and the US and having realized that “Arafat wanted to surreptitiously revive the military wing of Fatah in the West Bank and Gaza… It was at that moment that Arafat was killed, in my estimation, certainly by Israel with U.S. acquiescence.”

      That answers your question: “If Arafat was so good for American-Israeli interests, why did Israel first humiliate and intimidate and then kill him?”

      • Joe Lauria
        September 17, 2018 at 11:51

        They had him defanged and then he wanted to revive the military wing…

      • Asad Abukhalil
        September 17, 2018 at 12:41

        thank you for providing the answer, Joe.

Comments are closed.