Q&A Portion Of The Hearing Entitled, "Are Yasser Arafat And The Palestinian Authority Credible Partners For Peace?"
By The House Armed Services Committee's Special Oversight Panel on Terrorism
Thursday, June 6th, 2002 @ 6:46AM
Mr. SAXTON. You have each documented for us your perception of the character of Yasser Arafat. I would just like to open up with kind of a general question about our understanding of terrorist leaders, as exemplified by Chairman Arafat.
It seems to me that, over the years that we have been dealing with this subject, it has become fairly evident, at least to me, that it is very difficult for Western people to come to grips with the nature of terrorism, terrorists, and terrorist leaders. We tend to view these things from a Western perspective. We tend to view Yasser Arafat from a Western perspective. That is natural because we are Westerners.
We have a way of thinking that has been at least demonstrated to me to be quite different than the thought patterns and the processes used in thinking by the likes of Arafat. As a result, we have—it seems to me we have had a very difficult time coming to grips with the realities that are faced—that we face today.
In 1993, Yossef Bodansky, who is sitting in the front row, wrote a book called Target America. On page 15 of the book he wrote these words: According to a former terrorist trainee, one of the exercises included having an Islamic Jihad detachment seize or hijack a transport aircraft. Then trained air crews from among the terrorists would crash the airliner with passengers into a selected target.
That was 8 years before 9/11, and we as a society—I am using this as an example—we as a society refused to come to grips with that possibility, and we were shocked in September of 2001 when that very thing occurred.
So how can we as a group of people who care deeply about developing understandings that permit us to deal with these issues, how can we use Yasser Arafat as an example to the rest of the world as to what these people and leaders are all about?
Ms. EHRENFELD. I think that we can actually sit and read out loud the other books that Mr. Badanski has written, because everything that he has written before, unfortunately, came to fruition, including bin Ladin.
The basic difference I think between various terrorist organizations that exist in the world and terrorist organizations like bin Ladin and the ones that Arafat is leading, the difference is that they are based—they are using religion as a tool. And Islamic radical Muslim countries are run differently than other countries. They have a system where the bia—they call it a bia—which is an alleged agreement between the ruler and the people he rules, the ruler will see to it that nothing will change, and they will vote for him in place of the elections.
Look at Egypt, at Tunisia, and other places. These are not free elections. The rulers continue to do what they are doing, and they incite the people. Poverty is growing. Corruption is tremendous. And when religion is playing this role, this is the most important and uniting factor, the thinking is different. It is different. To illustrate how the thinking is different, we are talking about the suicide bombers, for example.
Arafat is high up there. He is a political inciter, if you want. Bin Ladin is the same. The mullahs are the same. But then you have the master terrorists that are training the people, that are recruiting the people, that are arming the people, that are giving them the explosives, that are sending them out, that are planning the whole thing. Those people are behind. Most of them are not known to us. Sheik Hasein is one that was released from prison, unfortunately; and he is back in Gaza.
To study how these people think, how they send their armies, these weapons, the suicide bombers, is a very interesting thing to do. If we will concentrate more on studying how this is happening, learn the process, I think we will understand more what can be done in order to stop it. Because by the time we understand how in general people like Arafat think, it will be too late.
There was a study just recently conducted by an Israeli by the name of Annetta Bacho. She studied those master terrorists who are sending the suicide bombers out. She had the opportunity to interview them and test them, and she found out—it is a long study. I won’t go into it. But what she found was that had these people known the master terrorists who sent other people to die and to kill many others, had they known that their families would be punished, they would not do what they are doing. They would stop.
That is something that we should consider and look into, just—in order to—before even understanding anything, because we have to stop this from happening, because it is coming here.
Mr. SAXTON. Ambassador.
Ambassador INDYK. Well, I am not convinced that that is a viable approach. It is clear that the suicide bombers’ families are endorsing and supporting what they are doing and being rewarded financially for that.
I will try to answer your question in a little bit of a different way, Mr. Chairman.
The problem with using Arafat in the way that you want to is that within much of the rest of the world, particularly in the Arab world, there has been a lot of confusion or blurring of the line between terrorist acts—that is, the act of taking the lives of innocent people—and what is referred to as resistance struggles or liberation struggles. As a result of the blurring of that line, which the Palestinian terrorist organizations did a lot to do, there is a lot of support for the use of terrorism against Israelis as a legitimate means to try to end the Israeli occupation.
