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Tuesday, September 10, 2002
 
ONE SPEECH, TWO REPORTS

What was the significance of Yaser Arafat’s speech yesterday to the Palestine Legislative Council? Reading the Arabic news services this morning, you would be hard-pressed to come to any clear conclusions. Was it a breakthrough, or was it, in the words of one senior Israeli military figure cited this morning, BS?

In order to understand better the contents of Arafat’s speech, I turned to two Arabic sources. The first is Al-Ayyam, the official mouthpiece of the PNA in Ramallah; the second, An-Nahar, an independent Lebanese newspaper. The two sources differ tremendously regarding the emphasis they place on the different aspects of the speech.

In an attempt to present the differences (short of translating the entire articles), I thought it would be helpful to outline the main points that the two articles make in the order of their appearance. I have translated the headlines in their entirety.

Al-Ayyam:

IN A COMPREHENSIVE HISTORIC SPEECH BEFORE THE LEGISLATION
THE PRESIDENT: OUR PEOPLE HAVE PAID A HEAVY PRICE FOR THE FAILURE OF THE PEACE PROCESS
THE RECONSTRUCTION OF THE FOUNDATIONS IS A DIFFICULT AND WEARYING PROCESS THAT BEARS BOTH SUCCESSES AND FAILURES.

1. Arafat called upon the international community, which demands reforms and transparency, to send observers, as it did during the Palestinian elections.

2. He called upon the international community to put pressure on Israel to cease its military activities against the Palestinians .

3. Rebuilding the foundations is difficult in the present situation, given the continued international silence.

4. The Palestinians want sound government and a democratic life, with a free judiciary.

5. Arafat confirmed that the elections for the legislative council and the local elections would be held at the beginning of next year, an essential step to establishing a Palestinian state.

6. The Palestinian people have paid a heavy price for the failure of the peace process, and the Israeli government is using any excuse and all kinds of reasons to attack and destroy the peace process, occupy Palestinian lands and undermine the National Authority.

7. Arafat addressed the Israeli people, parties and government, responding to the announcement that the peace process is dead, saying: we want to realize the peace with you, and stability for you and us and the entire region, on the basis of the international legal decisions and the agreements between us; the peace of the brave is before us, not behind us.

8. Arafat called upon the international community for immediate aid to realize the desired peace in this Holy Land, that will serve the generations and emplant security and stability in the entire Middle East.

9. Arafat confirmed again his determination to hold elections at the start of next year.

10. He called upon the International Quartette in that is to meet in New York to provide the mechanisms to guarantee the renewal of the peace process between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and to create the fitting security arrangements between the parties, and to immediately send international forces or observers that will be empowered to built bridges of trust and to reestablish the lost credibility between to two parties, as well as bringing an immediate end to the occupation of Palestinian lands and holy cites.

11. On the other hand, Arafat called the Palestinian people in the land and in the diaspora to remain patient, resolute and unified until people realize their goal of returning their occupied lands and establishing a free state with Jerusalem as its capital, and of producing a just solution for issue of the refugees based upon UN resolution 194.

12. He said he hoped for an international political solution for the ‘problem with Iraq’, far removed from military violence, to aid in the establishment of peace and stability throughout the region.

13. He expressed his hope that Bush the son would fulfill the mission of his father, who created the Madrid Peace Conference to create a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the region, according to the international legal decisions, particularly since our Holy Land is not only for Palestinians and Israelis, but also for all the Arabs and Christians and Muslims throughout the world.

14. For that reason the President confirmed that the Palestinian people would stand with all force against all forms of terrorism, whether perpetrated by states or by groups or by individuals, and in memory of first anniversary of the heartless international terrorist crime that struck the USA in New York and Washington.

15. He announced to the entire world, particularly to the USA, that the Palestinians are entirely ready to cooperate with any international effort to eradicate this hearless terrorism within the framework of the UN and international law.


The same story appears in An-Nahar in the following manner:

FATAH REPRESENATIVES PRESSURE TO DISCUSS APPOINTING PRIME MINISTER.
ARAFAT CONDEMNS SUICIDE ATTACKS.

1. The Palestinian leader spoke before the Palestinian Legislative Council, and publicly condemned for the first time attacks on Israeli civilians and confirmed that the Palestinian elections will take place next January. However, Israel noted that he had not called for a ceasefire, while Washington demanded that he match his words with deeds.

