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MER WEEKEND READING:
GERONOFAT - Part 2
"Now I well understand your predicament, Yasser.
Your people aren't as shroud as you. They're
not willing to admit that they've been defeated
and accept their fate on reservations. They're
not willing to reconcile themselves to a future
sandwiched between us Zionists on the left and
the Hashemites on the right. They don't
understand that they've run out of options; that
we, the victor, are being magnanimous!"
Rabin to Arafat
"OK, Yitzhak, it was a terrible idea about giving
Bill my gun and holster at the White House. Some of
my advisers really are crazy you know....sometimes
I think they work for the CIA...or maybe the
Mossad! So OK, Yitzhak. You and your American
friends have pretty much destroyed the
PLO and vanquished my people. You have trampled
on our spirits and pounded and tortured us into
submission. So you have beaten us, Yitzhak, but
you have not destroyed us -- and the cost of trying
to do so would be far too great for you, for the
Americans, and for the Arab regimes who still could
be swept away if this region erupts. And I
Yitzhak, I am your best insurance against this!"
Arafat to Rabin
MID-EAST REALITIES - www.MiddleEast.Org - Washington - 7/16/00:
This article titled "Geronofat" was originally published in a number of Middle East newspapers shortly after the Oslo Agreement and the ceremony on the White House lawn that brought Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin together for the first time. It was written at that time by Mark Bruzonsky, now the Publisher of "Mid-East Realities". Bruzonsky has met Arafat personally a number of times, including in Beirut, at a private dinner with him in Cairo in 1985, and at another private meeting in Tunis in 1991. Bruzonsky was the live on-air commentator for Canadian national television (CTV) throughout the White House Arafat-Rabin signing ceremony in September 1993. His books about the Middle East have been published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian, Congressional Quarterly, and National Geographic. The author can be reached by email at MAB@MiddleEast.Org and by phone at (202) 362-5266.
G E R O N O F A T
AND THE PALESTINIAN RESERVATIONS
By Mark A. Bruzonsky*
[Washington - 7 Jan 94]
There are at least two competing theories about the political theater being played out, both publicly and privately, by the oddest couple of modern-day politics, non other than Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin.
The more prevalent of the two theories goes something like this:
Both Rabin and Arafat are on thin ice with their own constituencies, and so, even though they took the historic decision to team up with each other (symbolized by their shaking of hands on the White House lawn last September) both are pressed to prove to their own flocks that neither is being outmaneuvered by the other.
Arafat, so this story goes, simply must have at least some trappings of potential Statehood, something to argue with however meager; even if the realities of Palestinian existence are to take place under Israeli tutelage and bondage for the foreseeable future.
Rabin, on the other hand, needs to show that "autonomy" is just that and no more.
And so, this mainstream theory goes, it is this predicament which explains the stalled Israeli-PLO talks and the lack of progress in getting the "autonomy" underway and the Israeli army withdrawing from at least Gaza and Jericho.
But there's another theory too, this one not much discussed in the establishment press where most polite, well-educated and well-healed people are supposed to get their cues these days.
At the heart of this alternative theory is the nagging suspicion that the two world-class politicos, Rabin and Arafat, are actually helping each other by purposefully delaying implementation of their deal, purposefully building up each other's credibility by publicly criticizing each other, and purposefully slowing everything down to a pace more manageable by them.
Add to this the basic fact that today's PLO is a mere phantom of its former self, with Arafat's core organization, Fateh, quite unprepared to actually take over, especially in Gaza where its support is minimal, and quite likely to actually lose the elections that are supposed to take place a few months after the Oslo agreement is put into effect.
And so, in such a situation, Rabin knows that Arafat knows that holding back and not setting the clock in motion for elections is really what Arafat wants but can't say.
Furthermore, Arafat knows that once he does take charge, once the clock toward elections starts ticking for real, he's in bigger trouble than ever. Having delivered very little to the Palestinians other than becoming warden of their largest prison, Gaza, and Mayor of the small sleepy town of Jericho, Arafat's support is likely to continue dwindling and winning a fair election is more and more out of the question for him.
Thus Rabin has been recently quoted to the effect that while he prefers that the Palestinians pursue democracy, he has no way of insisting that the Palestinians hold elections. Thus, Rabin has extended a very clear signal to Chairman Arafat, and the Americans as well, that the Israelis will help the new PLO control the Palestinians however Arafat chooses to go about it.
