Tue, Jul 20, 2004 - Page 9 News List

Don't blame Arafat for past peace treaty failures, blame Israel

By David Hirst  /  THE GUARDIAN , London

Though Arafat did seek to turn the intifada to his own advantage, this in essence was a spontaneous, popular revolt against Israel's continued occupation, and against the realization that Oslo could never end it -- as well as, implicitly, against Arafat and his insistence that it could.

What the evolving controversy now increasingly confirms is what a few dissident Israelis contended from the outset: the charge that Arafat "instigated" or "orchestrated" the intifada would be more aptly directed at the Israeli officials, politicians and military leaders who leveled it. For these people actually wanted the intifada, were preparing for it and, when it came, fanned its flames with the massively disproportionate use of force against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators and stone throwers.

Sharon, who held Oslo to be "the greatest misfortune ever to have befallen Israel" and considered the intifada the opportunity to destroy it, was foremost among them. But, his "generous offer" notwithstanding, the "moderate" Barak, Sharon's political rival but admiring military disciple, was among them too. In the first place it was not Arafat who blew up Camp David. Robert Malley, Clinton's adviser at the conference, and others have long since exhaustively debunked this for the almost ludicrously partisan myth it was. In their view, Barak himself contributed more to the collapse than Arafat.

And now comes Malka, who flatly asserts that the evaluations of Arafat's intentions and actions on which Barak, and later Sharon, relied were "erroneous," and deliberately so. They were the handiwork of one man, who occupied a key position in the Israeli policy-making process: Amos Gilad, the head of the military intelligence research department. He presented "national security assessments" to the government. Crucially, he only did so orally, because, as he put it, "they [ministers] don't read."

But even more crucially, according to Malka, his oral reports were at variance with the written ones of his bureau, an inconsistency he made good by "retroactively rewriting them." For these written reports just couldn't support what, via his misrepresentations, became the orthodox, highly negative view of Arafat.

"And who," asks the peace activist Uri Avneri, "is this man who has had a greater influence than any other person on the policies of Israel over the last few crucial years, and whose `concept' is still directing the path of the state? It is the very same Amos Gilad, who [recently] claimed the benefits due to disabled army veterans. He was not wounded in battle, but claimed that the stress of his difficult job had inflicted on him irreversible mental damage. When did this mental damage start, the first symptoms appear? When he started endlessly repeating that Arafat wants to throw us into the sea? Or was this declaration itself a symptom of his mental problem?"

The controversy has earned little of the Israeli, let alone international, attention it richly deserves. But if the scandal constitutes bad news about the way in which a coterie of generals and generals-turned-politicians increasingly makes the real decisions in Israel, perhaps worse is the way it helps to make them in the US.

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