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Fat Chance with Arafat?
by J. Grant Swank, Jr., Pastor
1 May 2003

Count on Arafat slicing away at Prime Minister-designate Mahmoud Abbas' authority. Count on the road map to Middle East peace being a pit-holed road, probably a backpath at best.

Arafat truth-teller? Arafat peacemaker? Arafat humbling to open the "road map" for Israeli-Palestinian peace?

It's all quite messy to start to believe Arafat is truthful, peacemaking and ready to cooperate with the "road map."

From Ramallah, West Bank comes the dramatic photo op of Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat holding the hands of his prime minister-designate, Mahmoud Abbas, and Egyptian Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman.

The only one smiling in the photo was Arafat -- perfect opportunist that he has proven himself to be over several decades. The other two look quite sullen, as the rest of the world should be -- wary, sullen, and waiting for Wednesday's bonding to play itself out.

I would place my bets against Arafat. Not much of a gamble, considering his track record.

Supposedly Arafat and Abbas closed out their bitter distant relationship yesterday. They were at odds regarding the composition of a new cabinet. That move in itself is supposed to open the door for a new Mideast peace initiative by the US.

The anticipated "road map" baits the world with the hope of ending 31 months of Iraeli-Palestinian ruckus, setting up a Palestinian state in stages.

United States President George W. Bush has stated that he would reveal the plan only when he gets the signal that there is a formal Abbas government. The US hopes this will put Arafat in mothballs.

Fat chance.

Arafat back down under global pressure? Arafat withdraw in real-life fashion his challenge to Abbas' security corps?

It's a messy prospect at best. No wonder Ehud Olmert, an Israeli cabinet minister and deputy prime minister, reported cautiously to media. "One should judge the deeds and not the declarations. We have to wait and see if the new cabinet will, in fact, be sworn in and how it will act, taking into account Arafat's staunch resistance to it and his capacity to undermine any process of reform," he said, according to the Associated Press.

Arafat has held off on sharing power. He's become too used to calling the shots for forty years. He has seen through lies and murder with macabre aplomb. He has escaped assassination and the final tumble down of his own headquarters building. In brief, he has withstood immense onslaughts.

Count on Arafat slicing away at Abbas' authority. Count on the road map to Middle East peace being a pit-holed road, probably a backpath at best.

Arafat continues to hold control over security bodies not spelled out under Abbas' authority. Arafat retains final word in any peace negotiations with Israel, so there!

Though yesterday Abbas downplayed any tension between the two men, one can only conclude that time will tell. In the meantime, so much for the public relations front at the Arafat-Abbas meeting.

The world has yet to read Abbas' cabinet list, the latter necessitating approval by the 88-member Palestinian legislature. Parliament Speaker Ahmed Qureia stated he would convene legislators within days.

Then - whallah! - the US will open wide the curtains to the road map, the latter calling for a close to Palestinian attacks, no more Jewish settlement building in the West Bank and Gaza, and hopefully a Palestinian state with provision borders.

US Secretary of State Colin Powell said Mr. Bush is ready to put pressure on Israel and the Palestinians to act on the plan. "He (Bush) knows with more certainty than he did before that this is where we have to return our attention to," Powell stated on CBS.

Cautious Powell went on: "He (Arafat). . .is still not showing the kind of leadership that we need in a Palestinian leader." In understatement, bottom line truth!

With that, it's more than a fat chance that Arafat is merely providing the skeptical world with another theatrical display of toothy grin and holding hands

Joseph Grant Swank, Jr., is the Pastor of New Hope Church in Windham, ME.  He is a a graduate of an accredited college (BA) and seminary (M Div) with graduate work at Harvard Divinity School.  Pastor Swank has been married for 41 years and he has 3 adult children.  He is the author of 5 books and over 2000 articles in various Protestant and Catholic magazines, journals and newspapers. He writes a weekly religion column for PORTLAND PRESS HERALD newspaper, Portland ME.  His columns have appeared on,,,,,,,,, among others.

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