|Israel Resource Review
||28th June, 2002
THE ENEMY WITHIN: The U.N.'s Refugees
An International Body That Gives Aid and Comfort to Terrorists
Adjunct scholar of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy
JERUSALEM--On Monday, France, Belgium and four other European
Union members endorsed a U.N. Human Rights Commission resolution
condoning "all available means, including armed struggle" to
establish a Palestinian state. Hence, six EU members and the
commission now join the 57 nations of the Islamic Conference in
legitimizing suicide bombers.
By their logic of moral equivalence, terror is justifiable because its root cause is Israel's occupation.
That Palestinian terror predates occupation, or that suicide bombings became a tactic of choice only after the initiation of the Oslo process, is too inconvenient to mention.
Unfortunately the U.N. goes beyond giving rhetorical support for terrorism. In a variety of ways, its agencies have been complicit in Middle Eastern terror.
Start with the refugee camps. The U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees began operation in 1950. The establishment of Israel, and its simultaneous invasion by five Arab states, resulted in the creation of approximately 600,000 Palestinian refugees. An equivalent number of Jews fled their homes in Iraq, Egypt, Yemen and other Arab countries, and settled in Israel.
As disruptive as it was, the number of Jewish and Arab refugees pales in comparison to that created by the partition of India. There are today more than 100 million descendants of the original 15 million Indian and Pakistani refugees. The U.N. remained outside the conflict, and provided no political or economic incentive for refugees not to settle. Too bad the same restraint has not characterized the behavior of the U.N. and Arab states in the Middle East.
As it is, UNRWA and the Arab League hold Palestinian refugees in limbo. UNRWA operates 27 refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza, and another 32 camps in neighboring Jordan, Lebanon and Syria. It counts nearly four million Palestinians as refugees, including those whose grandparents never saw Palestine. (If U.N. High Commission for Refugees criteria are applied, the figure is significantly lower.) In 2001 alone, UNRWA spent $310 million on the camps.
It is these camps that have been at the center of violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian gunmen. On February 28, following a series of Palestinian terror attacks in Israel (including an attack on a young girl's bat mitzvah celebration), Israeli forces rolled into the Jenin and Balata refugee camps. They remained for three days. Defense Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer explained the Israeli strategy: "We are interested in one thing only, to stop and disrupt this wave of suicide attacks. We intend to go in and get out."
U.N. officials were instantaneous in their condemnation. Kofi Annan called on Israel "to withdraw immediately." High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson labeled the incursions "in total disregard of international human rights." On March 21, a UNRWA spokesman called on Israel to compensate the agency for damage to its refugee camps.
Israel's raids did damage the camps. But as a result of the operation, Israel uncovered illegal arms caches, bomb factories and a plant manufacturing the new Kassam-2 rocket, designed to reach Israeli population centers from the West Bank and Gaza. Confronted with evidence of illegal Palestinian mines, mortars and missiles, no U.N. official questioned how it was that bomb factories could exist in U.N.-managed refugee camps. Either the U.N. officials were unaware of the bomb factories--which would suggest utter incompetence--or, more likely, the U.N. employees simply turned a blind eye.
Unfortunately, UNRWA is not alone in reinforcing the U.N.'s reputation as an organization incapable of fighting terror. On May 24, 2000, Israel unilaterally pulled back from southern Lebanon, a withdrawal the U.N. certified to be complete. Terror did not end, though. On October 7, 2000, Hezbollah guerrillas crossed the border and kidnapped three Israeli soldiers (including one Israeli Arab), all of whom they subsequently killed. Observers from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon videotaped the scene of the kidnapping, including the getaway cars, and some guerrillas.
Inexplicably, they then hid the videotape. Questioned by Israeli officials, Terje Roed-Larsen, the U.N. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, chided Israel for "questioning the good faith of senior United Nations officials." When after eight months the U.N. finally admitted to possessing the tape, officials balked at showing it to the Israeli government since that might "undermine U.N. neutrality." That U.N. observers protected and defended guerrillas who crossed a U.N.-certified border, using cars with U.N. license plates while under the cover of U.N. flags, was apparently of no consequence to UNIFIL. Pronouncements aside, U.N. moral equivalency in practice dictates that terrorists are equal to states. Fighting terror compromises U.N. neutrality.
