by Austin Bay
Louis XIV ran a powerful country. In fact, he may have invented
the modern nation state. A few rays from the Sun King still illuminate 21st
Louis Quatorze could lay down the occasional le mot juste. "I am
the state," he said, a sound bite ratifying his autocratic centrality. His
great-grandson, Louis XV, gets credit for another Gallic wisecrack. Upon
assessing his realm's decaying power, Louis XV allegedly mumbled "Apres moi,
le deluge." After I split the scene, expect a biblical flood of trouble.
Yasir Arafat doesn't have a state, but he's always wanted one.
Arafat didn't invent modern terrorism (nor, for that matter, did former
Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin), but he did show a generation of
political leaders how to run a global media campaign as part of a long-term
For two Palestinian generations, Arafat embodied the hope for a
Palestinian state. Though not quite "L'etat c'est Arafat," it was darn
close. Yasir went to Moscow, he addressed the U.N., he danced in a tent with
Vanessa Redgrave and an AK-47. Superpower contacts, U.N. presence, lefty
celebrity hobnob -- the man had the media corona of a national leader, if
not the crown.
When times got tight, Arafat relied on a revised Louis XV riff:
"Without me, utter Hell. Fail to deal with me, then Israel and America can
expect the worst from every Arab nation."
Originally, the bloody flood Arafat "prevented" consisted of
secular revolutionary outfits like the Popular Front for the Liberation of
Palestine-General Command and other groups more radical than Arafat's
Palestinian Liberation Organization.
Over time, however, the cosmopolitan killers like George Habash
faded as "threats beyond Arafat," to be replaced by fanatical religious
groups like Hizbullah and Hamas, and Islamist sociopaths like Osama bin
Laden. Victory over Russia in Afghanistan burnished the reputation of "holy
warriors," and bin Laden cleverly hijacked their success to his own ends.
To the Islamists, Arafat was "ancien regime," as dead as any
French king. Arafat tried to adapt his politics, but Hamas used Arafat's
autocratic corruption against him. Hamas backed health clinics and aided
impoverished Palestinians, the domestic state burdens Arafat's PLO
leadership cadre neglected in favor of building themselves Mediterranean
villas in Gaza. No, a Gaza villa isn't Versailles, but it beats a bunker in
The Islamist pitch to the Palestinians said secular revolt
failed. Fat cat Arafat chats with Washington, the real source of Muslim
misery, while our martyrs (suicide bombers) kill Israelis. Our version of
Holy War will is God-driven. We are the future.
Yes, Arafat has a record for surviving his mistakes. He sided
with Saddam and beat that goof. However, his biggest strategic error was his
rejection of Israel's peace deal in the summer of 2000. Perhaps any deal
would have ignited an internecine Palestinian war, but instead of waging
that necessary civil war with the support of the United States and Israel,
Arafat chose renewed intifada with Israel. Arafat gambled
"internationalizing" the issue of Palestinian statehood might result in a
"better deal." Intifada, no doubt, appeased the Islamists.
However, intifada brought Ariel Sharon, he of the "blunt
instrument school" of politics, to power in Israel.
On Sept. 11, a different kind of deluge struck not just the
Middle East, but the rest of the planet's anarchic fiefs that thrive on
embedded grievances, reactionary anti-Americanism and violence. That deluge
is an aroused and active America angered by terrorist assault -- a
dramatically changed geo-strategic environment Arafat did not expect.
Israel and Palestine are now fighting a dirty war, and Israel is
winning. Sharon is taking "all the necessary steps" to ensure Israeli
security -- an offensive against Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.
Arafat now indicates he's ready to fight that civil war with
Hamas. Yes, the Islamist collapse in Afghanistan could actually give Arafat
a chance to whip them. Al Qaeda has suffered utter defeat, diminishing the
appeal of Islamist violence.
However, what Arafat does or does not do may no longer matter.
Israel and the United States are both on the offensive against the chaos
beyond Arafat. After Arafat will come ... someone else. It may be that
someone is a chastened Hamas leader who notices bin Laden's "God-driven
revelation" has led to defeat and Arafat's lack of decisiveness has led to
Chastened terrorists can act in the cause of peace. After all,
Menachem Begin returned Sinai to Egypt.