In an interview with London's Guardian this past February, revisionist historian Benny Morris referred to the Palestinian Authority as "a virtual kingdom of mendacity." On Monday, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's office announced that his government supports this kingdom.
Ahead of Sharon's junket to the White House, a high-ranking official in his office told this newspaper that Israel has agreed to transfer NIS 2 billion in tax arrears to the PA. The official explained that this decision did not represent any change in the government's policy, because it has always been Israel's intention to transfer the money as soon as there was a mechanism in place to ensure that the funds would not be used to finance terrorism. Now, the official explained, Israel, the US, and PA "reform" Finance Minister Salaam Fayad have agreed that the allocation will be conducted under the supervision of American and EU officials, so Israel can rest assured that the funds will not be used to finance murder.
During Wednesday's photo-op at the White House with Sharon, US President George W. Bush pressed the issue. Extolling Sharon's decision to transfer the funds, he said, "I appreciate so very much the fact that the prime minister is committed to working with his cabinet to move some of the Palestinian money to the Palestinian people."
Next Sunday morning, no doubt, the prime minister will set to work. He will explain to his cabinet that he gave his word to the president that the money will be transferred, and that his credibility with the administration hangs in the balance. Since the mutual trust he has cultivated with Bush is the key to close cooperation and warm relations with Washington, he will likely argue, the ministers must vote in favor of transferring the funds that have been frozen since the PA went to war against Israel two years ago. Sharon will demand that his cabinet members ignore the briefing they received at the last cabinet meeting from Maj.-Gen. Amos Gilad, the coordinator of activities in the territories, in which he explained that the NIS 140 million transferred to the PA since July has been used to finance terrorists.
For his part, Gilad has already fallen in line. In an address at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs on Wednesday, he argued that on the strength of the Oslo Accords, the money belongs to the PA, meaning that Israel has to transfer the funds eventually. Now, Sharon will argue, the time has come, because we can trust the US and the EU to ensure that the money will be wisely spent by the PA.
In a seemingly unrelated incident this week, the Jerusalem District Court placed a lien on NIS 64m. of those same tax revenues.
The attachment was decreed pending a decision on a suit filed by the family of Cpl. Vadim Novesche, who, together with fellow reservist Sgt.-Maj. Yosef Avrahami, was torn apart by PA security forces at the PA police station in Ramallah on October 12, 2000, and whose body was then tossed out the window of the station and into the hands of a frenzied Palestinian mob. The court apparently thought the PA itself had something to do with this act of barbarism and that Novesche's family, including the child who was born after his father's murder, might have a legitimate claim to these tax revenues.
It might be possible that the court will find that Avrahami's family also has a legitimate claim to these funds. Then too, the families of the six Israelis killed by a Fatah gunman at Nina Kardashov's bat-mitzva party in Hadera on January 17, 2002, might also have a claim to the money. Documents seized during Operation Defensive Shield implicated PA Intelligence chief Tawfik Tirawi directly with that mass murder.
In fact, there are so many families who have suffered personal loss and injury from the PA's terror war that it is not outside the realm of possibility that when all their claims are sorted out, the PA will end up owing them billions above and beyond the NIS 2b. that Sharon and Bush are committed to handing over to the Yasser Arafat-appointed "reform" finance minister.
Gilad's argument that the money belongs to the PA because Israel agreed in the Oslo Accords to collect and transfer taxes to the PA is tendentious at best. The Oslo agreements were predicated on the PLO's pledge to combat terrorism and to solve all its differences with Israel through negotiations. The moment that Arafat ordered his forces to conduct a terrorist war against Israel the foundation of the agreements was voided. The PA has no legal grounds to expect the tax revenues.
Even Sharon has stated that Arafat's terrorist war has voided the Oslo Accords. For his part, US Embassy spokesman Paul Patten said of this argument: "I understand your point logically, in principle, but I don't have the expertise to respond."
No, Patten does not have the expertise to respond and not because he is not a lawyer. Patten, Ambassador Dan Kurtzer, George Bush, Ariel Sharon, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, and all the rest cannot respond to this argument because they are basing their policies toward the PA on a basic, and seemingly intentional, misjudgment. They believe it is possible to reform the PA and to work with Fayad and his security counterpart, Interior Minister Abdel Razak al-Yahya, and turn Arafat's PA from a terrorist entity into a "partner" for peace.
So encouraged are the Americans by the "progress" already made in PA reform that Bush announced that he is sending Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs William Burns over to us next week to "oversee" these reforms. Burns has already given Sharon's people a draft of the State Department's "road map" on how to establish a sovereign Palestinian state within three years.
As interior minister, Yahya has presumptively been placed in command of the PA security forces. His reputation as a straight-shooter won him meetings with US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Our government has embraced him. And yet, as this newspaper reported this week, Yahya spent much of his free time in 2000 and 2001 running guns for Palestinian terror cells.
Arafat is playing the mendacious game of reform to the hilt. He conducts pro-forma meetings with Palestinian Legislative Council members who demand an overhaul of his cabinet, and then refuses to act on their demands. He tells the Americans that he would like to hold elections in January as he has promised, but then explains that elections will be out of the question unless the IDF leaves the Palestinian cities first and anyway, he is running for reelection. He claims that Fayad will have control over PA funding, then refuses to hand over the accounts.
Palestinians living under Arafat's terror regime see the US and Israel accepting this state of affairs and draw the reasonable conclusion that they cannot rise up against Arafat and his regime.
For the past eight years, the Palestinians have been systematically disenfranchised by Arafat and his regime. Journalists, professors, judges, human-rights workers, businessmen, and day laborers who have dared to criticize the PA have been arrested, tortured, and murdered. And now, after Arafat has led them to privation and barbarism, Israel and the US are not simply letting him get away with it, they are financing him.
Commenting on Sharon's decision to transfer the NIS 2b. to Arafat's PA, Construction and Housing Minister Natan Sharansky said he is "shocked and appalled at the prospect of giving funds to the Palestinian Authority."
"Irrespective of any agreement on 'supervision' by American observers," Sharansky said, "it is inconceivable that we will conspire in the payment of moneys to the very people killing and maiming our citizens.
No amount of 'oversight' will change this. Only a change of regime, as President Bush so resolutely demanded and as I have proposed before, with a real oversight system in place within an entirely restructured temporary administration, run by Western and democratic technocrats completely unaffiliated with the Palestinian Authority, would justify the gift of such sums."
Sharansky has demanded that Sharon bring the matter before the cabinet for debate next Sunday. He said he expects the cabinet to vote down the proposed transfer. As to the fact that Bush himself is demanding the cabinet approve the transfer, Sharansky said, "In this case, I believe we must disagree with the president. I believe that we can disagree with the president. We need to stick to our principled stand that we cannot finance a terrorist totalitarian regime a regime that is making war on us and on its own people. I believe if we say this, there are many people in the administration who will convince the president that we are doing the right thing."
For the sake of our security and the future of the Palestinians forced to live in Arafat's kingdom, we can only hope that Sharansky's will not be a lone voice in our government.
Originally published in The Jerusalem Post