2. Arafat said: “The Palestinian people will stand with all force against all forms of terrorism, whether perpetrated by states, or by groups or by individuals”, adding, “On the first anniversary of the heartless international terrorist crime that struck the USA in New York and Washington, we express our horror and condemnation of this terro, just as we express our sympathies for the American people that has been subject to this unprecedented crime … [ellipsis in Arabic original]; We announce to the entire world, and in particular to the USA, that we are entirely ready to co-operate with any international effort to eradicate this heartless international terror in the framework of the UN and international law”.

3. He accused Israel of exploiting the 11th September to accuse the Palestinians of terror, saying “The great terrorist crime that the USA faced overturned the climate and criteria, and the international positions towards the Middle Eastern conflict between us and the Israelis, particularly since quickly the occupying and aggressive Israeli government employed these changes” to accuse the Palestinians of terror. He saw that “our national interests and the necessity to maintain international support for our just cause and the program for resisting the military occupation and the settlement and the tyrannical Israeli siege of our land and out people demands that we reiterate our position of condemning actions against Israeli civilians, and similarly any actions against Palestinian civilians, particularly since the Israeli government has used them to hide its crimes and occupation and settlements.”

4. He condemned suicide attacks, saying, “These actions, which we strongly condemn, have provided a pretext and grounds and a cover for the Israeli government and the occupation army to strike and destroy and kill and assassinate and besiege and impose collective punishments and infringe international law and the fourth Geneva Convention and to disregard all of the agreements between us. It is not unknown to you that Israeli activity on this front has led some of the international forces, and in particular the Americans, into reversing their objective opinions as a result of these attacks against civilians”.

5. He confirmed that the Palestinian presidential and local elections will begin in January 2003, and called upon the interested parties to prepare for them, and upon the European countries to send international observers to supervise them, as occurred in 1996. He called upon Bush to fulfill his father’s mission etc…

6. He addressed the issue of Iraq, as reported above.

7. When Arafat came to mention “the independence of the three authorities – the judicial, the legislative and the executive” he left the written text and said jokingly, “But if you want somebody else apart from me, then choose somebody else and give me a rest!”.

8. The council ended its seventh meeting with the re-election of Ahmed Quray` (Abu Ala) as its chairmen by a majority of 50 votes.

9. An-Nahar has learnt that representatives of the Fatah has agreed express no confidence in the Palestinian government at the confidence vote for the government that Arafat put together last June. They also agreed to vote in favour of the government if Arafat allows the issue of appointing a Prime Minister to be discussed. Similarly, they representatives will vote in favour of the government if the agreement for each minister is presented individually, and the vote is not carried out for government together. One of the Hamas leaders Isma’il Hania related to Arafat’s speech, saying “it does not meet the aspirations” of the Palestinian People. He indicated that “Hamas confirms the need for national unity and strengthening the resistance”, explaining, “The continuation of what is called the peace process does not fulfill any of our people’s interests under the rule of the ongoing of Israeli attacks, crimes and war”.

10. Israel accused Arafat of not presenting any tangible proposals for a ceasefire, asking why he hadn’t proposed a unilateral ceasefire.

11. A Palestinian spokesman confirmed that an Israeli - Palestinian meeting would be held today in Tel Aviv, to discuss in particular security and financial issues. The Israeli Foreign Minister Peres would head the Israeli side, and the Chief Palestinian Negotiator Sa’ib Erekat the Palestinian side.

12. In Washington, The White House cast doubts upon Arafat’s words regarding the terror, expecting from him that he would match words with deeds. A spokesman for the National Security Council, Sean MacDonald, declared in the White House: “The words are noble, but we’ve already heard a lot of such things from Palestinian leaders. What’s important now is their actual deeds”.

The difference between the two accounts is instructive. The report in Al-Ayyam places the emphasis entirely on Israeli aggression, and effectively excuses Arafat from all responsibility. If anything has gone wrong, well, Arafat has done his best in the difficult circumstances. We get nothing of the behind-the-scenes intrigue. The condemnation of terror is left till the end, and is stated in general terms. In particular, it is connected to the 11th September anniversary, i.e. it is principled objection, not a merely tactical one. The issue of terrorism is not mentioned in the headline.

The An-Nahar report discusses the condemnation of terror in detail, and makes it clear that Arafat presented the cessation from terror not as a morally-based issue, but as a merely practical one: since September 11th, world opinion has changed and the Palestinians cannot afford to lose world sympathy.

Incidentally, the report is wrong in claiming that this is the first time that Arafat has condemned suicide terror; last December, following the deadly attack on a bus near the Israeli town of Immanuel, Arafat made a similar speech using very similar terms. He spoke then of the need to adapt to the changes in world climate (I recall that he even used the same Arabic term “mutagayyiriin”).

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