So certainly in the Arab press and in Arab society, before September the 11th, these kinds of terrorist activities were hailed as resistance operations, as martyrdom operations and not as suicide bombings. In the wake of September the 11th, with the President taking the lead in terms of this moral clarity, when he said very clearly, you know, there is no distinction between good terrorism and bad terrorism, it is all terrorism and nothing can justify the taking of innocent lives, you saw some in the Arab world, particularly in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, the leadership there, taking a different stance and saying that these kinds of operations are not acceptable within Islam. And Sheik Alazhar and the Sheik of the Holy Mosque of Mecca also came out and opposed any kind of terrorism as terrorism and as against Islam.
The problem when it comes actually to applying the rule to Yasser Arafat is that our own administration is reluctant to draw the same conclusion. Yes, of course, they condemn the terrorism as suicide bombing. But they don’t—or they avoid the conclusion that Yasser Arafat has some responsibility for this.
If you look at the reports required by the Congress to examine these issues, the PLO Commitments and Compliance Act Report, for instance, which was sent up to Congress last month, or even in the terrorism report that the State Department issues, you will see in the two latest reports there is an avoidance of reaching the conclusion that Yasser Arafat is involved in these kinds of terrorist activities; and I think that is a mistake.
You will see Assistant Secretary Kelly, Assistant Secretary for Legislative Affairs, in a cover letter to the transmittal letter to the report saying that whether or not—I am paraphrasing here—whether or not Yasser Arafat is involved in terrorism it is not in the national interest of the United States to reach such a conclusion at this time.
And I would argue with that. I think it is time to reach such a collision and that that will have a much stronger impact on the battle against terrorism, particularly in terms of affecting the climate in the Arab world.
Mr. SAXTON. Ambassador, you make a very good point; and let me just emphasize the point that you make, except you and I have one difference that has to do with timing.
When Chairman Arafat and Prime Minister Rabin were invited to the Rose Garden for that famous handshake and signing, I was invited to be there. I declined to go because I at that time had drawn the same conclusion that you now draw. And I was right. So it is a bit unfair, as you having been part of that administration, for you to now claim that it is time for this administration to draw the conclusion that I drew in 1993.
Ambassador INDYK. If I can respond to that?
I think history has proven you right. I think Mr. Phillips in his testimony made clear the reason that Yasser Arafat was brought to the White House lawn. That is, that an agreement was reached between him and the government of Israel, and he made certain commitments to renounce terrorism and to fight terrorism. As I said in my own presentation, he did not live up to those commitments. He was put to the test by an elected government of Israel in an attempt to try to achieve peace between Israel the Palestinians, and the United States supported that effort and that test. But the test—the results are clear. So I think we need to draw the conclusion.
Mr. SAXTON. The results are clear, and the results were clear. That agreement came about with much pressure from the United States administration at that time, and it was not an agreement——
Ambassador INDYK. It was actually done behind our backs.
Mr. SAXTON [continuing]. Willfully entered into by the democracy that we know as Israel.
Mr. PHILLIPS. Well, I think one reason there is a lot of misconceptions and misunderstandings of Yasser Arafat is that we have failed to appreciate the degree to which he is, first and foremost, a revolutionary. You know, he is not into terrorism just for the sake of terrorism. There is a method to his madness. That method is to attain control over the Palestinian people and play a role within the broader Arab world. As other Arab states, including Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, have found out to their disappointment, Arafat was very quick to turn against them. Despite support—financial support they gave him, he went with Saddam Hussein and supported the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.
He used his revolutionary tactics and terrorism not only to intimidate Palestinian moderates and outmaneuver traditional Palestinian leaders, but it is—this commitment to revolution is reflected in some of the slogans of the Palestinian movement, the revolution until victory.
I would argue that he cares more about revolution and his status within the Palestinian’s revolution than he does about the Palestinian people which he cynically uses to push forward his own revolutionary role within the Palestinian politics and within the broader Arab world.
I would argue that he was interested in a peace process but not in a genuine peace. Because in a peace process he was able to reenter the territories and build up his infrastructure on the West Bank and Gaza, but he knew that if he actually signed a final peace agreement with Israel that would undermine him within the revolutionary camp and lead to problems down the line for him.
I don’t think that he was willing—in order for the Oslo process to work, I think there had to be a Palestinian civil war in which pragmatic Palestinians defeated revolutionaries. Unfortunately, I don’t think that Arafat was ever going to do that.
I mean, I would like to say that the Irish situation, where you had more pragmatic Irish revolutionaries restrain the ultraradical who were interested in northern Ireland as well as southern Ireland, there couldn’t be peace in southern Ireland until the ultraradicals were overthrown. That didn’t happen in the Palestinian revolutionary camp.