Now the dynamic duo, Rabin and Arafat, have met a few times in private. Both are very much aware of the constant need to worry about their public images. Both are very much aware that Netanyahu and Likud are breathing hard down Rabin's back; while all around Arafat swirl forces eager to push him from his wobbling pedestal.
For Rabin the defeat by Likudnik Ehud Olmert of long-time Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kolleck, a leading light of the Labor Party, seemed a forecast of what might be coming should he slip or should Arafat loose control and a political vacuum result.
For Arafat his complete defeat in the student elections at Bir Zeit -- the most prestigious Palestinian University and one not that far from Jericho -- was devastating. After personally phoning in for his candidates and after sending his lieutenants, including Feisal Husseini, to promise everything they could think of including the possibility of renewing the armed struggle(!), Fatah's total defeat at Bir Zeit was a clear indication of just how marginal Arafat's backing actually is at the grassroots level, no matter what slogans he continues to promote.
It seems to this analyst that both theories are partially on target, that the situation in Israel and Palestine has grown so complex and so convoluted that no one is really quite sure what to expect, or even how to discuss a situation that is full of such contradictions, permutations, and duplicities.
Arafat clearly needs to buy more time to better prepare his people for submission, to arm his own police, to get the Israelis use to his ways.
Rabin, ever the cautious, doesn't mind waiting, is at least for now in the drivers seat, and is taking his time adjusting to the idea that he has in effect become Arafat's benefactor and protector. Furthermore, manipulating today's situation of uncertainty, Rabin is trying to corner either or both Assad and Hussein into making their own deals with Israel and reaping the public and private rewards that would result.
And so, in the context of this political whirlwind, just imagine for a moment a few hushed conversations in past months between Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin when they are completely alone and keeping just their own counsel:
"Yasser, you and I are making history and we're simply stuck with each other. I don't think either of us likes the other..but so what! You and I have been cooking this dinner and we're going to have to eat it together, hot or cold tasty or awful. You and I, Yasser, we are just going to have to act out our roles, work together, and find ways to move ahead. It will be very difficult...but then we always have known that, haven't we?"
"Yes, Yitzhak, it will be very difficult. But you know we really have a chance to bring the wars to an end and to remake this entire Middle East region. After all we really are cousins. One day you and I must go to Hebron together and visit the gravesite of our common forebear Abraham. But you, Yitzhak, must always now realize that having done what I have done I can only continue to lead the Palestinian people, as I have for so long, now with your help. For my problems are even greater than yours, Yitzhak..."
"Now believe me, Yasser, I know your problems. You should see all the information I get about you and your people! I probably know more about most of them then you do! For me it's just political survival....after all I can retire anytime if I want to. For you it's a matter of keeping you physically alive. Why do you think we want you to live in Jericho, far away from Gaza! Yes, I know, our only hope to make things work is to help you stay on top....why do you think we rushed you to the White House?
"Now Yasser let's stop pretending... You've surrendered and both we and the Americans let you do so with quite a show didn't we! Now by the way, I didn't have a chance to tell you before, but that idea of handing over your gun to Clinton at the White House ceremony was really far out -- whoever put that one in your head ought to immediately be given an Ambassadorship somewhere...somewhere far away!"
"Yitzhak...it was my idea....mine along with Nabil Shaath. And you know, very frankly, I have thought for some time that Nabil has been working with you and the Americans as well as with me; so really I thought it was your idea and that Bill would be pleased! None of my other advisers would be so fool-hardy and daring...nearly all of them are just "yes men"...you know many of my best people have resigned!.
"But, OK, Yitzhak, maybe I was abit impulsive... Lucky I checked, wasn't it! Now you know, Suha and her mother Ramonda have been urging me to be more dynamic, with a greater sense of history, with more flare. Haven't you noticed the little changes in my dress uniform? And remember how I handled myself so confidently and boldly at the White House after Bill instructed us about what to do?"
"Anyway, Yasser, you and I know that in reality you have turned over your gun and surrendered because you're out of ammunition. Not to mention money, we got that cut off too! And between you and I, Yasser, you know we had to kill some of your top people -- or otherwise we might not be here talking like this. So, we defeated you! But we have not destroyed you. We Jews cannot carry out massacres -- not really big ones anyway. Besides we now want to work with what's left of your PLO. You can keep calling it that; but you and I know it's just a rump organization now.
