Ralph Buntyn

Chasing a Mirage

On a summer night in 1964, three years before the Six Day War, Yasser Arafat forded the river Jordan, climbed a hill near Nablus, fired one shot from his pistol and declared: “The Jihad (holy war) has begun.”

Ten years later in New York in November 1974, Arafat made a ceremonial entry into the UN General Assembly and became the first and only speaker to address the United Nations with a pistol strapped to his waist.

He held an olive branch in his hand as he said: “In one hand I carry an olive branch while the other grasps the gun of revolt. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.” His speech was punctuated by applause and when he completed his 90-minute address the assembly broke into wild acclamation.

What merited such ovation?

Was it the declaration that a democratic secular state must be established on the ruins of Israel and that the Jews who so desired would be allowed to live in it as citizens equal before the law? Or the claim that the “Palestinian Homeland,” as he called it, is indivisible. The PLO spokesman at the UN seemed to spell this out: the historic mistake of the 1947 UN partition plan could now be rectified. In other words, the State of Israel should disappear.

Some observers called this a “moderate” speech. But the New York Times called it a “hypocritical and repulsive appearance.”

David Horowitz, the old-school UN journalist who wasn’t afraid to speak his mind and who covered the 29th session of the UN General Assembly when Arafat spoke, called it “a shameful spectacle of a gangster chief being honored as a head of a legitimate state.” Horowitz further called it “scandalous that the terrorist organization leader would be allowed to vent his poisonous venom at a reborn Judea within these halls originally created for peace and justice.”

Frances’s leading newspaper Le Monde wrote that “by placing Israel’s continued existence in doubt, Arafat delayed a solution to the problem and in the interim the region could be plunged into its fifth war.”

Arafat’s speech at the UN was meant to be his most conciliatory gesture to the West. Yet Italian newspapers noted that there were widely differing interpretations to the words of the PLO chief. As opposed to those who detected some cliches that betoken “moderation,” there were others, primarily in liberal circles and in Italy’s Social Democratic Party, who regarded the very fact that he was invited to speak from the rostrum as a “prize for terror and to the aspiration to annihilate Israel.”

It had been just months earlier that the Arab states decided at the Rabat Conference to recognize the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people. This gave the organization an immediate political authenticity that was further bolstered by its international recognition by the United Nations, who then invited PLO leader Yasir Arafat to address the General Assembly. The Israelis certainly weren’t thrilled with this shift in strategy. Now it became necessary to fight the PLO on two fronts: militarily and politically.

With this shift from strictly terrorist activities to waging a diplomatic war against Israel it became fashionable to refer to the Arab Israeli conflict as the cause of all instability in the Middle East. Policymakers, the press, and pro-Arab scholars all repeated the mantra that it was the root of all evil in the region, as did the Arabists at the State Department.

Following Jordan’s defeat in the Six-Day War and loss of control over the West Bank, the PLO began to launch attacks from Jordanian territory. These provoked Israeli counterattacks, threatening the peace King Hussein hoped to achieve with Israel. The group was eventually expelled by Hussein in a bloody war in 1970. The events in Jordan came to be known among Palestinians as “Black September.”

Ousted from Jordan the PLO moved its headquarters to Lebanon where it resumed attacks on northern Israel.

Shortly after the outbreak of “Operation Peace for Galilee,” United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger sought to arouse the West from its illusions about the PLO in an article published by The Washington Post on June 19, 1982, titled “Fresh Options for Peace.” He wrote: “One of the principal causalities of the Lebanese crisis has been the Western illusion that peace is to be found in PLO-Israeli negotiations based on various formulas to “moderate” the PLO. It was always a mirage.”

On July 25, 1982, the New York Times ran the following story.

Ali Bader al-Din, the imam of Arouf, refused to inject Palestinian nationalist themes into his sermons at the village mosque. He resisted until the 19th day of the Moslem fast day of Ramadan when he disappeared.

A few days later his body was found by a shepherd under a bridge. To forestall a possible protest, the PLO ordered his funeral to be held at night, even thought this is contrary to Islamic practice.

After the funeral, some 5,000 persons gathered for a memorial service at the imam’s home which so alarmed the local PLO strongman that he asked Yasser Arafat to come immediately to the village. Arafat came and addressed the villagers of Arouf, then singled out the murdered imam’s 10-year-old son, Mohammed. “It was the Zionists who killed your father,” Arafat told the boy. “He is a martyr to the Palestinian revolution.”

The PLO chieftain then pulled out his Czech-made automatic pistol and gave it to the boy, saying “When you grow up you will avenge your father’s death.”

Arafat also offered money to the imam’s family, which they refused. The imam’s brother handed the gun over to the Israeli authorities.

As we reflect on the history, there have been 16 conflicts considered as wars by the Israeli Ministry of Defense (as they were named by Israel). Endless times Israel has made and offered compromises. They have been met by consistent Palestinian rejection of all peace initiatives.

Today the United Nations continues to recognize the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) as the “representative of the Palestinian people.”

Today the nations of the world call for negotiations to begin once more toward a two-state solution.

Today we hear the echo of Henry Kissinger’s warning “It was always a mirage.”

About the Author
Ralph Buntyn is a retired marketing executive for a Fortune 500 company. He is executive vice-president and associate editor for United Israel World Union, an 80 year old Jewish educational organization dedicated to propagating the ideals of the Decalogue faith on a universal scale. An author and writer, his articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets including The Southern Shofar, The Jerusalem Post, and the United Israel Bulletin. He is the author of "The Book of David: David Horowitz: Dean of United Nations Press Corps and Founder: United Israel World Union."
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