"He [Arafat] was not brought into the Oslo process, and he was not encouraged by the Americans, and his forces were not trained by the CIA so that he could lead a wonderful, new Arab state. He was brought in as a colonial governor to do what the Israelis could no longer do: to control the West Bank and Gaza. His task was always to control his people. Not to lead his people. Not to lead a friendly state that would live next to Israel."
Robert Fisk, who has covered the region for 26 years, is considered by many to be simply the best and most knowledgeable correspondent currently working in the Middle East.
L.A. WEEKLY: Your critics accuse you of being a mouthpiece for Arafat. But in your public talks you openly disdain Arafat, calling him — among many other things — a preposterous old man.
ROBERT FISK: I’m more than disdainful! More than disdainful. I always regarded him during his time in Lebanon as being a very cynical and a very despotic man.
Even before he got a chance to run his own state, he was running 13 different secret police forces. Torture was employed in his police stations. And so it was easy to see why the Israelis wanted to use him.
He was not brought into the Oslo process, and he was not encouraged by the Americans, and his forces were not trained by the CIA so that he could lead a wonderful, new Arab state.
He was brought in as a colonial governor to do what the Israelis could no longer do: to control the West Bank and Gaza.
His task was always to control his people. Not to lead his people. Not to lead a friendly state that would live next to Israel.
His job was to control his people, just like all the other Arab dictators do — usually on our behalf. Remember that the Arab states we support — the Mubaraks of Egypt, the Gulf kingdoms, the king of Jordan — when they do have elections, their leaders are elected by 98.7 percent of the vote. In Mubarak’s case, 0.2 percent more than Saddam!
So Arafat fits perfectly into this lexicon of rule. He’s confronted with the choice of either leading the Palestinian people or being the point man for the Israelis.
So does Arafat now, for his own cynical reasons, encourage or support the suicide bombings inside Israel as the Israelis insist he does?
Arafat is a very immoral person, or maybe very amoral. A very cynical man. I remember when the Tal-al-Zaatar refugee camp in Beirut had to surrender to Christian forces in the very brutal Lebanese civil war. They were given permission to surrender with a cease-fire. But at the last moment, Arafat told his men to open fire on the Christian forces who were coming to accept the surrender. I think Arafat wanted more Palestinian "martyrs" in order to publicize the Palestinian position in the war. That was in 1976. Believe me that Arafat is not a changed man.
I think that if he ever actually sees a wounded child, he feels compassion like any other human being. But he’s also a very cynical politician. And he knows that Sharon was elected to offer security to the Israelis. And Arafat knows that every suicide bombing, every killing, every death of a young Israeli, especially inside Israel, is proof that Sharon’s promises are discredited.
On the one hand, he can condemn violence. He can be full of contrition. And in the basic human sense, he probably means it. But he also knows very well that every suicide bombing hits at the Sharon policy, and realizes how that helps him.
Is this current phase the endgame for Arafat? Or his 10th life?
Actually, both Arafat and Sharon are in danger. Throughout Arafat’s life, the more militarily weak he becomes, the stronger he becomes politically. Equally, you might say Mr. Sharon has thrown his entire military at the West Bank, but he is not achieving the security he promised. Further, one day we will have to find out what has happened in the Jenin refugee camp, with the hundreds of corpses — some of which disappeared, some of which appear to have been secretly buried. That will further damage Sharon. So as he becomes stronger militarily, he weakens politically. Way back in 1982, Sharon said he was going to root out terror when 17,500 Arabs were slaughtered during three months in Lebanon. And here we are again.
Author: Marc Cooper
News Service: L.A. Weekly