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Poor Palestinian Politics Injures Hillary and Our Righteous Cause

By Ray Hanania

Arab Media Syndicate, (Permission granted to reproduce in full.)

November 13, 1999

Palestinians are not an easy audience to please.

For the most part, we are not very good at diplomacy, nor do we spend much time considering tact nor strategy.

But we love to speak from our hearts and with bundles of emotion.

Take the recent meeting by Suha Arafat, the wife of the PNA President, and Hillary Clinton, the wife of the American President.

During the much publicized visit by Hillary to both Israeli and Palestinian territories, Hillary found herself in a politically awkward position, placed there by an inexperienced and over enthusiastic Suha Arafat.

Suha Arafat lectured Hillary Clinton and made this assertion during her speech to reporters and with Hillary present: Suha alleged that Israel had been systematically using gas to poison Palestinian women and children. Suha Arafat also accused Israel of contaminating about 80 percent of water sources that it provides to Palestinians with chemical materials. Mrs. Arafat continued, "It is important to point out here the severe damage caused by the intensive daily use of poison gas by the Israeli forces in the past years which has led to an increase of cancer cases among Palestinian women and children."

I give Suha Arafat credit for raising an important issue, but I fault her, as I do most Palestinian and Arab leaders, with doing so at the most inappropriate times, and usually without strategic media planning.

If Mrs. Arafat made her comments so she could sound good to her own audience of cheering supporters, she easily achieved that. It's called preaching to the choir.

But, if Mrs. Arafat intended to make the statements in the hopes of elevating the issue to international debate and to encourage the wife of a US President and candidate for one of the nation's most influential senatorial seats (New York), she failed miserably as do most Palestinians of her generation.

Hillary Clinton and the Palestinians

We are certainly an emotional lot.

Last year when Hillary said she supported the creation of a Palestinian State, Palestinians lauded her, and called on her to do more.

But, posturing for a candidacy in the New York Senate race in the year 2000 against notorious anti-Arab Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, Hillary backed off and publicly stated that Jerusalem is the "eternal capitol of Israel."

Hillary's comments on Jerusalem and her refusal to repeat her endorsement of a Palestinian State, including as recently as her four day trip to Israel and during her meeting with Mrs. Arafat, has angered Palestinians, who are now denouncing her.

Without weighing the political significance of these events, Palestinians have opened up with political guns blazing, attacking Hillary, criticizing the Israelis and denouncing Clinton.

To put it bluntly, Mrs. Arafat has embarrassed Hillary Clinton, primarily by the manner in which she made her comments and on the occasion of the context of where the comments were made.

And, the fact is Mrs. Arafat may have put the nail in Hillary Clinton's candidacy to win the New York Senate race next year, giving Giuliani so much of an edge there he will win.

Palestinians will react to this the way they react to other strategic issues, but further harassing Clinton but more importantly by failing to back up their words.

If the Israelis have poisoned the Palestinian waters and caused an increase in cancer among Palestinians, prove it. Don't just blurt it out the way nearly every Palestinian accusation against Israel is proffered.

Palestinians believe that emotion is justification enough for their oftentimes solid albeit exaggerated claims against Israel.

In fact, when reporters pressed Mrs. Arafat to explain her remarks, her aides said simply she was referring to the use of tear gas during the Intifadah and other confrontations with Palestinians. That answer not only makes the claim against the Israelis look so ridiculous in the eyes of most World observers, it has undermined Palestinian credibility on other, more substantive contentions of Israeli transgression.

The End Result is Often Missed

What many Palestinians will miss in their emotional outbursts is that in the end, Rudolph Giuliani will win the New York Senate race, partly because of the way Palestinians played their feeble hand in politics.

The extremists in our community -- small in number but vocal in their ability to out-shout the silent majority of Palestinians back home and in the Diaspora -- will respond by saying "So what. There is no difference between Hillary Clinton and Rudolph Giuliani or even the most extreme Zionists.

It is exactly that kind of cut-your-nose-off-to-spite-your-face emotional non-strategy that resulted in the 1948 loss of Palestine, the loss in the 1967 War, or backward movement during the 1973 War and the inability of any Palestinian to win literally one inch of Palestinian land back without surrenduring our principles as Arafat has been forced to do in Oslo and at Wye.

Hillary Clinton, who happens to be one of the most influential American political leaders to ever offer strong support for Palestinian goals, was forced to rebuke Mrs. Arafat. Hillary Clinton told reporters Friday (Nov. 12), "I do not believe any kind of inflammatory rhetoric or baseless charges are good for the peace process."

Not only was Hillary forced by the circumstances of American politics and the way the Suha Arafat remarks are being played around the world, but failed Palestinian politics has also forced her to remain silent on issues she would otherwise have spoken about forcefully and to our Palestinian best interests. Her aides are even reminding reporters that her grandmother's second husband was a Jew.

So, instead of cultivating a champion of Palestinian rights in Hillary Clinton, as her initial pose suggested she might someday become, she has backed off as do most of our supporters embarrassed into silence by our naive and emotionally played posturing.

In New York, meanwhile, Giuliani was ecstatic. He said that if he were invited to the West Bank event, "I don't think I would have been there." And if he were there, the New York mayor added, he would have objected to Mrs. Arafat. "I certainly wouldn't have embraced the person that said it - hugged them and kissed them."

This is the same New York mayor who consistently insults Palestinians in his city, attacks and slanders Arafat and other Palestinian and Arab leaders, decries and ridicules nearly every Palestinian demand for justice, and will bring his hateful anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab posture to the leadership of an already anti-Arab US Congress.

Yet, how much energy do Palestinians like Suha Arafat and her critics offer in response to Giuliani's anti-Arab rhetoric and his "blood libel?"

None. Because we Palestinians always save our worst criticism and our most embarrassing jabs for those who try to do the most for us.

The Suha Arafat fiasco stands as a testament to the failed strategic efforts of our Palestinian leadership. It represents the kind of immature and inexperienced gamesmanship that Palestinians showcase whenever they attempt to stand up for their own rights.

It results in Palestinians always finding themselves on the outside looking in while, others manage and decide the fate of our people and our long lost lands.

Ray Hanania is an award winning Palestinian American journalist, author and writer. His columns are archived on the World Wide Web at

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