Israel Resource Review 28th June, 2002


THE ENEMY WITHIN: The U.N.'s Refugees
An International Body That Gives Aid and Comfort to Terrorists
Michael Rubin
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

Printer friendly version of this article

Return to Contents

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 Palestine."

Printer friendly version of this article

Return to Contents

How Arafat Rigged the 1996 PA Elections
Daniel Polisar

During the 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 officials.155

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 loyal boosters.159

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 ineffective.160

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 voters.

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 replace him.

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.

Notes . . . 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 with Fatah.

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.

Printer friendly version of this article

Return to Contents

Go to the Israel Resource Review homepage

The Israel Resource Review is brought to you by the Israel Resource, a media firm based at the Bet Agron Press Center in Jerusalem, and the Gaza Media Center under the juristdiction of the Palestine Authority.
You can contact us on