"Arafat's Goal Is a Lasting Peace With the State of Israel"
I doubt it. Throughout the Oslo peace process, everyone involved -- Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, Egyptians, Saudis, and other Arab leaders -- shared the belief that Arafat wanted peace with Israel. It seemed logical. After all, Arafat had crossed the threshold and recognized Israel, incurring the wrath of secular and religious rejectionists. And he had authorized five limited or interim agreements with the Israelis. Although Arafat held out until the last possible minute and strived for the best deal, he eventually made the compromises necessary to reach those interim agreements.
Unfortunately, such short-term progress masked some disquieting signals about the Palestinian leader's intentions. Every agreement he made was limited and contained nothing he regarded as irrevocable. He was not, in his eyes, required to surrender any claims. Worse, notwithstanding his commitment to renounce violence, he has never relinquished the terror card. Moreover, he is always quick to exaggerate his achievements, even while maintaining an ongoing sense of grievance. During the Oslo peace process, he never prepared his public for compromise. Instead, he led the Palestinians to believe the peace process would produce everything they ever wanted -- and he implicitly suggested a return to armed struggle if negotiations fell short of those unattainable goals. Even in good times, Arafat spoke to Palestinian groups about how the struggle, the jihad, would lead them to Jerusalem. Too often his partners in the peace process dismissed this behavior as Arafat being caught up in rhetorical flourishes in front of his "party" faithful. I myself pressed him when his language went too far or provoked an angry Israeli response, but his stock answer was that he was just talking about the importance of struggling for rights through the negotiation process.
But from the start of the Oslo negotiations in 1993, Arafat focused only on what he was going to receive, not what he had to give. He found it difficult to live without a cause, a struggle, a grievance, and a conflict to define him. Arafat never faced up to what he would have to do -- even though we tried repeatedly to condition him. As a result, when he was finally put to the test with former President Bill Clinton's proposal in December 2000, Arafat failed miserably.
Is there any sign that Arafat has changed and is ready to make historic decisions for peace? I see no indication of it. Even his sudden readiness to seize the mantle of reform is the result of intense pressure from Palestinians and the international community. He is maneuvering now to avoid real reform, not to implement it. And on peace, he does not appear ready to acknowledge the opportunity that existed with Clinton's plan, nor does he seem willing to confront the myths of the Palestinian movement.