An Interview with Col. Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto
The career of Col. Yoash Tsiddon-Chatto is one of the most distinguished in Israel. He played a leading role in the development of the Israel Air Force, and after his retirement from that career he played a vital role in the economic life of the country and later in the Knesset before the Oslo agreements.
His contributions to Israel are so numerous that this entire column would be consumed by simply reciting a portion of them. What is important is that he was sufficiently trusted to be a member of the carefully selected Madrid Peace Mission in November 1991, which was foiled by the Oslo operations of Yossi Beilin. His views about the current Government of Israel and the Oslo peace process are very important. Col. Tsiddon-Chatto was one of those responsible for the electoral reform that instituted in direct elections for the position of Prime Minister, resulting in the present leadership, of Benjamin Netanyahu.
What is perhaps most important is that Col. Tsiddon-Chatto is optimistic about Israel's future despite the internecine squabbles of the Israeli politicians and the sometimes imperfect performance of the Israeli Government. That confidence is based on the fact that despite those failings, the Jewish population has risen from a mere 500,000 at the end of the Second World War to the present figure of almost five million. The most recent Russian immigration is almost threefold the original population of the Yishuv at the declaration of the existence of the state.
Despite his optimism, however, Gel. Tsiddon-Chatto believes that we are heading for a confrontation with the Palestinian Arabs and perhaps the Arab states as well. What is not certain is when that confrontation will occur. It will certainly come, according to the Colonel, but whether sooner or later is not predictable at this moment.
Whether the confrontation will lead to war is also uncertain at this moment, but it is quite clear that war can be avoided. War or peace will be determined by the ability of the Israelis to deter the Arabs by the strength of their armed forces. If, but for a moment, the Arabs believe that they can win even a moderate or limited victory, war will become inevitable.
To maintain that deterrent power, Col. Tsiddon-Chatto argues that there can be no diminution of the defense budget. This is essential because the question of peace or war depends upon deterrence and the Arab acceptance of Israeli military superiority. Col. Tsiddon-Chatto has discussed in articles published in Israel the fashion in which the budgetary needs can be met.
Within this view of the Israeli situation, Col. Tsiddon-Chatto evaluates the Hebron accords in a purely rational unemotional fashion. It is his view that this agreement is similar to placing highly volatile, explosive material near an open flame in a kitchen. Israel must react vigorously to any incitement. Col. Tsiddon-Chatto recalls having seen a confidential letter from Kissinger to Shamir, reportedly dated Feb. 8. 1988, urging the Israeli leader to react swiftly and with maximum force to suppress the intifada, accepting the fact that there would be a momentary sharp, negative international reaction and censure which would die down very quickly and would soon be forgotten. If however, the situation was permitted to fester, it would become a chronic problem.
The Oslo process is doomed to failure as soon as the major issues are reached in the negotiations. As soon as the Arabs comprehend that there can be no Arab Law of return and that the security needs of Israel involve the construction of roads under Israeli control that cut into very tiny pieces any Arab autonomous territory, they will have to lower their expectations. The fact is obvious that there can be no territorial contiguity or unity to the proposed Arab state or autonomous territory, nor can Jerusalem be divided.
The collapse of the Oslo process, however, does not necessarily mean war. If Israel has sufficient deterrent power, the Arabs will keep the peace. The introduction of ballistic missiles in the region, as has been done by the Arabs, increases the need for massive deterrent power on Israel's side. If Israel is strong enough, peace will survive, but every Israeli government will have the constant task of maintaining that high level of deterrent force in order to convince the Arabs of the futility of war.
On the other hand, the failure of the Oslo process should lead to new solutions to the conflict, in the eyes of the Colonel. The two main issues requiring affirmation are the "civil" rights of the Arabs and the security of Israel. Innovative suggestions must be forthcoming to insure that a peace takes those two needs into account and satisfies the requirements of both sides.