"You are a man of destiny, Yasser, and the PLO must now evolve and become the civil administration for the few areas of what you once knew as Palestine where your people still live. But always remember, Yasser, we can only continue supporting you if you now take control and stop the violence and control those terrorists! And furthermore Yasser, don't think we've forgotten. You've got to get the Palestine National Charter changed too....we just stopped talking about it when you explained to us that if you were forced to call a P.N.C. instead of a new Charter we might have gotten a new Chairman! And while I'm at it, remind me next time we talk...we need to get the Arab boycott ended...and we need your help!
"By the way, have you and Suha managed to see that great new movie GERONOMO? Did you notice just how gracefully Geronomy handed over his rifle -- and imagine, they did such things like that back then for reasons of honor, there weren't even cameras following them around back then."
"GERONOMY...let me see. Oh yes, Yitzhak, you mean the Indian Chief... Yes, I do recall someone told me about some American Jewish writer who use to represent the World Jewish Congress....yes I met him a few times, a short man like me....but then I've met almost everyone haven't I... So I was told he called me GERONOFAT. Tell me what you know about this just in case someone should ask me."
"Now look, Yasser, we don't have all that much time...we'll get you the movie...maybe you'll get some new ideas...
"Now I well understand your predicament, Yasser. Your people aren't as shroud as you. They're not willing to admit that they've been defeated and accept their fate on reservations. They're not willing to reconcile themselves to a future sandwiched between us Zionists on the left and the Hashemites on the right. They don't understand that they've run out of options; that we, the victor, are being magnanimous!
"You know, Yasser, we've been meeting with Hashemites and other Arab tribes alot longer than you and they've always been alot more concerned about themselves than about you Palestinians. Do you know how many secret agreements with Arab leaders we have in our files?
"So, OK Yasser. Yes, I now know that you know that the only way for you to stay on top and for the Palestinian people to escape total destruction is now to work with us. And yes, we now need you while you need us. Our two political parties, Fateh and Labor, have been dancing toward each other for a very long time now -- I've read the reports for years about all this. And we know very well that if you weren't around we'd have to deal with Hamas and the radicals and then there would be alot more bloodshed and political headaches for everyone. The American especially don't want this; nor do the Saudis and the Egyptians who have plenty of troubles of their own. Now it's very important we get control of things here and at the very least make it appear that we are making progress in resolving our differences.
"Furthermore, Yasser, you know I know that your people simply aren't as aware as you and I have to be that the Cold War is over and the Americans want things fixed up over here or else. Now what's really at stake for them is cheap oil, and lots of it. Plus they've also got alot of arms to sell and alot of petrodollars they need back. We've got to help them if we expect them to continue to help us. And if you want to stay on top, Yasser, you better play ball and let's have no more of your old tricks. You won't survive if you cross us; and I think you know that.
"So Yasser, stop kidding yourself! OK, yes, we can and we will give you a few face-saving gestures now and then. But don't even think that the Americans and the client-regimes they sponsor in this region are going to let a few million Palestinian people ever again threaten their basic interests.
"And finally, Yasser, let me remind you of something else. You'll get a better deal with me than with any other Israeli who's likely to hold this office. Furthermore I can deliver on what I agree to; and we expect you to delivery on your side. So play your role, do what has to be done. OK, I know that we're going to have to poke abit at each other in public; but we have no choice but to work things out and when the chips are down you have no choice but to agree in one way or another."
"OK, Yitzhak, you've leveled with me, now let me do the same with you.
"Yes, Suha told me she does want to see this GERONOMY movie some evening... All I know is that he was a defeated Indian chief. But that was a long time ago and we Palestinians are not Red Indians! Look I told three different of my men to get me the movie; but still, yes, it would be a good idea for you to do so. You know I can't trust anybody these days! Suha is so mad at that American Jew in Washington for calling me GERONOFAT. I do not really understand. So yes I will see this movie soon; you know I watch too many cartoons anyway!
"OK, Yitzhak, it was a terrible idea about giving Bill my holster and gun. Some of my advisers really are crazy you know....sometimes I think they work for the CIA...or maybe the Mossad! You know, Nabil for instance, he spent all those years at the Wharton School in Pennsylvania and very frankly I send him to do the negotiations because I think he also works with you and them as well as with me. But you know, sometimes he agrees to things that really go much too far. After all I've got to get up and try to explain these things to my people, not just to Arab Americans and the Western press at fancy receptions as he does.
