View From a Height
Commentary from the Mile High City
Friday, May 30, 2003
Game Theory

Now that Yasser, wants your baby, Arafat, don't mean maybe, has re-inserted himself into the "peace" process, delaying the Sharon-Abbas summit just to show who's boss, the whole thing begins to look a lot less like momentum towards peace a more like the kind of momentum that carries you off the cliff. We've been this way with Arafat before, and if he needs to approve anything Abbas comes knocking on his door with (not too hard, though; the building might collapse), there's really no point in continuing. The US and Israel have invested a tremendous amount of capital in sidelining the Butcher of Ramallah, and for good reason. Letting him back into the game will just mean more Jews getting killed. Probably more Palestinians, too. The fact is, Arafat still controls the executive, and, as in most dictatorships of the Arab flavor, Presidents make the rules, and Prime Ministers look pretty. Arafat has served notice that this part of the game isn't over yet.

As long as there's someone playing good-cop/bad-cop, there's a State Department willing to play Criminal Intent. One of the excuses we've heard is that we need to give Abbas concessions to strengthen his hand against Arafat. Now we've heard this before. We need to help the Soviet "moderates" against the Soviet "hard-liners." We need to help the Iranian "reformers" so they'll be stronger against the "hard-line" mullahs. We need to help a conciliatory Arafat against the radical - , oh, um, yeah.

The problem with this reasoning is that the other side knows perfectly well what it is you're doing. They know that the reason they got, say, Hebron, is because you want Abbas to look good, and so they'll finally turn around and dump Yasser into Galilee and hold his head under. They know this, because you've told them so. The problem for them is, then what? What about after Yasser's been sent to the great beyond? Then, you've got what you want, so you don't have to give in any more, and you can play hardball.

But they know that, too. And it's obvious then that Abbas didn't win anything, Arafat won the concessions. At the very least, he's useful to have around as a threat; at worst, he's able to re-establish himself as the real power in the terror-tories. We worked hard to throw Arafat overboard because we didn't think we could deal with him, and because he had too much blood on his hands. We only got a Prime Minister, able to appoint, in theory, his own cabinet, because we said we weren't talking at all until they installed one. And we got the Palestinians to approve the Road Map, flawed as it is, by refusing to talk until they did. Now, if it turns out that Arafat is still behind the curtain, all of that will have been for naught. And we'll be right back to the same old game of watching Arafat pocket real concessions for false words. Only this time, you can barely see his lips move.

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