That solution cannot, however, satisfy all of the present Arab demands. The full extent of those demands became evident in a symposium held by the Dayan Institute of Tel Aviv University in the late summer of 1994 in which Col. Tsiddon-Chatto participated. At that symposium were to be found all of the prominent Arabs who spanned the entire spectrum of political opinion, from those who were members of the Labor Party to those who were declared supporters of the PLO.
Without exception, those Arabs pointed out that even if a new Arab state were to be created between Jordan and Israel, that would be insufficient because almost a million so-called Israeli Arabs would still ho living under "foreign" domination. The claim of the Arabs was that, if the Jews truly wanted peace, they would have to change the name of the state so as to reflect the entire population rather than merely the Jewish majority. The state, in effect, would have to become a bi-national one with a new flag and a new national anthem.
It would also have to include an Arab law of return to admit all Arabs who supposedly fled from the land as well as their descendants. In other words, the success of the Oslo process means the disappearance of the Jewish State and the end of Zionism, as well as the creation of still another Arab-dominated state.
The very Declaration of Independence that was read at the foundation of modern Israel, which stated that this was to be a Jewish state, would be declared null and void. The 2,000 year-old dream would have ended in complete failure.
This was net merely a demand of the radicals or fundamentalists; it was a demand of all the Arabs who participated in the symposium. Those claims revealed how unrealistic were the expectations of the Arabs which were engendered by Israeli radicals like Yossi Beilin or Yaron Ezrahi.
The most recent events prove that Col. Tsiddon-Chatto was almost prophetic in his predictions. Arafat and the Palestinian (Arab) Authority are fully responsible for the end of the Oslo process. The attempts of Yossi Beilin to conduct a private diplomacy of appeasement to salvage the wreckage are both illegitimate and unwise. President Clinton's attempt to save his reputation by applying mere pressure on Israel is also ill founded. Either Arafat is responsible for controlling the Arabs, or there can be no autonomous area.
As Col. Tsiddon-Chatto indicates as emphatically, there must be a totally new approach to the process of making peace between Arabs and Israelis, one with much lower expectations, certainly without a new Arab state. There must be a new proposal that may result in true peace between the parties to the dispute.
In a new paper that will hopefully be published in the near future, Col. Tsiddon-Chatto suggested that there can be municipalities enjoying some degree of Arab autonomy within Israel, but that the Arab political rights can only be secured by giving those Arabs in the Holy Land Jordanian citizenship. His arguments are strong ones, but they do require even further lowering of the expectations and goals of the Arabs. Let us hope that these new suggestions are given an adequate examination.
Will the PNA Make a 100% Effort?
The following are selections from "Basic Fateh Position" - "an editorial submitted to the press by the Palestinian Liberation Movement, Fateh" which was published in the September 5, 1997 edition of The Jerusalem Weekly.
The Palestinian leadership understands that the US demand represents an Israeli strong desire not for peace but to create a situation which results in a Palestinian civil war. In fact, asking the PNA to make 100% effort means transforming it into an army of collaborators and agents according to Israeli dictates. That will never happen. The PNA remains the outcome of the PLO, and it represents the Palestinian dream that will one day come true.
... the Accords do not commit the Palestinian side to execute Israeli demands of arresting members of the opposition or destroying the infrastructure of that position. The Oslo Accords commit the Palestinian party to applying its own laws, which consider illegal all actions that directly harm the peace process.
The PNA will never act the way the Israelis used to. It cannot, for example, impose collective punishment on its people. It is true that the PNA could act against Jihad and Hamas through paralyzing their infrastructure and arresting some members. That is only adopted when these position forces declared their responsibility for attacks resulting in loss of lives.
However, talks between these forces and the PNA have led to a general understanding that bars any opposition group from carrying out actions that may undermine the jurisdiction of the PNA or jeopardize its security. Following this understanding, the PNA released all detainees who proved to have no connection whatsoever with actions considered criminal according to the Palestinian law. Therefore, it is utterly illegal for the PNA to redetain innocent people who were released earlier.
In fact, the PNA will be violating human rights stated in international conventions if it, for example, puts in prison a person like Abdul Aziz El-Rantisi, a leading member of Hamas.