The U.N. has turned a blind eye to terror in Iraq as well. Throughout the spring and summer of 2001, a series of bomb explosions wracked the safe haven of northern Iraq. Kurdish authorities long suspected the complicity of certain U.N. drivers who crossed freely between the safe haven and Iraq proper. On July 19, 2001, Kurdish security arrested a Tunisian U.N. driver found in possession of explosives. A Yemeni national serving as deputy director of the U.N. mission in northern Iraq demanded that the driver be released before any investigation could be completed; he was. The U.N.'s reputation, in other words, trumps protecting innocents from Saddam Hussein's bombs.
The U.N. has a terrorism problem. Syria, a nation that hosts more terror groups than any other, sits on the Security Council. Along with Iran, Syria is a prime sponsor of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Just two months after Nasrallah declared that "Jews invented the legend of the Nazi atrocities" and that Israel was a "cancerous body in the region . . . [which] must be uprooted," Mr. Annan bestowed international legitimacy upon Nasrallah by agreeing to an unprecedented meeting.
U.N. officials can make all the high-sounding pronouncements they desire, but if the U.N. wishes to defuse regional tensions and signal that terrorism is not acceptable, then there must be no equivocation. Perhaps Mr. Annan can be forgiven for not being aware that U.N.-funded refugee camps housed arms factories, or for allowing U.N. complicity in terror cover-ups in Lebanon and Iraq. But in a Middle East where perception is more important than reality, Mr. Annan's silence is deafening and his moral equivalency is interpreted as a green light for terror. The main casualty is U.N. credibility.
This article ran in the Wall St. Journal, on
April 18, 2002
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Saudi Sermon Declares War
Saudi Shaykh Khayyat on Government TV calls on God "to deal with the
tyrannical Jews and their supporters" and bring about their defeat.
# 1 Riyadh Kingdom of Saudi Arabia TV1 in Arabic, official television
station of the Saudi Government, at 0928 GMT 17 May 2002 carries a live
sermon from the holy mosque in Mecca.
Shaykh Usamah Ibn-Abdallah Khayyat delivers the sermon, which he begins
by saying: "O Muslims, God has willed that the fire of the battle of destiny
must not die down, but remain ablaze until He inherits the earth and all
that is on it. For it is a battle of right against falsehood, guidance
against deviation, and faith against infidelity. Indeed, it is the intifadah
of goodness against evil in all shapes and colors, regardless of the
different flags, many soldiers, big plots, and serious dangers. This
battle is not a new development, but continuous chapters that go back in
history, as related in the Holy Koran."
The imam refers to the battles fought by the prophets; namely, Abraham
against idol-worshippers, Moses against the Pharaohs, Muhammad against the
Qurayshi infidels of Mecca, and, in recent history, Salah-al-Din against the
crusaders in Jerusalem. He then says: "The intifadah by Muslims in Muslim
Palestine today is a link in the chain of the battle of destiny. It is a
living example of the confrontation between right, which is the defense of
religion, holy places, freedom, dignity, and honor, and falsehood, which is
usurpation, aggression, and violation of sanctities and holy places."
Continuing, the imam says: "The battle of destiny is long and with
continuous links. But, as in the past when God made right triumph over
falsehood and gave victory to the faithful and humiliated the infidels, He
would also give victory to Islam and make it raise the flag of right on
Jerusalem and its vicinity and humiliate the criminal and tyrannical Jews so
they would be a lesson for everyone."
The imam continues with the theme of "victory of right against
falsehood" in the second part of his sermon, saying that the hope for
victory should prompt Muslims "to stick to their rights" until God fulfills
His promise. He concludes with a prayer to God to support Islam, unify
Muslims and guide their steps on what is right, and give victory to the
mujahidin in Palestine, Kashmir, and Chechnya. He also prays to God "to deal
with the tyrannical Jews and their supporters" and bring about their defeat.
#2 Riyadh Kingdom of Saudi Arabia TV2 in Arabic, official television
station of the Saudi Government, at 0931 17 May 2002 carries a live sermon
from the holy mosque in Medina.
