Will Yasser Arafat try to stop suicide bombings?
MSNBC Hardball with Chris Matthews
CHRIS MATTHEWS, host: Here it is, THE BIG STORY tonight. Are the Palestinians serious about cracking down on Hamas and other terrorist groups? In a televised address yesterday, Yasser Arafat issued his second condemnation of terrorism in less than 12 hours. He said, quote, "I gave my orders and directions to all the Palestinian security forces to confront and prevent all terror attacks against Israeli civilians from any Palestinian side or parties and at the same time to confront any aggression or attack on Palestinian civilians, whether by Israeli soldiers or settlers, which we all condemn." But yesterday, Arafat's chief representative in the United States, Hasan Abdel Rahman, told me right here on HARDBALL that it wasn't the job of Arafat to prevent terror attacks on Israelis. Here's what he said.
Mr. HASAN ABDEL RAHMAN (Palestinian Chief Representative to US): His function is to achieve liberty and freedom for this people and not to become a policeman for Israel.MATTHEWS: Well, John Wallach is founder of Seeds of Peace and author of the book, "Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder." And Daniel Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum.
John, I have to tell you that this-this is one of the-one of the wonderful times I love doing this show when we catch somebody in a complete 180. Arafat's saying he's going to crack down on his-on the-on the Palestinian attacks on Israel. And his chief spokesman in the United States says it's not the job of Arafat to protect Israelis, to be their policeman but to look out for the liberty and freedom of Palestinians. A pretty clear 180 here.
Mr. JOHN WALLACH ("Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder"): Yeah, I think, Chris, the problem here is that Arafat has got to realize that he cannot achieve liberty and freedom for his people unless-and he put it-you can put it as crudely as you want-he becomes Israel's policeman. I mean, the fact is that without cracking down on-on Hamas and doing what he's never been willing to do before, at least, not for several years, there isn't going to be any security. Consequently, there isn't going to be any liberty and freedom for the Palestinian people. That's the-that's the dilemma that he-that he confronts. Unfortunately, Hassan Rahman is wrong. He's a good friend, but he's wrong. You simply cannot achieve Palestinian nationhood, independence, freedom without the-the Palestinian Authority and Yasser Arafat becoming much tougher on terrorism than he's ever been willing to. And that doesn't mean simply speeches, even in Arabic, to the-to his own people.
MATTHEWS: Right. Well, just imagine if Ari Fleischer, in this country, said that the president of the United States job is not the chief law enforcement official of the country and the president said the same day, 'My job is to be the chief law enforcement official of the country.' Ari wouldn't be there very long.
Mr. WALLACH: Well, I-I-you know, I don't think that-that Yasser Arafat likes to think of himself as Israel's policeman. But in fact, what Israel has done over the course of the last several weeks, as horrible as it has been, in terms of the human tragedy, the human toll, has actually made Yasser Arafat's job somewhat easier. Now you know, whether one says that publicly or not, that's the truth. And the fact is that he's not got one last opportunity, one last chance. George Tenet's coming out there next week to try to put back together this Humpty-Dumpty of a Palestinian security apparatus. He's got one last chance to show that he really means it, and it's got to go beyond the rhetoric.
MATTHEWS: Or else.
Mr. WALLACH: Well, or else he does-he become irrelevant. And I-I suspect that-that' Ariel Sharon is not looking forward to George Tenet's mission out there which is basically to rebuild the Palestinian Authority. That's why I think in a sense it's-it's almost like going after Saddam Hussein in-in Iraq. If the guy regains his credibility and regains his-his governing capability, it's going to shorten-it's going to lengthen the time that Arafat has in office.
MATTHEWS: Daniel Pipes, your thoughts on the 180 yesterday between what-what Rahman said here that Arafat doesn't intend to protect Israelis from his-his-from Palestinian terrorists and-and Arafat's own statement to the press that he intends to do-do just that.
Mr. DANIEL PIPES (Middle East Forum): Chris, my reaction is that this is a surreal conversation that the Palestinians are having. There is no chance whatsoever that there'll be a crackdown. This talk of one more chance is meaningless. Let me just remind...