I would say that Arafat should be understood as the leader of a gang in which he doesn’t care as much about what happens to his own people as long as the gang stays in power, and I think the failure to understand that has led to much wishful thinking.
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you.
Dr. Ehrenfeld, do you have a follow-up?
Ms. EHRENFELD. I wanted to call attention again to the corruption that Arafat has brought with him and was known—or should have been known—back in 1993.
Like you, Mr. Chairman, I was not invited to the White House lawn, but I wrote an article in the Wall Street Journal detailing how much money Arafat and the Palestinean Liberation Army (PLA) has, how much money they have stolen, stashed away, money that was contributed to the Palestinian people for many, many years. He claimed poverty, and we started to give him money, and other international organizations started to give him money, and billions of dollars disappeared. Where are they? They have been used to fund terrorist activities and to buy property all over the world, including in the United States.
I think that one of the things that we should do, once the air is a little bit cleared, is to find out where the money is and give it to the Palestinian people who deserve it.
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you.
Mr. TURNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Ambassador, I wanted to address the comments you made; and I must say at the outset, as the ranking Democrat on this panel, I have no insight into the administration’s thinking. But I would say that to draw the conclusion, as I think you drew a minute ago, when you said the administration is avoiding the conclusion that Arafat has some responsibility for terrorism is a statement that I would have to disagree with.
Because I have a sense, particularly in light of the President’s comments of his distrust or the fact that Arafat has not earned his trust, the clear sense that the administration and the President question Arafat’s role and, in fact, understand his role and responsibility for terrorism. As all of our witnesses have said, Arafat has proved to be unreliable. He has proved to be duplicitous. He has proven, for his own interests, not to be willing to take on the more radical elements of the Palestinian movement, as opposed to siding with the, as you said, Mr. Phillips, some of the more pragmatic elements of the Palestinian movement.
So it seems to me that the difficulty that perhaps the administration faces is not in the conclusion as to whether or not Arafat is trustworthy or not, which seems to be a conclusion that we have all reached that he is not, but the issue is, what is the next step? How do you assist in bringing more moderate leadership to the Palestinian people?
If the answer was to take Arafat out, the Israelis had that opportunity when they held his compound and held him within his compound for days. Whether the failure of the Israelis to take him out at that time was the result of their own judgment or some message from the White House, I have no way of knowing. But the judgment was obviously made by someone.
I suspect that the reason that he was not taken out is because the end game has not yet been determined. That is, the path toward putting in place some more moderate leadership within the Palestinian movement has not been worked out. And nobody has this game plan. Nobody sees how we get from here to there.
I guess my question, Ambassador, for you, having drawn the conclusion that you have, what would you advise the administration to do to assist in achieving more moderate leadership within the Palestinian movement and leadership that would sit down at the negotiating table and strike a deal for peace?
Ambassador INDYK. I think you are absolutely right in your posing of the dilemma. But what I do feel now is that the time is ripe for reaching the conclusion, rather than avoiding reaching the conclusion. And I say that because something has changed on the Palestinian side in the last month. That is to say, the opposition to the arbitrary rule that Yasser Arafat has imposed on the Palestinians of the corrupt leadership and the nonrepresentative leadership that the Palestinians have had to live with for the past 9 years has now produced an overwhelming demand from the Palestinian people for a change, for a change in their leadership. That is what reform, the call for reform, is about.
So although it is hard to delineate the exact path in which this is going to go down, I think that at this particular moment for the United States to stand up and say we think the Palestinian people deserve a responsible, representative, democratic, transparent, accountable leadership, and we support the Palestinian people in the demand for that and when they achieve that we will work with that leadership to achieve an independent Palestinian state which the President has now committed the United States to doing—but, until that time, we are not going to deal with Yasser Arafat.
I believe that, in these circumstances, that can help the process of reform more than continuing to grapple with the dilemma without reaching that decision. Because the more we delay that decision the more we find ourselves in a situation where, when we send our diplomats out to the region to talk about reform, they have no choice but to deal with Yasser Arafat, or when we send the director of the CIA, George Tenet, out to deal with the restructuring of the services, he deals with Yasser Arafat. As a result, the process of reform, the demand for reform is channeled in a direction which doesn’t produce reform at all.
