Criticism of Arafat Is Justified

TO THE EDITORS

The opinion expressed in Martin Lebwohl and Matthew Mayers November 13 letter, in response to the editorial "Embracing a Murderer," advocates an unstable Middle East peace based on evasion rather than mutual trust.

Lebwohl and Mayers seem to condemn any questioning of Yasir Arafat as "delegitimizing" and an "obstacle...to the peace process" They claim that "despite [a] natural aversion to Arafat the man" Israel must negotiate with him uncomplainingly, without evaluation.

In today's politics one can to some extent deemphasize Arafat's past. After all, he signed an agreement with the Israeli government in September 1993, and he has pledged to work for peace. People, especially political leaders, can change. Yet it is not clear whether Arafat has indeed turned from terrorism to peacemaking. Those who care about peace cannot ignore Arafat's recent declaration that the Oslo accords are simply his implementation of the 1974 "10-Point Plan" (the destruction of Israel in phases). We cannot ignore his continuing calls for violent jihad. We cannot ignore his praise for hijackers and terrorists.

In light of such statements, questioning Arafat is far from illegitimate. His declaration of support for peace obligates him to explain such warlike rhetoric. Those who question Arafat do not seek to prevent him from gaining support, as Lebwohl and Mayers claim. The questioners seek to assure themselves that Israel's partner in this critical process is truer committed to peace.

Only this process of questioning and clarification will build a relationship of trust for the future. Israel's relationship with Arafat will not end with the successful completion of negotiations. The goal of those negotiations is autonomy for Palestinians. As neighbors, Arafat and Israel will need to maintain a stable relationship. We must build trust now.

It is unrealistic to assume that worthwhile negotiation can continue with such contradictions unmentioned and unaccounted for. The claim that we must overlook Arafat's less than peaceful rhetoric so as not to "delegitimize" him endangers the construction of true peace. Such attitudes threaten the formation of the comprehensive Middle East peace that has been Israel's dream for so long. --Miriam Goldstein '99