... if Albright's emphasis is the implementation of Israeli dictates, the US Secretary of State may not be able to achieve a breakthrough. Although we are eager to see the US shouldering its responsibility towards the peace process as a co-sponsor. Palestinians will not welcome her arrival if it becomes conditioned upon Palestinian execution of 100% security measures. We will not be happy to see the killer attending the funeral procession of the victim.
... Our dealing with Albright's initiative will be based on our steadfast adherence to peace agreements and to our national rights including the right of return. self determination and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. We will not, therefore, allow Israel to turn Albright's projected visit into an attempt to patch up an outlet for Netanyahu's government, which has imposed the most inhumane measures on our people.
In facing such a possibility the Palestinian leadership has decided to adopt a policy of steadfastness and confrontation. A special committee has been set up to put forward a plan to be implemented at the political level by providing answers to possible questions Albright's visit may pose.
The Jerusalem Times, 5th September, 1997
Dr. Aaron Lerner,
Arafat & Palestinian Unity
Last week representatives from the Palestinian Authority (PA), the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), and 11 other Palestinian political groups gathered in Gaza and Ramallah for a special "national unity conference" to meet the challenges thrown up by the crisis in the peace process.
Most Palestinian commentators saw the participation of the Islamist groups Hamas and Jihad (who boycotted earlier 'national dialogue' meetings in February and April) as testimony to Yasser Arafat's ability to preside over all streams of Palestinian opinion. It is less clear whether this tacit acknowledgment of Arafat's leadership will translate into "common ground" for action in the weeks ahead as the conference demanded.
"... the mere presence of Hamas and Jihad at the conference was evidence of Arafat's 'appeasement of terrorism'", said Israeli Government spokesman, David Bar-Illan.
The same message was conveyed by Israeli leader Benyamin Netanyahu in phone calls over the weekend to President Mubarak and King Hussein. The U.S. government also commented that Arafat's public embrace of Hamas leader Aziz Rantisi "was not particularly constructive in resorting [restoring?] trust and confidence" to Israeli-Palestinian relations.
Arafat was unapologetic. The national conference was a response to the Netanyahu government's policies of humiliating the PA and an "internal affair" that concerned Palestinians only, he said. It was a line that went down well on the Palestinian streets.
The collapse of the Oslo peace process has been accompanied by a decline in Palestinian support for Arafat and the PA. This discontent has not been confined to the )PA's Islamist opposition. Recent months have witnessed a growing convergence between Hamas and elements of Arafat's own Fatah movement, including those Fatah activists who staff the PA's myriad security forces.
In June the PA's head of Preventive Security in Gaza (and Fatah leader) Mohamed Dahlan, admitted that the PA may have "erred" in its ruthless suppression of Hamas following the suicide operations inside Israel in the spring of 1996. Now he says , the PA and Fatah believe that "Hamas has a very important presence in building the Palestinian homeland". West Bank leader, Marwan Barghouti, has also warned that any indiscriminate arrest sweep by the PA of Hamas members "under Israel's dictates" would be resisted by Fatah, "with demonstrations if necessary".
Fatah's new found sensitivity to Hamas is not solely due to the rejectionist policies of the Netanyahu government. It is also a recognition of Hamas's growing strength among Palestinians.
Over the last year, Hamas in Gaza has quietly rebuilt its infrastructure, providing welfare to needy Palestinian families where PA provision (dependent on revenues collected in -- and currently frozen by -- Israel) has conspicuously failed.
Hamas also seems to have overcome the political schisms that nearly wrecked the movement after the 1996 suicide attacks. Then there were open divergences between Hamas's Gaza-based leadership (which publicly opposed the operations) and its Jordan-based leadership (which supported them). The recent release from Israeli and American custody of such militant leaders as Rantisi in Gaza and Musa Abu Marzouk in Jordan has, say sources, united Hamas around a new consensus of opposition not only to Oslo but also to any "fratricidal conflict" with the PA.