"Yes, OK, I admit it....OK...yes...yes....we've surrendered. Yes, yes, we now need you and the Americans and their client regimes in this region too. But, Yitzhak, you need us too!
"Now honestly, all I have heard is that this Indian Chief Geronomy was forced to surrender -- he was lied to and they sent him off to prison and never allowed him to return to his homeland. We Palestinians are not Red Indians! We will continue to live in our homeland and you cannot imprison me, you need me. The world has changed Yitzhak and I am the symbol of the Palestinian people. You must treat me with dignity. You must understand that only I can deliver what you want and need. We Palestinians will continue to talk about Statehood, we will fly our flag, I will go around the world as President of the future State of Palestine.... All this you must accept, even if you have to say in public you do not.
"Hey, Yitzhak, maybe this time I've got a great idea! Bill and Hillary, they like to watch movies at the White House. Yes? They've got a theater and everything. And I heard Bill really likes old Westerns! Now what a chance for us all to get together. Yes?
"You know Suha couldn't come with me to Washington. Your wife was there, and Bill's wife, the first lady, Hillary. But my "first lady of Palestine" couldn't come. Yes, I have many problems. You know, Mahmoud threatened not to come if I brought Suha. And I needed Mahmoud. After all, I needed somebody to sign with Shimon because you refused to sign with me. Now Kadoumi, he wouldn't come -- and that was fine because he really is crazy you know, no telling what he might have said! And with the head of my negotiating team -- Abdel-Shafi, he is such a polite old man but so weak and indecisive -- refusing to even come to the ceremony, what could I do? You know, I chose Haider back at the time of Madrid because I knew that I could count on him to get out of the way when that was needed. Anyway, Mahmoud had to do it. You know there wasn't all that much eagerness to go down in history as the man who signed the surrender papers.
"So, Yitzhak, how about asking Bill if we can get together some night -- all of us and our wives. Now that we've dropped the guns it's time for fun, right? If I can't come to Washington again soon...how about we meet for an evening in Europe? Now Bill is going to be meeting soon with Hafez, right? Well, after he meets with Hafez he's going to need a little fun, don't you think."
"Yasser, you must be kidding! Bill's got to get himself reelected you know. And those American Jews who have been all over him ever since we decided we had to get rid of George, they just won't understand. You know they are alot worse than we Israelis -- they don't understand anything about the Middle East. We use them, yes, but we don't respect them! But when we need their money or for them to scream we know just how to deal with them. In return, I've got to be abit careful just how often we're seen together; and the time for fun is not quite yet.
"Also, Yasser, you know it's good you didn't give Bill your gun back in September. First of all it was too soon and too public for that...you've got to have a better sense of timing when it comes to matters of this kind. But also, you know, the Americans have recently started giving out money and groceries to those who turn in their guns...really! So when you do give it to Bill -- and please do it in private so it can be classified top secret for at long as necessary -- make sure you get the money and the food stamps. And who knows...maybe your people will want to do the same thing back home -- what do you think? I'm sure we can get American Jews, and maybe the Europeans too, to put up some money and food, just like the Americans are doing, for all those who want to turn in their guns -- what do you think?"
"Yitzhak, I didn't know that. Thank you so much. We really need the money you know, and Suha eats so much more than I do. Huuummmm...money and food for our guns....I'll have to think about this. You know I've been most concerned about how our new Palestinian police are going to handle things with all those guns and knives they have in the camps....maybe this is a good idea. But you should give the money and food to me...then my PLO will give it to them, OK?
"But also, Yitzhak, we have something more for Bill, we have real experts that he needs! Do you know that Bill and Hillary have a rat problem in the White House. Really they do; it was faxed to me from the New York Times. Now we Palestinians, we really are the best experts when it comes to rats. We have been living with them, both the little ones that crawl around and eat cheese and also the people kind who sell anything for money, for a very long time now!
"Hey, Yitzhak, I'm only trying to joke with you...please don't look so glum. Really. OK, back to seriousness then.