If you will allow me to give one example of this in terms of the restructuring of the security, Yasser Arafat announced his restructuring plans before George Tenet arrived to see him and he put in place to head this restructured security apparatus General Yickya. He is a very fine gentleman. I know him well, and I have negotiated with him. But he is not in a position to exercise control over the security forces or revamp them. He is totally dependent of Yasser Arafat, which is the way that Yasser Arafat wants it to be. Basically, what the maneuvering that is going on here does is to ensure that Arafat retains all authority in his own hands. It is a kind of sham reform.
How do we avoid giving the impression to the Palestinian people that we are endorsing that if we continue to meet with him and continue to discuss those things with him? It is very difficult.
So I believe that from a policy perspective, rather than political perspective, we are better off at this point taking a stand, as previous administrations have done from time to time, including Bush 91, which broke relations with Yasser Arafat, suspended relations with Yasser Arafat because of his involvement and the involvement of a constituent organization in the Achille Lauro affair.
So it is not unprecedented. The question is whether it would be helpful or harmful to the effort to try to achieve a more responsible leadership, and I believe at this moment it would be helpful to reach that judgment.
Mr. TURNER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. SAXTON. Thank you, Mr. Turner.
Mr. HAYES. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
I am confused. Not by the issue, I am very clear on Arafat is a terrorist. What is confusing to me is how do you separate Arafat and his supporters from those Palestinians who would be peace-loving, democracy-seeking individuals? That is the first question.
I also like your comments on something that I have heard recently. I don’t remember the source. But, basically, it says that this is the only case in history where people have been maintained—my word not theirs—as so-called refugees for over 50 years. It is clearly a manipulation by individuals to perpetrate an ongoing crime against their own people in order to change their own status or to maintain their status as terrorists and murderers.
Could you answer the first and comment on the second? I am not sure who to call on. Dr. Ehrenfeld, if you volunteer.
Ms. EHRENFELD. I think that I agree with you. I think that—I don’t think, I know that the refugee camps are still refugees, because none of the Arab countries want them to solve the problem. There was no call before 1997 for any Palestinian state whatsoever. Even after Arafat had taken over the territories in 1994, what we are talking about, the occupation—what occupation? He had been there. He was supposed to see to it that the place would develop and the people would be better off. And what happened? It is much worse.
He has been controlling the area, not the Israelis. The Israelis went in now with the suicide bombing to clean up.
The occupation, I don’t think it is only Arafat and a few of his friends that are running the Palestinian Authority. I think it has a lot to do with Saudi Arabia and Iran and Syria and Egypt that are continuing and are interested to continue the refugee status for their own reasons.
So when we are looking at the solution there, we have to look into the larger political issue as well.
Without Saudi funding, Yasser Arafat could not be where he is today. They are not only funding the Hamas, they are heavily funding Arafat and the suicide bombings; and the Arab bank is the major channel for all of this money, the Saudi bank. So I think it is a much larger issue that we have to deal with if we really want to approach it and understand, or actually to understand it, then to approach and try to solve it.
Mr. HAYES. Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, and a couple of others have been declared pariahs and agreed to by the rest of the majority of the free world. What is keeping us from making the same declaration on Arafat? Ambassador.
Ambassador INDYK. Well, I think it is a difficult dilemma. If you don’t deal with Yasser Arafat, who do you deal with on the Palestinian side? Therefore, how do you get out of this crisis? If the U.S. Wants to try to use its influence to try to get out of this crisis, it needs to deal with somebody on the Palestinian side. That is the reason why there has been a reluctance to take the stand in Arafat’s case in the way that we have done with others who have failed the test of leadership or refused to give up on support for terrorism.
The basic problem that the Administration has now is that it is under intense pressure to do something to stop the fighting and to launch a viable political process. But it doesn’t have the tools to work with. There is no Palestinian structure and leadership that is willing to fight the terrorists and stop the terrorists, and there is no Palestinian political leadership that the Israelis would be prepared to deal with at the moment in terms of establishing a viable negotiation. There is, in effect, no partner on the Palestinian side, so there are various attempts to try to deal with this dilemma.
You may have seen Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt, in an interview with the New York Times 2 days ago where he said, let’s use Arafat now. He is in a weak position, he will make all the compromises, and then in a year from now we will appoint somebody more responsible in his place.
Mr. HAYES. I don’t want to take the time of the gentleman.
Mr. SAXTON. Let me say where we are. We started these hearings at 8:30 to try to avoid what is happening now. But here we are. We have a 15-minute vote. There is a motion to adjourn. Then we have a 15-minute vote on Dennis Kucinich’s resolution, and we have a 15-minute vote on the journal, and then a 5-minute vote on a rule. So I guess we can take the next 5 or 10 minutes and then it is probably realistic to draw this hearing to a close.