Shaykh Ali al-Hudhayfi delivers the sermon, which he devotes to
repentance, calling on worshippers to repent to God and atone for their
sins. He concludes with a prayer to God to strengthen Islam and Muslims,
humble infidelity and infidels, and destroy the enemies of religion. He also
prays for the unity of Muslims and the victory of "our brethren in
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How Arafat Rigged the 1996 PA
January 1996 elections, our news agency worked with a
Palestinian news team to help Peace Watch cover the PA
elections, as reported below. When I asked Amercian election
observer team chairman Jimmy Carter about the obvious rigging of
the PA elections, he smiled and said that "we have problems like
that in Chicago too". - David Bedein
As the January 1996 elections approached, Arafat was assured of victory for
himself and his loyalists in Fatah. The steps he had taken since assuming
power had succeeded in bolstering his position and shunting aside most
potential challengers. In fact, Arafat almost ended up running unopposed, as
the best-known individuals who considered challenging him-including rights
activist Iyad a-Sarraj and the popular Haydar Abed a-Shafi (who had headed
the Palestinian delegation to the Madrid conference) decided that there was
little point in running in the political climate that had been created. In
the end, the only person who decided to face off against Arafat was Samiha
Halil, a little-known, 72-year-old women's rights activist, who was hardly
in a position to compete for mainstream support in the traditional society
of the West Bank and Gaza.
Nonetheless, Arafat took advantage of his monopoly on power to turn a sure
victory into a landslide. He adopted an electoral system for the Council
races that favored Fatah and undercut the chances of the smaller parties,
and that played a role in persuading most Islamic and left-wing groups to
boycott the elections.154 Within Fatah, he overturned the results of party
caucuses and replaced independent-minded local nationalists chosen in
balloting among party activists in each district with his own hand-picked
slates-often dominated by loyalists who had come with him from Tunis. During
the campaign, PA police stepped up their intimidation of candidates running
against Fatah nominees for seats in the Council, while government ministers
and other PA officials used the resources of their offices to further their
candidacies. On election day, the massive presence of Palestinian policemen
in and around the polls-in direct violation of the campaign law Arafat had
promulgated-had a clear effect on voters. This effect was especially
pronounced with regard to the approximately 100,000 illiterate voters, who
were often "assisted" in filling out their ballots by policemen or Fatah
When the results were announced, it became clear that Arafat's work had paid
off handsomely. He received an overwhelming mandate, capturing 87.3 percent
of the votes, compared to 9.9 percent for Halil.156 Though Arafat claimed
that he "was looking for 51 percent," he certainly did not mean it. Winning
by a landslide was a strategic goal, whose purpose was to make him appear to
be the unchallenged leader of his people.157 Arafat also got most of what he
wanted in the Council elections: Fatah won 50 seats and candidates closely
tied to it won an additional 17.158 Thus Fatah captured a solid majority on
its own, while the broader bloc it commanded won more than three-quarters of
the seats-67 of 88. Moreover, about half of Fatah's 50 spots went to veteran
PLO-Tunis officials who had entered the territories with Arafat, while the
remainder were mostly local candidates drawn from the ranks of Arafat's most
Since his victory at the polls, Arafat has continued to run the PA precisely
as he did before elections. The PA police force has expanded apace, and
today has more than 50,000 members. The government payroll has bloated
further, and remains a patronage machine in which all important decisions
are made by one man. Though Council members, in a rare display of
independence, succeeded in passing a comprehensive basic law that would
provide a constitutional framework, Arafat has refused to sign it, and the
Palestinian Authority has at no point had either a discernible
constitutional or legal framework, or anything like an independent
judiciary. The media have continued to function as an adjunct of the
government, while human rights groups-with a few notable exceptions,
including organizations founded by a-Sourani and Eid-have remained weak and
More than three years have gone by since the second set of Palestinian
elections were supposed to be held-Arafat and the Council were chosen for
terms that were to end on May 4, 1999-but no new elections have been
called.161 Ostensibly, the reason for this delay is that Arafat is waiting
for the conclusion of final-status negotiations with Israel. But the real
reason is that he was content with the results of his first election, and
has not yet seen a reason to face the voters again. Even municipal
elections, which were supposed to take place during the summer of 1996, have
been delayed for six years; in the very long interim, Arafat has continued
to make appointments to local offices himself, without the assistance of the
In light of what Arafat did to secure his election victory and in light of
the manner in which he governed before and after elections, it is clear that
his standing as an elected leader hardly resembles that of the
democratically chosen Western leaders who defend him. Thus the claim that he
cannot and should not be replaced can hardly be sustained on the grounds of
his democratic mandate or credentials.
