Saddam, Arafat are examples of Arab worlds delusions &mdash and our own

Two seemingly unrelated events in the waning days and hours of 2006 pretty much summed up everything you need to know about the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Their meaning can be characterized simply: The Arab world’s obsession with eradicating the State of Israel and the West’s willingness to deceive itself about the character of Arab leaders and their intentions both are based on lies.

The more famous of the two events was the hanging of deposed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. In the final moments before he got his just desserts, the doomed Iraqi once again played the card that he and other Arab despots have always used with impunity: Israel.

Thus, among his final comments on the gallows came this declaration: “Palestine is Arab!”

Why invoke this cause with his last breath? Because even at that moment he still thought it worth a try to deflect discussion of his comeuppance to that of the conflict with Israel.

The Arab world has used the fight against Zionism as an excuse for every problem that exists within their societies. Whether it is the domination of tyrants like Saddam or the lack of economic progress and the rest of the standards by which they lag behind the West, the answer is always the same: It would be different if only there were no Israel.

That this thesis is nonsense has been no deterrent to its frequent use. This diversionary tactic is so deeply ingrained in the culture of the Arab world that it is routinely repeated not just by spokesmen for the regimes that run roughshod over their own people but also by their intellectuals and would-be reformers who ought to know better.

By focusing on the external enemy — and a state ruled by a despised minority of dhimmi Jews at that — the Arabs have given themselves as well as their leaders a ready-made excuse for all of their failures.

Though he spent his career terrorizing his own people, Saddam was always careful to pose as a pan-Arab anti-Zionist. When his troops were evicted from Kuwait in 1991 with little resistance on the part of his army, it was no surprise that he used his Scud missiles to attack Israel.

Though Israel had nothing to do with Saddam’s looting of Kuwait and was excluded from the international coalition organized to oppose him by the first President Bush, it was imperative for him to make it appear as if Israel was actually a belligerent in that war.

This earned him the cheers of Palestinians, who took to their rooftops to cheer the missiles headed for Tel Aviv. He reinforced that impression with his subsequent payments to the families of Palestinian suicide bombers.

But this was, like everything else he did, a lie. Like the rest of the Arab world, Iraq did nothing useful for the Palestinians other than to encourage them to continue in a pointless war. But by doing so, he deflected criticism from Muslims who still prefer to embrace canards about the Jews rather than to examine their own faults. And by saying “Palestine” before the trap door opened, Saddam gave Arabs another excuse to ignore the truth about the campaign to remove his regime.

All this also helps to feed the fallacy — still widely believed in the West — that the Arab-Israeli dispute is the source of all the region’s problems. But as Saddam’s life and death proved, intra-Arab warfare and atrocities have little to do with the Jews.

Another event that was received with far less fanfare took place only days before Hussein’s death. It was the release of a 33-year-old classified document by the United States State Department. It confirmed what had long been rumored: that the late Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat personally ordered the murders of two kidnapped American diplomats in March 1973.

Members of a PLO-front group called Black September “gunned down the two, Cleo Noel, U.S. ambassador to Sudan, and the embassy’s Charge d’Affaires George Moore, along with Guy Eid, a Belgian envoy, in cold blood.” The supposed separate identity of the group — which was also responsible for the 1972 massacre of 11 Israeli Olympic athletes in Munich — from that of Arafat’s Fatah was a cover story intended to separate the Palestinian mainstream from its more egregious crimes.

Arafat denied any role in these murders to the day of his own death in 2004. Though he was the godfather of modern terror, he sought to burnish his mythical image as a statesman to the West. But this was nothing compared to the self-deception of Western governments who knew better, particularly the employers of Noel and Moore, the U.S. State Department.

Though the Sudan murders were invoked by critics of America’s policy of engagement of Arafat throughout the era of the Oslo peace process, the State Department always denied there was any proof of Arafat’s direct involvement. But, as the document released late last month proved, this denial was as brazen a falsehood as any ever uttered by the Palestinians. In fact, the National Security Agency had intercepted a transmission from Arafat’s headquarters in Beirut to Khartoum, Sudan, ordering the murders of the Americans.

Thus, even though the United States had in its possession direct evidence of his responsibility for the murder of two its diplomats, Arafat not only was never charged with these crimes but also enjoyed the hospitality of the White House more than any other foreign leader during the Clinton administration.

Yet with Arafat now as dead as Noel and Moore, is there any point in rehearsing this sorry chapter of history? Yes, because the State Department cover-up of this crime (a whitewash that ought to have prompted at least a fraction of the outrage that the contemporaneous Watergate cover-up did) was an act of policy.

It was important to generations of American diplomats and their political masters not to publish the truth about Arafat because they believed making deals with him was more important than combating terror. Their subversion of justice was for a cause they thought to be nobler than justice for slain Americans — peace. And in the name of this illusion a long list of cabinet secretaries and a president of the United States willfully ignored not only the lies that Arafat told during peace talks but abandoned their duty to apprehend and punish a terrorist.

Hussein’s last words and the Arafat transcript both illustrate how lies told by Arab despots have been abetted by the lies of their willing dupes. Those willing to embrace future deceptions, whether on the part of “moderates” such as Mahmoud Abbas (Arafat’s longtime deputy) or his “extremist” Hamas rivals, would do well to study both incidents and realize that a peace will never be built upon falsehoods.

Jonathan S. Tobin is executive editor of the Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia.