In a deal that shocks the conscience, the United States reportedly agreed to shield Israel from action by the U.N. Security Council to enforce its resolution to send a fact-finding team to discover the truth about what happened in the devastated Jenin camp. This was in exchange for lifting the siege on Arafat's compound in Ramallah.
Both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have just issued reports accusing Israeli forces of committing serious war crimes in Jenin. These partial and preliminary findings may be the last serious attempts to discover the facts.
Israel, it would seem, is once again to be the exception, shielded by the United States from the enforcement of international law and norms of conduct, allowed to defy any number of U.N. Security Council resolutions with impunity. Since Arafat has become implicated in this exchange as a direct beneficiary, some of the public outrage will inevitably rest on his shoulders. Preferring to change the subject, some official Palestinian rhetoric already has shifted from the "massacre at Jenin" to the "heroic resistance at Jenin."
The Palestinian Authority also agreed to place six Palestinians, wanted by Israel for an assassination and weapons purchases, in a Palestinian jail under U.S. and British monitors. This only underscored the impression that Arafat paid a humiliating and costly price for his temporary and limited freedom. The Israeli demands for these prisoners were particularly galling coming from a state that routinely had been assassinating its Palestinian political rivals, killing more than 60 of them in the past 18 months along with many of their wives and children, as well as bystanders. All this offers very little benefit to the Palestinian people, who remain under Israeli military lock-down.
Arafat at last emerged from his besieged compound into a wasteland devastated by the Israeli army, but he has not received the hero's welcome he may have expected--although some cast his mere physical and political survival as a "victory." The truth is that Israel's attacks have destroyed the ability of the Palestinian Authority to function as a government and law enforcement entity among Palestinians in the West Bank.
The attacks have systematically destroyed all aspects of the nascent Palestinian state, including school, land and property records and the files of human-rights groups and other nongovernmental organizations, independent media and medical facilities.
In the face of these outrages, the U.S. Congress continues to pass resolutions, as it did last week, of uncritical support for Israel that reflect no understanding or concern about the plight of the Palestinians or the fact that millions of them live under Israeli military occupation. One has to wonder what for many in Congress, short of the physical extermination of the entire Palestinian population, would be seen as unacceptable Israeli conduct. House Republican Majority Leader Dick Armey's repeated calls on MSNBC for the removal of all Palestinians from the West Bank simply take the general attitude on Capitol Hill to its grim but logical conclusion.
In the wake of the Israeli offensive, Arafat's standing is greatly weakened, the Palestinian people seethe with rage, Israel is further isolated, American credibility is damaged and the authority of the U.N. is undermined. Viewing the wreckage with evident pride, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has declared that "peace is at hand."
The irony is, of course, that this devastation will only increase, not break, the will of the Palestinians to resist Israeli rule. There is every reason to expect that coming months will see an intensification of the conflict, especially since there are no political negotiations in place to substitute for the violence of recent months.
The only question left is whether any limits will be placed on how far Israel is allowed to go in enforcing its occupation.
Israel has run over a refugee camp with tanks and then stopped the international community's investigation of its action. How long will it be before it expels the populations of entire towns and regions, while the U.S. Congress passes resolutions of uncritical support and President Bush describes Sharon as a "man of peace"?
Hussein Ibish is communications director for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.