I can understand a lot of the choices that Yasser Arafat made during his lifetime. He probably understood quite early on how his people were being used by both the Arabs and the Israelis to justify various political policies, and that none of these policies would improve the lot of his people. Why not choose, under these circumstances, to try and take over first Jordan and then Lebanon? Of course, as with his stewardship of the Palestinian Authority, it all came to pieces in the end.
So what will Arafat be remembered for? For leading his people for so many decades, yes, but also for destroying the Lebanese state — a shining beacon of freedom and commercial success in the Middle East — for his years of virtual exile in Tunisia, for Sabra and Shatila, for the years the Israelis confined him to his complex in the Gaza that he supposedly ruled. Will future schoolchildren see the picture of Clinton standing between Arafat and Rabin at Wye River and see no success there at all?
Sadly so. It’s a pity, but Arafat’s death was the only thing that could lead to any re-start of the Middle East peace process. Both Bush and Sharon came into power on a ticket that said, basically, “we don’t trust Arafat and don’t intend to deal with him.” How could Arafat bring his people a state under those circumstances?
Abandoning Arafat was an odd decision, just seven years after Israel and America had put him in charge of the new Palestinian state that they had created. Arafat had failed to end terrorism; but Palestine and Israel suffered about what the British called in Ireland an “acceptable level of violence.” It’s not clear that Arafat ever wanted to fully neuter the terrorists — they were, after all, his only weapon. It was also never clear that one can expect a people who had lived in a state of resistance for 40 years to suddenly abandon their way of life and become a peaceful, democratic state within just a few years. But, then, there’s a set of people in America who think it natural that African-Americans should be able to easily overcome 400 years of oppression after only 30 years of official (if not actual) non-oppression. I dare say that our President falls within this group, so it’s at least logically consistent that he should think that the Palestinians can give up, pretty much instaneously, their history of living in resistance.
Arafat certainly couldn’t give up living in resistance. He never put aside the guerilla’s lifestyle or, more importantly, the guerilla’s constant focus on having another option. Guerillas must always be able to “bug out” so they always need to have a Plan B in case the regular army shows up in the middle of Plan A. Arafat tried to keep too many Plan Bs open, especially by re-starting the Intifada and supporting the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Unfortunately, the peacemaker has to put all of his eggs in one basket — not least because after burning your bridges, you can’t retreat. The Intifada was definitely a retreat, althouh an understandable one with Sharon’s election.
But, in the end, he’s dead, and Bush has re-dedicated himself to the Middle East Peace Process, at least publicly. Perhaps, in history, Arafat will be remembered as the last Palestinian leader to not also be Head Of State.