Mr. SNYDER. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
With the chairman’s indulgence, I know you three are academics and have a lot to say. I would like to ask a question for the record, if I might. My question for the record is, I hope you all will feel free to respond to anything you have said or heard today or anything you think of later and provide it to the staff here and/or to me, and I will be glad to see that it gets distributed to all of the members of the panel.
Mr. Ambassador, I would like to direct my questions to you for the next 5 minutes, if I might. I appreciated visiting with you in December of 2000 when I visited there. You were very, very helpful and did an excellent job on behalf of America.
You mentioned the polling data of the 34 percent support for Arafat and overwhelming support for reform. How much freedom do the Palestinian people have within their own ranks to bring about that reform? How realistic is it to expect that kind of reform to come any time soon from the Palestinian people?
Ambassador INDYK. I think it is very realistic. You already see Yasser Arafat responding to those demands for reform, first of all, by calling for new elections. He then kind of maneuvered to say, to put a condition on it that Israel would have to withdrew at least from the A areas first before such elections could take place, therefore postponing the day. But it is an indication of his feeling the need to respond to it.
The restructuring of the security service was a Palestinian demand. He is now responding to that. The reduction of the size of his cabinet is a similar demand, and he is now responding to that.
But it is always—there is a kind of dialectic here between what the Palestinians demand for themselves and what the international community demands of the Palestinian leadership. Because Arafat has gained a lot of his legitimacy from the fact that he has support from the international community and from the Arab world, that he is recognized internationally as the leader of the Palestinian people.
If it becomes clear that the outside world is supporting the Palestinian people in their demands, that increases the pressure on him. But, ultimately, while he stays in power, there is going to be a limit to how real these reforms are going to be; and then the question will be whether the Palestinian people will be satisfied with that or not.
Mr. SNYDER. My second question is, I think there was a statement I heard in the last day or two, again from the Israeli leadership, that there will be no negotiations until all violence has stopped. We see that same tone taken somewhat in the Kashmir situation, that nothing—there will be no sit-down until all cross-border stuff is stopped.
It seems to me from my position here, not being in the diplomatic corps, that that kind of statement puts the power in the hands of the most extreme elements, that someone who is successful and may be entirely independent of any kind of line of authority from anyone, if they are successful in some kind of incident of violence can shut down negotiations. We saw that with the assassination of Mr. Rabin. What is your thoughts about that as a precondition for negotiation?
Ambassador INDYK. Well, it is a principle that the Israeli government observes more in the bridge. Because I think the prime minister is responding to two different political impulses. The first got him elected. That is, the Israeli people rejected the idea of negotiating under fire, which the previous government had done and had made far-reaching concessions under fire;and his—Sharon’s overwhelming victory was because the Israelis just could not abide by that kind of process.
On the other hand, the other impulse that he is feeling is that the Israelis want a solution, they need a solution, and they understand that it can’t be achieved by force alone. Although overwhelming numbers of Israelis support the use of force to respond to the terror, they also in large numbers, talking about 60 or 70 percent, support the idea of a negotiated solution. They want a political horizon.
For that reason, the Prime Minister has allowed his foreign minister to engage in negotiations with Abu Alla, one of the leaders of the Palestinians, during this period while the fighting has gone on. For that reason, the Prime Minister has proposed—he proposed a regional conference which the United States has now taken up. What is the purpose of the regional conference but to launch a negotiation?
So I think that, in effect, you are dealing with two very difficult propositions. There is a pure principle of not negotiating under fire. That is a reasonable position. There is plenty of historical precedent for that in other conflicts, that there should be a cease fire and a commitment to resolve the problem through negotiations, not through the use of violence.
Mr. SAXTON. Ambassador, thank you very much. If I may just interrupt, Mr. Hill has one final question.
Mr. HILL. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Very quickly, Mr. Ambassador, does the polling data include polling of the refugees?
Ambassador INDYK. Yes, I believe so. The polling that the Palestinians do themselves, it is very credible polling.
Mr. HILL. The final question is, should the State Department reenlist Arafat and the PLO as a terrorist organization?
Ms. EHRENFELD. Yes.
Mr. HILL. Is that part of the solution? I guess that is the broader question.
Ambassador INDYK. I think it is time to reach some moral clarity on this issue.
Mr. SAXTON. I am really sorry, but we are going to have to go vote. I want to express our deep gratitude for each of you traveling here to be with us this morning. These are indeed very difficult times, and your testimony from each of your point of views has helped us gain a little bit better understanding of that which we face.
Thank you very much.