What is true is that Arafat has made himself irreplaceable in a very
different sense: He has acted successfully to destroy the elements of a
pluralistic society that had been present in the West Bank and Gaza, and to
mold the Palestinian Authority into a police state and a personal
dictatorship. As a result, he has done much to damage the prospects of a
viable, alternative leadership emerging. In other words, having succeeded in
eliminating his opposition, he is now turning to the democratic world and
pleading to stay in power on the grounds that he knows of no one who could
This argument sounds much like that of the apocryphal boy who kills his
parents, and then pleads for mercy from the court because he is an orphan.
Of course, it contains a kernel of truth: That is, the boy really is an
orphan, and the dictator who eliminates his opposition really lacks an
obvious successor. Yet it would be a grave mistake for Western leaders, and
especially an American government that seeks to lead the free world, to
accept the idea that Arafat's success in building a dictatorship should
entitle him to continue representing the Palestinians. On the contrary,
Arafat has long ago demonstrated that his continued leadership is inimical
to peace, no less than it is inimical to the Palestinians' own aspirations
for a regime that accords them basic freedoms.
It took Arafat nearly two years to pave the way for the electoral landslide
that gave him the counterfeit aura of democratic legitimacy that still
clings to him, and he has spent an additional six years strengthening his
dictatorship and weakening potential opponents. The process of recovering
from the damage he has done during this time will no doubt be a long one.
But prolonging the current situation by attributing to Arafat a legitimacy
that he does not deserve contributes nothing to that process.
Daniel Polisar is Editor-in-Chief of Azure. During the January 1996
Palestinian elections, he led the observer team of Peace Watch, a
non-partisan Israeli organization accredited by the Palestinian Authority as
an official elections observer.
. . .
154. On the adoption of the electoral system for Council races and the
impact of this system on the decision of Islamic and left-wing groups to
boycott elections, see Polisar, "Electing Dictatorship," pp. 265-283.
155. On Arafat's efforts to shape the Fatah lists, and on his behavior and
that of other PA officials during the campaign and on election day, see
Polisar, Electing Dictatorship, pp. 283-310, and reports of the various
monitoring groups cited there.
156. These results are as reprinted in jmcc, The Palestinian Council, 2nd
ed. (Jerusalem: jmcc, 1998), pp. 49-50. The remaining votes, according to
the official results, were invalid.
157. Jon Immanuel, "Arafat Wins 88 percent of Vote; 75 percent of Council to
Fatah," The Jerusalem Post, January 22, 1996.
158. The classification system for assigning nominal independents to the
parties is based on my own assessments, which are largely in line with those
made by the jmcc in The Palestinian Council, which has become the standard
reference on this subject. I am including in the Fatah bloc the single
candidate elected on the ticket of the fida party, which ran in an alliance
159. Among the veteran PLO-Tunis officials who won positions were Tayyeb
Abed a-Rahim, Nabil Sha'ath, Hakam Bal'awi, Intisar al-Wazir, Fayez Zeidan,
and Abu Ala. Among the local loyalists who won seats, the most prominent
were cabinet members Saeb Erekat and Freih Abu Medein.
160. On the nature of governance in the Palestinian Authority since the
January 1996 elections, see Polisar, "Electing Dictatorship," pp. 423-474;
and David Schenker, Palestinian Democracy and Governance: An Appraisal of
the Legislative Council (Washington, D.C.: Washington Institute for Near
East Policy, 2000). For an optimistic account of PA governance in this
period, see Rubin, From Revolution to State-Building.
161. On the requirement to hold elections by May 4, 1999, see Israel
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, "Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement on the
West Bank and Gaza Strip," September 28, 1995, article 3, section 4; and
Palestinian Central Election Commission, "The Palestinian Council, Its
Executive Authority, and the President of the Palestinian National
Authority: Institutions and Competences," December 31, 1995.
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