Israel Not Impressed With Arafat's Vision of Peace

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:10 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's "vision of peace" -- as it appeared in the American press -- is "suave" but contains nothing new, Israeli experts said on Monday.

In his "vision," published in an op-ed piece in the New York Times on Sunday, Arafat condemned the attacks "carried out by terrorist groups against Israeli civilians" and pledged to "put an end" to the activities of those groups.

The Palestinian vision of peace includes "an independent and viable Palestinian state on the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, living as an equal neighbor alongside Israel," Arafat said. He mentioned sharing "all Jerusalem as one open city and as the capital of two states, Palestine and Israel."

According to Prof. Efraim Inbar, of BESA Center for Strategic Studies near Tel Aviv, the opinion piece was a public relations effort to improve Arafat's image, but he still has the same demands on borders and insists on the right of return for millions of Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

It is the same thing although its written in a "suave way," Inbar said.

"[Arafat is facing] growing isolation in the region and the realization that he is losing support," Inbar said. Not one Arab leader has stood up for him and even the Europeans are looking toward the "post-Arafat era," he added.

Dr. Yuval Shteinitz, a leader in the peace movement turned right-wing lawmaker with the advent of the 1993 Oslo accords, said that although the statement was "very positive" it is the same kind of statement that Arafat has been making for eight years.

"We hear statements about peaceful co-existence in English and [in Arabic] we hear about the eternal war against Zionism," Shteinitz said, referring to the phenomenon of giving one message for Western consumption while speaking an entirely different one to the Arabic speaking masses.

"[There are] statements about co-existence in the Western world but in the Palestinian educational system [children are taught] that Israel should be destroyed sooner or later. He talks about the need to put an end to terrorism but the terrorist network is 1000 percent larger than it was before Arafat took control," Shteinitz charged.

"I'm not enthusiastic about positive statements from Arafat when he is pressed," Shteinitz said. "It's high time to ignore statements." According to Shteinitz, Israel should follow America's example in Afghanistan and dismantle the PA, the way the U.S. went after the Taliban.

But according to Inbar, Israel is not likely to do anything to hasten Arafat's demise. Israel would prefer that the Palestinians learn from the current situation, he said.

"Arafat is not in the best situation [but] he is a veteran of very bad situations and he managed [to get out of them before.] He is a skilled survivor," Inbar said.

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon said there was no fundamental shift expressed in Arafat's 'vision of peace.'

"He did not renounce the right of return," Sharon said in a television interview on Sunday evening. "He has not changed on the Jerusalem issue and he has not dropped the issue of the 1967 borders. Israel, if it wants to exist, cannot retreat to the 1967 borders."

The Palestinians have demanded the right of return for Palestinians who fled their homes during Israel's war of independence in 1948 and millions of their descendents. Israel argues that such a move would demographically make Israel into another Palestinian state within a few years.

'Not helpful'

The U.S. administration was not impressed with Arafat's letter, saying that he already knew what he needed to do to if he wanted to fulfill his vision.

"This is not helpful," National Security Advisor, Condoleeza Rice said in an interview on Fox News Sunday.

Rice said that Arafat needed to deal with the terrorists in his midst and also mentioned that he knew that trying to smuggle arms into areas under his control was a violation of previously signed agreements.

"We are asking nothing more of Chairman Arafat than we have asked of every other leader in the world," Rice said. "If he is going to be the leader of the Palestinian people and if he wants to achieve the vision that he is laying out here, he knows how to do it and it begins with dealing with the terrorists in his midst."

Israel and the U.S. have demanded that Arafat dismantle the terrorist networks that operate from within the areas under his control and put an end to the terrorism before negotiations on the future of the Palestinian people begin.