"Now for years, Yitzhak, I have really been the person you needed to deal with, your best bet. But you've always resisted me and not that long ago you even tried to kill me. I kept sending you messages and messengers...but then I think only when my plane went down in Libya and I was almost killed did you realize that you needed me after all. You were all then praying that I would survive...don't think I didn't hear about it!
"So OK, Yitzhak. You and your American friends and some of their client regimes as you have said have indeed pretty much destroyed the PLO and vanquished my people. You have trampled on our spirits and pounded and tortured us into submission. But we are still here, our Intifada still erupted, our cause still resonates around the world.
"So you have beaten us, Yitzhak, but you have not destroyed us -- and the cost of trying to do so would be far too great for you, for the Americans, and for the Arab regimes who still could be swept away if this region erupts. And I Yitzhak, I am your best insurance against this!
"Yes, OK, my PLO has little money left and there is Hamas and alot of
trouble from those who do not understand that I am doing what someone must
do for my people. Yes we squandered alot of what we had; but after
all, Yitzhak, I've got a family now, Suha's mother Ramonda has needed lots
of money for a long time now, and very frankly I've got a long list of
cronies that have had to be
kept on the dole or they might rise up against me. Do you realize just what our phone and fax bills came to in Beirut and then it was even more expensive in Tunis?
"So OK, Yitzhak, you Israelis are in control and you dominate political matters in Washington making those in Cairo and Riyadh and even in Damascus bend to your desires. And so I know we Palestinians must too.
"But Yitzhak, that control is still costing you and that control is not assured. Don't think I don't know all this. Don't think I don't know why you have embraced me. Yes, I now need you; but you now need me. We are seasoned and mature politicians trying to lead our people and avoid more war and chaos... But do not think you can just order me to do your bidding. They sent Geronomo away and put his people on small reservations where they died of disease and alcohol. That much I already know. We Palestinians are going to remain among you and you must have a leader and a political movement you can work with and which can keep the lid on the kettle.
"So, OK, Yitzhak, yes I know, we Palestinians are going to have to accept our fate in this Zionist-Hashemite sandwich as you call it. Furthermore we're well aware that Arab power and money today reside in the Gulf and that even in Damascus and Cairo they must play along under these circumstances. So we Palestinians must play along too.
"And, yes, Yitzhak, we saw very well what you did to the Iraqis and what you may yet do to the Iranians. We know that you and your Americans could use this power against us and that in the end we are defenseless. Especially now after al the slaughtering in the old Yugoslavia, the world is numb and deaf. Yes we know.
"We Palestinians aren't dumb you know, Yitzhak! But even if we are going to have to live on some kind of Reservations or Bantustans we still have to have our dignity, I still have to offer my people hope! Yes, OK, I use these terms with you....I know! In fact, Yitzhak, the reason I keep mentioning these terms in public, insisting that we Palestinians are not Indians and that we will not live on Bantustans is precisely to try to take away these concepts from my enemies who are always out to get me! So we Palestinians must play along, we know.
"But you, Yitzhak, you must play along too. Our futures are now entangled with each other. For you I am the person who will control the Palestinians from rising up more against you and being destroyed by you; but for my people and the world I am Mr. Palestine."
"That's quite a mouthful, Yasser. Let me think about all you've been telling me. Just promise me one more thing. Promise me you won't send me any more letters on that Palestine Stationary that shows the map of Palestine before Israel and which you sign 'President of Palestine'. You know we didn't answer that letter of yours anyway. And we won't. So no more of that! It's enough for us that you are Chairman of the PLO! And by the way, have you thought anymore about calling yourself Governor Arafat?"
OK. Admittedly, this mock conversation has been embellished and
exaggerated in a great variety of ways. But still the basic point
remains in so far as what's really going on these days -- both Rabin and
Arafat need more time and more credibility and neither of them is really
very sure just where their agreement is going to take them. And so
they are trying to gain time and enhance their credibility by delaying
the clock, by poking at each other in the press hoping to look better at
home, and by praying that some unforeseen political miracles lie ahead.
* Mark Bruzonsky has visited the Middle East region over 150 times.
about the Middle East have been published by the Woodrow Wilson International
Center for Scholars at the Smithsonian, Congressional Quarterly, and National
Geographic. Bruzonsky is an international affairs graduate of Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School and was a Root-Tilden Scholar at New York University Law School. Bruzonsky can be reached at MAB@MiddleEast.Org and at 202 362-5266.
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