Amid the hubbub over Israel's planned construction in Jerusalem, a great deal of attention has centered on the key actors in this unfolding drama.
Figures such as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, US Vice President Joe Biden and Interior Minister Eli Yishai, as well as others, have all come under intensive media scrutiny for their respective roles in what is being billed as a serious crisis in US-Israel relations.
In recent days, observers have pored over remarks made by various senior American officials in response to the Israeli move, carefully parsing their choice of words and trying to distill the underlying motives behind the blistering criticism being directed against the Jewish state.
But amid the speculation about where all this is headed, there is one key player who has been all but overlooked.
INDEED, DESPITE the passage of more than five years since his death, Yasser Arafat and his dubious legacy of violence, threats and intimidation continue to play a pivotal part in our present predicament.
And it is precisely the heritage of hate bequeathed by the Palestinian terrorist leader which lies at the root of the uncertainty and unrest that now threatens to engulf the region.
As if to underline this point, one need only have looked at the backdrop to Biden's March 10 press conference with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
Above the podium, a huge banner bedecked the wall, with the face of a grinning Arafat hovering right over the vice president as he condemned Israel's plan to build in Jerusalem.
The Netanyahu government's decisions, Biden said, "undermine that very trust we must right now begin," as he called for the creation of an independent Palestine. "The US", he added, "is committed with its efforts to establishing a stable and viable Palestinian state."
Arafat himself couldn't have said it any better. Perhaps without realizing it, Biden was channeling Arafat's ghost, parroting the late Palestinian leader's nasty habit of blaming the Jewish state for harming the prospects for peace.
Similarly, despite Biden's pledge at the very same forum to "hold both sides accountable for any statements or actions that will inflame tensions or prejudice the outcome of talks," he did not offer a single word of condemnation for another one of Arafat's favorite pastimes: anti-Israel incitement.
Ironically enough, on the day after the press conference, the Palestinian Authority went ahead with plans to name a large public square in Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, who carried out the 1978 Coastal Road Massacre that killed more than three dozen Israelis,
including 12 children.
That attack, of course, was planned and perpetrated by Arafat's Fatah faction of the PLO, and the decision to commemorate it underlines the extent to which Israel's ostensible partners in peace remain committed to glorifying and idolizing the violence and bloodshed that Arafat so lustily preached.
Arafat's influence was also on display in the build-up to the "Day of Rage" which Palestinians held in Jerusalem on Tuesday, as the Palestinian leadership flooded the airwaves with vicious anti-Israel slander.
Recycling some of Arafat's favorite lines, Palestinian officials sought to inflame the public by accusing Israel of planning to demolish Muslim mosques on the Temple Mount.
Fatah official Hatam Abdel Khader, for example, called on Palestinians to "converge on Al-Aksa to save it" from what he described as "Israeli attempts to destroy the mosque and replace it with the Temple".
This was exactly the kind of libelous charge which Arafat was wont to hurl against the Jewish state in an effort to generate tension and fuel hatred.
So despite what much of the mainstream media has been telling us, it is not the decision by Israel to undertake a real estate project in a Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem which is threatening to derail the entire Middle East peace process. Rather, it is Arafat's ongoing
legacy of hate which continues to poison the atmosphere, as well as its embrace by the present Palestinian leadership.
It is a mindset which sees Israel as bearing sole responsibility for all that goes wrong, and one that aims to instill unending contempt in yet another generation of Palestinians.
HENCE, ALL of the pressure that the Obama administration is bringing to bear on Jerusalem is entirely and thoroughly misplaced. If Washington is truly interested in forging a path forward, the first step must be to exorcize Arafat's ghost from the Palestinian body politic, and to compel Palestinian leaders to recognize the permanence of Israel as a Jewish state in the region.
The Palestinians must be held accountable for the violence they preach, the hatred they teach and the shameless lies which they spread with wild abandon. Failure to do so will only allow the phantom of Palestine to continue to cast a pall over the region, haunting any efforts at reconciliation.
Simply put, it is time to drive Arafat's ghost and legacy away from the scene. It is a daunting task, but it must be done. So stop focusing on constructive works in Jerusalem, and start concentrating on the destructive words that are emanating from Ramallah. Therein lies the key to forestalling the next conflagration.