Yasser Arafat got on his cellular phone Thursday and told an Egyptian group meeting in a church in Cairo, "The (Israeli) occupation is going beyond limits, not only against... our children, our women... (but) against our Christian and Muslim sanctuaries." He continued, "The aggression that continues today against the Church of the Nativity... is a crime... We will continue to defend these churches regardless of anybody."

What a great guy. As a Christian pastor, I take great comfort in knowing that Yasser is watching out for my interests over there.

Yasser Arafat is one of the world's greatest geniuses at what I like to call "political multi-tasking." This is when you're able to accomplish two - seemingly incompatible - political goals at the same time. For instance, you make a vicious attack on an enemy, but your enemy gets a black eye for being the aggressor. How does it work?

Arafat sends waves of suicide bombers at a democratic, open society, moaning all the while that he really wants peace and that we could have it if Israel would just stop their aggression. He attacks, but accuses Israel of being the villain. He wins both ways. Political multi-tasking.

Now that Israel has refused to be handcuffed by world opinion and is moving strongly against the PA, Arafat's people have to hide somewhere. So what better place for his thugs to crawl into than a world-famous Christian church in Bethlehem? In the most cynical vein imaginable, terrorists hide out in a site sacred to the world's Christians with full confidence that Israel will respect the sanctity of the spot (even while the terrorists don't). Then Arafat trumpets to the world that Israel is committing "...aggression... against the Church of the Nativity...," that it "is a crime..." and "We will continue to defend these churches regardless of anybody."

Arafat cynically uses a sacred spot as a hideout for murderers, then declares that Israel is trying to destroy the church. He gets a hideout and Israel gets the international black eye. Arafat wins both ways. Political multi-tasking. Watch for it. He does it all the time. The really tragic part is that much of the world actually believes it.

The situation in Bethlehem is causing all kinds of people to find religion. For example, the Egyptians, who, as mentioned above, hosted the church meeting that was addressed by the PLO leader. According to AP reports, what took place on Thursday at the Abbassiya Cathedral in Cairo was "the first political forum convened in an Egyptian church since 1919." Muslim-dominated Egypt may be tough on Christians, but that won?t stand in the way of a public relations coup. Five thousand gathered to hear Yasser Arafat lambasting Israel.

The incident does make for a great picture of his character. Remember, Arafat has a vested interest in Bethlehem - poor Yasser didn't get to go to Bethlehem for Christmas. He was quoted as saying that the Israelis were keeping him from fulfilling his "duty to God." The poor guy was so eager to get to Bethlehem's Midnight Mass that he was ready to go "even on foot." Hey, I'm just a Texan, but I never knew that Christmas was that big a Muslim holiday. Go figure. Is it remotely possible that Mr. PR himself was using a religious holiday as a tool to get some good publicity? Surely he's not that cynical.

As long as Arafat is so concerned about the poor Christians in Bethlehem and their church, wouldn't it be reasonable to ask how they're faring? Published reports have said that Bethlehem's Arab Christians dwindled from 60% of the population in 1990 to 20% in 1998. Notice that the Christians fled while the PA was overseeing the town. When I was in Jerusalem in January, a Protestant leader told me it would be a surprise if the Christian population were even 3% by now, because of severe persecution by the Palestinians. In nearby Beit Jala, Christians were the town's majority when the Palestinians took over. We're now told that more Christians from Beit Jalla live in South America than remain in Beit Jala itself. Maybe they just couldn't stand all that wonderful "protection" from Arafat and his friends.

Remember Beit Jala? That?s where Palestinian terrorists would sneak into the town to fire at Gilo across the valley. The gunmen loved to station themselves as close to the Christian sites as possible. After all, if the IDF missed their target and hit a church, it's a PR bonanza. The Palestinians intentionally try to murder innocent civilians in Gilo, but it would be the Israelis who would be said to have ruthlessly attacked a Christian church, getting the bad publicity. Political multi-tasking.

Beit Jalla, too, forms a picture of Arafat's character. Any religious symbol, anything that is precious to others, no matter how sacred, is just another weapon in Arafat's hand. A world famous church? Hide murderers inside and accuse Israel of trying to destroy it. A church in Egypt? Use it as a public relations prop. A church in Beit Jala? Shoot Jews from behind it and then hope the IDF hits it by mistake.

I hear so many people say that if we get rid of Arafat, he'll just be replaced by someone else just as bad or worse. Yet what is Arafat's real talent? He's a master of public relations. He sends the bombers and comes out looking like the victim. It's amazing. Is there another Palestinian leader who has the international respect (painful, but it's true) and the worldwide political contacts that Arafat has? How many Palestinian leaders have a Nobel peace prize in the trophy case? His Rolodex alone would be an international politician's dream.

For 38 years, Arafat has presided over an increasingly shaky coalition of terrorist groups. These factions have had one common denominator - a commitment to the destruction of Israel. Yet what really presents a danger to Israel is Arafat's ability to cynically and brilliantly manipulate world opinion. Is it working? So well that a significant percentage of the world believes Arafat is in the right and the Palestinians are victims. So well that, because of the pressure of that world opinion, Israel didn't dare to act forcefully to protect its own people until two weeks ago.

It's time for Arafat to go.


B.F. Spears, Jr. is a pastor in Forth Worth, Texas.