In such circumstances it is understandable why Arafat has chosen to talk to his Islamist opposition rather than suppress it. Whether the national conference amounts to an "embrace" is another question....
At the same time as the national conference, PA security chiefs were meeting with their Israeli counterparts and American CIA officers to establish a new "mechanism" for security cooperation. The events were hardly coincidental, say sources. With security liaison, Arafat is signaling to the Americans that that he is committed to working with the Israelis to prevent terrorism in Israel. And with the national conference he is signaling that the PA cannot and will not become "an Israeli militia" in the self-rule areas.
Netanyahu has long rejected this distinction. Arafat's hope is that the Americans will not do likewise.
(Thanks to Dr. Aaron Lerner of IMRA for editing these selections)
Something's Rotten in the Nonstate of Palestine
Within the Palestinian Authority (PA) there is an office entitled General Control (GCO). In May it issued a report that included a startling claim: because of corruption $326 million, roughly one fourth of the PAs budget, disappeared in 1996. The Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), which is elected by the people, commissioned nine of its members to check these findings. On July 29 they presented their report. In a stormy Council session, which Arafat did not bother to attend, the legislators called on the president to dissolve his government by September, form a new one based on experts, and bring those suspected of corruption to trial. Some of the gravest suspicions concern two of Arafats senior ministers, Nabil Shaat and Jamil Tarifi.
I asked Dr. Kamal Sharafi, who headed the committee of nine, why the Council found it necessary to check the report of the PAs comptroller. Sharafi: "The GCO report was an important contribution toward correct administrative procedures, but it had flaws. There were simple arithmetical errors. In many cases the GCO inspectors had written detailed accounts which did not make it into the final version. Many violations were ignored or left hanging. The main problem, though - which we have tried to correct - was the lack of conclusions. The GCO report failed to accuse persons by name, whether directors or ministers. You might have thought it was the Palestinian people that had stolen the money! The GCO did not ask the Attorney General to formulate indictments. The result was a series of wishy-washy, toothless recommendations, calling weakly for reform and delivering a few hazy warnings, whereas what was needed was a cry for legal action."
The PLC Committee's "report on the report" notes further flaws.
(1) The GCO failed to check important companies and public institutions that receive funding from the PA. These include the Petroleum General Commission, the al-Baher Company, the Tobacco Company, and the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation. (Challenge has reported on the corruption in several of these; see Issues 39 and 43.)
(2) The GCO confined itself almost exclusively to Gaza. Its report covered less than a tenth of the ministries, institutions, municipalities, and non-governmental organizations receiving benefits from the PA.
(3) It stayed clear of the many security forces, although the Council turned up evidence that they are full of illegal practices, meddling where they have no business. The GCO also kept away from President Arafats office. (PLC Report, pages 3,4, and 30.)
The PLC Committees mandate restricted it to checking the GCO report. It could not undertake an independent investigation into areas which the latter had not touched. Despite this limitation, and despite lack of cooperation on the part of the PA comptroller as well as several ministries, the findings are chilling. The overall picture is one of a mafia-style government, where the main point of being in public office is to get rich quick. The Palestinian citizen, after thirty years of neglect under Israel, has fallen into the hands of a ruling class whose motto appears to be, "Eat, drink and be merry." The PA budget and the funds from the donor nations flow around and around within the closed circle of the few, who live a life of luxury while the people they are supposed to serve go hungry. In matters of health care and basic commodities, says the PLC Committee, the little person is a victim of dubious deals between the Palestinian and Israeli ruling elites. This conclusion may seem sweeping, but it arises from every page of the Committees report. Except for the Ministry of Education and that of Statistics, even the few untainted offices are described as inefficient and unprofessional. The report notes excessive duplication of tasks and overlapping of responsibilities, especially between the West Bank and Gaza.
The PLC Committee cites many kinds of corruption. There are ministers who violated their responsibilities to the point of endangering lives. There are unsupervised bank accounts containing what are supposed to be public funds. There are cronyism and nepotism, monopolies, releases from customs. Wherever greed can get its foot in, the space appears to have been filled. In this article we shall concentrate on three ministries where corruption is especially rife. We shall then briefly survey most of the others.
