Arafat Bashes Clinton to Court Bush

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Palestinians burn photos of Clinton during an anti-peace demonstration

Two days after President Clinton leaves office, Yasser Arafat issues a scathing critique of his role in the peace process. Why has the Palestinian leader waited until now to make the point if this is the case?

It's the working of the Arab mind. The man is gone from power, so they are free to criticize him. Now they are loudly criticizing his peace proposals. This indicates the Palestinians feel they are relieved from the pressure that Clinton used to impose on them — his departure has released them from that pressure. It's also part of the political culture of the Arab world that by criticizing the outgoing ruler, you are introducing yourself to the new president in very good shape. Arafat's people want to impress Bush, and give the Republicans the sense that they share some criticisms of Clinton.

The question that should be raised is, "If Clinton is as bad as you say, why you didn't say that six months ago? And what was your strategy when you were dealing with Clinton? You certainly didn't tell your people that Clinton was trying to sell out Palestinian rights." Arafat and his people have always spoken very warmly of Clinton in the past. These new statements simply raise doubts about the credibility of those who are making them. And they're unlikely to impress the Republicans.

If this is the Palestinian position on Clinton's proposals, why are they still discussing those in the latest talks in Egypt?

Well, the latest is that Barak has decided to freeze the talks after two Israelis were found killed in the West Bank. That's an indicator of how seriously both sides are taking these talks. The fact that they could be stopped because two Israelis were killed is an indicator that they are not serious in substance.

Both sides are convinced that they cannot reach an agreement, because the gap between them is still too deep. The Palestinians are going to the talks because they don't want to be blamed as the ones who helped Ariel Sharon become prime minister of Israel. And Barak sent his negotiators because he wants to fish for a few votes from Israeli Arabs by showing that he's still talking peace. So both sides went to Taba for tactical reasons rather than to achieve a strategic goal, which is peace.

Barak can not really afford to make an agreement right now, because the mood in Israel is strongly against trusting the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinians are saying they're going to the talks to help Barak, because the election of Sharon will be a disaster. But believe me, when Barak loses the election, you'll be calling to ask me to explain why the Palestinians are now condemning Barak.