MATTHEWS: What about the arrest today?
Mr. PIPES: Oh, meaningless. We've had arrests like this before, in one door, out the other a few days later. Let me remind your viewers that back in December, Arafat had one more chance after a major series of bombings and he was really cutting back and was all very serious. And then we found out in January that the captain of the ship that was bringing 50 tons of weapons from Iran...
Mr. PIPES: ...to the PA was expecting to be told, 'Hold off. Return. This is over.' But in fact, he got no such orders. This is purely for public consumption. It's not to be...
MATTHEWS: What do you make about...
Mr. PIPES: ...taken seriously.
MATTHEWS: What about the facts of the case? Do you think the United States, George Bush, is going to drop Arafat in the next couple of weeks? Or the Israelis are going to kill him or dump him other way?
Mr. PIPES: I don't think the Israelis are going to kill him so long as the US government tells them not to.
MATTHEWS: But how long is that?
Mr. PIPES: Well, you know, I don't understand exactly what the US government-our government is doing, giving-what-what the government is saying-what George Bush is saying to Arafat is, 'Nasty. Nasty. You're doing very bad things. We won't stand for this. We don't want this.'
Mr. PIPES: But there's never an 'or else.' There's never-what you just asked John Wallach, there's never, you know, a-a day of-of reckoning. So as long as we don't give him a day of reckoning...
Mr. PIPES: ...he will go on and behave badly.
MATTHEWS: Well-and the vice president's office wanted to dump him about two months ago but...
Mr. WALLACH: That-that's right. But I think the problem that Bush faces is that you've-you've-at the moment, you've only got one man who can deliver the Palestinian people, who can sign a-a peace treaty. And that's Yasser Arafat. He remains very widely popular among the Palestinian people. To-to toss him overboard and to face Hamas might be the dream of Ariel Sharon. But it'll only spell more tragedy-tragedy...
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you that, John.
Mr. WALLACH: ...tragedy for both the...
MATTHEWS: I think that is the dream of Ariel Sharon. He wants a...
Mr. WALLACH: Absolutely. But...
MATTHEWS: He wants a gunfight at the OK Coral. But the-but the-leader of Hamas yesterday said the suicide bombings will continue. So-so are we-are we going to have this gunfight at the OK-OK Corral?
Mr. WALLACH: Well, I mean, we're going to find out when-when and if the Palestinians are able to get a security apparatus back in place that works because either they're going to be ordered to shoot against Palestinian terrorists and to prevent acts of terrorism or not. And if they don't, as Daniel Pipes suggests is the case, then I think-I-I would agree Arafat's...
Mr. WALLACH: ...days are numbered.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you about that op-that-that cowboy reference. Is a gunfight an all-out war between Hamas, which really seems to be controlling the situation and the Israeli government and the IDF. Is that good for Israel or good for America either way? An all-out fight, just have it out now, forget Arafat, ignore him, go for the real killers.
Mr. PIPES: There's no real difference between Arafat and Hamas in terms of fighting Israel. Both of them want the same thing. They both want to destroy Israel. The difference is that Hamas makes no pretense of diplomacy.
Mr. PIPES: ...whereas Arafat does. There's no big difference.
Mr. WALLACH: You know, I-I would disagree. Well, I don't think that..
Mr. PIPES: Arafat's not going to sign a peace treaty. He wants to destroy Israel.
MATTHEWS: Well, why would he...
Mr. WALLACH: I don't think he wants to destroy Israel.
MATTHEWS: Why would he say something he totally disagrees with? What-what would be the advantage in that, Daniel?
Mr. PIPES: Well, he-when he-when his back is up against the wall, over and over again, what he has done is say, 'OK. OK. I'll do what you want.' And he does it for a few days, a few weeks. But the ultimate goal is very clear...
MATTHEWS: By the way, that-that MO also fits...
Mr. PIPES: ...and been clear for 40 years.
MATTHEWS: That MO also fits Sharon.
Mr. PIPES: He wants to destroy Israel.
MATTHEWS: What you just said also fits Sharon. Anyway, thank you very much. Daniel Pipes and John Wallach.
Mr. PIPES: Thank you.
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