1. The Ministry of Health (Minister: Riad al-Zanoun)
Bad or expired drugs were used to treat cancer patients in ministry medical centers. With regard to other medicines as well, the Gaza branch of the ministry used drugs which the West Bank branch had rejected because they failed to meet specifications and had not been registered. Suspicion: Health ministry officials were (and are) in cahoots with a company called Al-Shifa, which imports medicines into Gaza. The report names Dr. Ziad Shath, general director of the ministrys pharmaceutical division, who allowed Al-Shifa to bring in the unregistered drugs on the pretext that registration was underway.
On another get-rich note, Al-Shifa imported several drugs as donations from Egypt: exempt, therefore, from customs and value-added tax (VAT). It then turned around and sold them to the Health Ministry including customs and VAT. Suspicion: Al-Shifa was aided in this exercise by one Khamis Najjar, a director of the ministry in Gaza, and by the Minister of Civil Affairs, Jamil Tarifi, a name we shall soon encounter again. The Committee recommended that Arafat direct the PA Attorney General to prosecute the three men named above.
In addition, a fifth of the Health Ministry's budget went to medical expenses abroad. ("Abroad" includes Israeli hospitals.) The Council found this figure rather high. In some cases it was Arafat who ordered the transfer of patients abroad; he had the Finance Ministry deduct the money from the Health Ministry's budget without notifying the latter. There is also the case, still pending, of Dr. Ibrahim Abu Hmeid, who was appointed to coordinate the distribution of patients among hospitals in Jordan. Several Jordanian hospitals have accused him of receiving bribes and embezzling funds. The Committee asserts that he had accomplices. Its report also raises the inevitable question: Where in all this was the Minister of Health? (PLC Report, pp. 7-8.)
2. The Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation (Minister: Nabil Sha'at)
Nabil Sha'at is known to millions as one of the chief Palestinian negotiators.
The council found many offenses. For example, any ministry is supposed to open a separate account with the Ministry of Finance for each of its projects. Thus Finance holds the money given by funders for the project, and it can supervise expenditures. Shaats ministry, however, opened separate accounts. Thus ministry officials could conspire with officials of a donor country, open an account together, and manipulate the funds without the knowledge of Finance. This practice has also opened the door for ministry officials to appoint themselves to jobs in the ministrys projects, giving themselves fat second salaries. The private account gives rise to another perk as well: You hire someone to a project for a large salary, but by prior agreement you pay the person less. The difference goes into what is called a "black box." Shaat and his director-general control the black box. They hid it from the GCO, but the Council Committee found it.
Other ills in the Ministry of Planning:
These practices have damaged the PA's credibility with the donor nations.
The Committee has called for an investigation of Nabil Shaath together with three of his deputies. (PLC Report, pp. 15-16.)
3. The Ministry of Civil Affairs (Minister: Jamil Tarifi)
The Committee devotes four closely-written pages to this ministry, to which the GCO had given only scant attention.
The largest area of offense concerns the granting of exemptions on import duties, especially in the matter of automobiles. This can be a lot of money: the duty can amount to half the price of the (pre-duty) car. The right to grant customs exemptions is vested in the Finance Ministry, not in Civil Affairs. The latter was able to get a foot in, however, in the following manner: All imported goods must enter through Israel. Israel collects the customs on goods which are destined for the Palestinian areas and then transfers this money to the PA. Someone from the PA had to be present at the Israeli gateways, therefore, to tell the Israelis which goods to exempt. Logically, this should have been someone from Finance, but in fact it was Civil Affairs Minister Jamil Tarifi who got the task, perhaps because of his many Israeli connections, which date from before the Intifada. Infringing on the prerogatives of Finance, Tarifi personally exempted cars, furniture, and other goods, including the medicines mentioned above. The paperwork was slipshod or nonexistent. Many cars, after receiving Tarifi exemptions in the name of this or that governmental body, were converted to private ownership. This was the case, for example, with a certain Mercedes, which wound up belonging to none other than... the Coordinator of Customs Exemptions in the Ministry of Civil Affairs.
At Oslo Israel permitted a few thousand PLO members to return. The PA granted them exemptions from customs. This opened the door to abuse: many a car was exempted on the fictitious claim that it belonged to a returnee. Such a one is Ibrahim Awad Abdel Qader Salameh, 75 years old, supposedly the proud owner of a brand new Jaguar. He does not get to use it much. The family members of Minister Tarifi are always taking it out for a spin.
A country without industry or natural resources depends heavily on customs duties. The loss of money through false exemptions amounts to a serious blow.
Tarifis list goes on. Israel issues work permits, and the PAs ministries of Labor and Interior are supposed to distribute them. But here too Civil Affairs got a foot in -- again, it seems, thanks to Tarifis connections with Israel; his ministry gets work permits and hands them out without telling anyone.
Unknown to the Ministry of Finance, Tarifi illegally imposed fees on trucks bringing goods to and from Jordan. At one point, says the Committee, he got the Israelis to close the Jordanian border for two weeks to all trucks bringing cement except those of a company called al-Karmel, which belongs to his eldest son.
The Committee sums up Tarifis offenses by calling them "a blatant attack on public funds." It asks that the Attorney General bring the Minister to justice. (PLC Report, pp. 17-21.)
4. Examples from other Ministries.
All nations suffer from corruption, but who would have expected so much so soon? One reason, the Committee report makes clear, is the chaos that prevails in rules and regulations, in defining spheres of authority, and in norms of financial management. (Ibid., p. 28.) All beginnings are difficult, and this is no exception. But other beginnings have a grace which this one lacks. Such widespread corruption could not take hold if the leaders had any national feeling, or sense of community, or higher purpose. These things were surrendered at Oslo. The PA is the creature of Oslo, where a national hope was betrayed for the sake of personal power. That was the arch-corruption. The present examples are its offspring.
Amid the gloom there remains a spark of light: the fact that the PLC Committee report could appear at all. Once again the legislative council has proved, despite its limitations, that there are those who seek to establish a new Palestinian society on foundations of sound administration and public rectitude. We spoke, for example, with Ali Girbawi, a professor in Political Science at Bir Zeit University and head of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Citizens Rights. In response to the Committee report, he said, "I think that the Palestinian Legislative Council has found its own strength. I dont think they were aware that they could do what they have done. Now they have realized that they have an impact. If they will hold the executive to account, the people will support them."
The Committee report exposed the alienation, even hostility, between the PAs executive and legislative branches. The entire Council approved the report, including PLO supporters close to Arafat, whereas most cabinet ministers took it as a declaration of war. Soon after its publication, sixteen ministers gave letters to Arafat signaling their readiness to resign if he wished. (The sixteen did not include Nabil Shaath, Jamil Tarifi, and Yassir Abed Rabu.) Public opinion in the West Bank saw this collective performance merely as a ploy aimed at taking the sting from the report. Kamal Sharafi, head of the Committee, told Challenge: "We didnt ask anyone to resign. We only demanded that Arafat disperse the cabinet, bring in the Attorney General, and put the guilty on trial. As far as were concerned, any ministers who are cleared can become part of the new cabinet."
In the meantime an additional factor has emerged. Even as the PLC Committee was conducting its investigation, Arafat appointed Taib Abed al-Rahim, General Secretary of the Presidential Office, to make a detailed inquiry into acts of corruption. The result has been yet another report, 200 pages long, which Arafat is keeping to himself. There are, then, three studies of corruption: that of the GCO, that of the PLC, and now this. The bevy of reports may reduce the overall impact. If Arafat refuses to deal with that of the PLC and ignores its recommendations, the Council will be exposed in all its impotence. Kamal Sharafi, however, counsels against despair. "Let's wait till September," he says. Meanwhile, corruption is thriving.
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