Comment: A man who has failed his people and ours

By David Horovitz October 28, 2004

Yasser Arafat’s refusal to disavow terrorism thwarted the Palestinian push for statehood and destroyed the Israeli majority’s Oslo optimism

He is the embodiment of the Palestinian struggle for independence – the leader, the strategist, the symbol. And he is the key reason for the failure of that struggle to date. Yasser Arafat certainly forced the fate of the Palestinians into the global consciousness. But his refusal to disavow terrorism as certainly thwarted their push for statehood.

There can be few more bitter ironies than the timing of his collapse – on the anniversary of the death of Yitzhak Rabin, the man with whom he had endlessly professed to seek the ‘peace of the brave.’ For nine years, Arafat has wanted the world to believe that the Oslo process would have been consummated had Rabin lived.

But it was the Palestinian figurehead who, in his disinclination to confront Hamas and other terrorists, gradually destroyed the Israeli majority’s Oslo optimism. And that, in turn, created a climate of domestic Israeli anger and despair in which an assassin was emboldened to strike.

The award of the Nobel Peace Prize he shared with Rabin and Shimon Peres a decade ago was testament to international hope and expectation, rather than confidence, and that hope and expectation gradually ebbed away after that. So much so that he will be mourned by precious few, even of the Israelis who had wanted to see him as a peace partner.

Large swathes of international public opinion have accepted the Arafat narrative that Israel did not offer viable terms for Palestinian statehood at the Camp David summit four years ago. But that is a narrative that is rejected by the Israeli consensus, which has long since come to regard his demand for a ‘right of return’ for most of his people to Israel as representing a bid, given the failure of the ‘armed struggle,’ to overwhelm the Jewish state demographically.

Of late, furthermore, even some of the international policymakers who had persisted in regarding him as a potential peacemaker, have drawn the sorry conclusion that he never made the shift from terrorist to statesman. President Bush signalled that the US had despaired of him in June 2002, when he conditioned support for Palestinian statehood on the emergence of an alternative Palestinian leadership. Several European nations have moving toward a similar stance very recently.

And for all the professions of love and impending loss from those Palestinian leadership colleagues who know him best, the truth is that few will be sorry to see him go. Fearful of consequent chaos, but not sorry. The egotistical, malevolent Arafat has ruled because his people would tolerate no other symbol, and because he has held the purse strings, and has thus been able to pit politician against politician, security chief against security chief. Those who dared criticize – men like Gaza strongman Muhammad Dahlan, former minister Nabil Amr, and the prime minister who tried hardest to usurp him, Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) – were ruthlessly ostracized.

The timing of his collapse is significant, too, in the context of Ariel Sharon’s Gaza disengagement plan, so freshly approved in principle by the Knesset. No matter how the prime minister’s aides might spin it for international consumption, unilateral disengagement is a vote of no-confidence in the ‘road map’ and in any notion of negotiation with the Palestinian leadership. A vote of no confidence, that is, in Yasser Arafat.

After Arafat, the urgent question, for Israelis and Palestinians alike, will be whether anarchy or moderation prevail. Whether the indistinguishable terrorism of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and Fatah’s Aksa Martyrs Brigades dictate the Palestinian reality. Or whether mild and moderate leaders can assert themselves.

Put another way, the Knesset’s vote on Tuesday night can be seen as a blow to those Jews who do not wish to divide the land between the river and the sea. Will Arafat’s passing deal a blow to those Palestinians – Palestinians, we must ultimately conclude, like Arafat himself – who, for their very different reasons, also oppose the division of that bloodied territory.

© The Jerusalem Post