Hard Times for the PLO

January 17, 1991

The Palestinian cause is in deep despair because of Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq. For years, his adventures siphoned funds from the Gulf oil states away from Palestinians and the PLO and into his own war machine. His destruction of Kuwait wiped out a major source of subsidies for Palestinian hospitals and schools.

Yet his intimidation, belligerence toward the West and animosity toward Israel have won a following among many Palestinians frustrated by Israeli occupation of their lands. The toadying of King Hussein of Jordan to the destroyer of Kuwait, to placate Jordan's own Palestinians, is nothing short of remarkable. The scurrying to Baghdad of the ultimate survivor, PLO chief Yasser Arafat, was an undoubted misstep.

Now the PLO is crippled by the assassination in Tunis of three leaders including Mr. Arafat's right-hand man, Salah Khalaf, known as Abu Iyad. He was long on the presumed hit list of Israel's Mossad intelligence agency as organizer of the group that murdered Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972. More recently he was a moderate, plotting accommodation with Israel, and reportedly criticizing Saddam Hussein. He was long marked for death by Abu Nidal, a terrorist irreconcilable and enemy of Mr. Arafat, and may well have been targeted for elimination by Saddam Hussein himself. The Tunis assassin, a former Abu Nidal operative, had insinuated himself into PLO trust.

Despair on the West Bank deepens with the impoverishing of the Palestinians partly as a result of the success of their intifada or rebellion against Israel. The presumed Iraqi hand in the assassination in Tunis must convey how low Palestinians really are in the priorities of the dictator they profess to admire. He would as soon gas them as divert resources to them.

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