May 24, 2002
All the bad guys hate Arafat he must be doing something right
Yasser Arafat just can't get no respect. And it isn't only the Israelis and their international amen corner who hate him. Check out this leftist diatribe in the [UK] Guardian aimed at the President of the Palestinian Authority:
"T. E. Lawrence wrote of the Arab revolt of 1918 against Ottoman rule: 'I had preached to Feisal [King of Hejaz, in Arabia] from the beginning that freedom was taken, not given.' Someone should preach that to Arafat. For seven years after the Oslo agreement of 1993, Arafat debased himself. He arrested Palestinians whom he or Israel suspected of resisting military occupation. He received as honored guests Israelis who had advocated building new settlements and maintaining an army to protect them, within the borders of the statelet he desired to govern. He must have noticed the settler population double under his tenure to 400,000. For seven years, until Palestinians rose against occupation and the Oslo accords, he acted like a 'good Indian' to Americans and Israelis."
Arafat, we are told, is "the Palestinian Petain" this, after the man endured weeks cooped up in his Ramallah office, surrounded by Israeli tanks and snipers, with a death threat dangling over him. The Germans, to be sure, never surrounded Petain's office, except, perhaps, to protect it from the French resistance. But to Guardian-style fans of Hamas suicide bombers, the point is not to learn from history, but to manipulate it to certain ends. In this, they have much in common with their ostensible opposite numbers in the far-right faction of the Likud .
You'll remember that the Israeli Prime Minister, thug that he is, openly regretted not killing Arafat when he had the chance but Ariel Sharon's would-be successor vowed not to make that mistake. In a speech to the Likud conference where the party voted against ever allowing a Palestinian state, Benjamin Netanyahu outlined his vision of Arafat's fate:
"We must completely and totally eradicate Arafat's regime and remove him from the vicinity!"
That's his exclamation point. "Bibi" is perfectly aware of what a demagogue he is and means to underscore it:
"This is because Arafat is the engine that drives the terror, restoring and reestablishing it each time anew. He is responsible for poisoning the hearts and minds of an entire generation of Palestinian children with boundless hatred for Israel and Israelis."
The poisoning of those young minds naturally has nothing to do with these kids seeing their parents, along with themselves, humiliated on a daily basis; it has nothing to do with growing up in jail, with seeing family and friends murdered, mutilated physically and spiritually, by the Israeli occupiers. Boundless hatred? What did Netanyahu expect gratitude? Understanding? Whimpers of masochistic pleasure? Perhaps only the latter would satisfy him.
Sharon's regret at not having offed his old antagonist is eerily echoed by a commentary in Al Watan, a Kuwait daily newspaper (as translated by MEMRI):
"My question is: Why doesn't Arafat come out in public and in front of the world's TV cameras to, at the very least, announce his resignation? If he is serious in his struggle to place the Jews in a quandary and [to] have the world sympathize with him more and more, and to distance his people from the calamities of destruction which have befallen them because of his [Arafat's] agreements and concessions..., why does he not carry the weapon to fulfill his [declared] wish... to die as a martyr?!"
Again, I simply transcribe the hyperbolic punctuation, and let columnist Zayd bin Ghayam speak for himself:
"Why does he not draw lessons from history? He would discover that one American Indian chief, having failed to challenge the white 'Americans' when they invaded his land, swallowed poison and died to preserve his dignity and, at the same time, to protect his people from total destruction."
Netanyahu and Sharon would no doubt agree, along with Arafat-haters George Will, Bill Kristol, Charles Krauthammer, and the American Likudnik faction of the Republican party. Gee, I didn't know they had neocons in Kuwait, of all places: those guys sure get around!
You have to give Arafat credit: he survived. He slipped through the hands of the Israelis and also those of his Arab enemies, notably the Syrians "the Harry Houdini of Palestine," as the Guardian piece calls him. But the British lefties fail to understand that this bourgeois individualism on Arafat's part, far from being shameful, embodies a political will that of the Palestinian resistance. The longevity and continuity of Arafat's leadership confers legitimacy on the Palestinian cause: his personage is iconic. He is thus the universal target excoriated by all, not only by the Guardian but also the Bush administration, even as they insist the Israelis accept him as a negotiating partner.
Another important point about Arafat is that all the really bad guys in the Middle East hate him: Netanyahu, Hamas, the Syrian dictator, Noam Federman, and every fanatic splinter group that subsumes the Palestinian cause to a sectarian agenda.
Meanwhile, the good guys the pro-American elements in the US State Department have refuted the Israeli propaganda "dossier" that Sharon had clutched in his hot little hands during his aborted trip to Washington the other week. The point of this "dossier" was to somehow directly link Arafat to the planning of the suicide bombings: it was a crude, oddly counterintuitive propaganda ploy, directed not at US policymakers but at American public opinion. As Barry Schweid, AP's diplomatic writer, reports:
"The U.S. State Department has informed Congress there was 'no clear evidence' Yasser Arafat or other senior officials of the Palestine Liberation Organization planned or approved of terror attacks on Israel between mid-June and mid-December of last year."
Okay, so maybe they did little to rein in freelancers and Hamas sympathizers, and maybe the PLO isn't exactly the Palestinian equivalent of the Boy Scouts, but the Israeli accusations are clearly off the reservation. Indeed, the US has such confidence in Arafat that the CIA is bringing PLO security experts to Washington to meet with their Israeli counterparts. The American call to "reform" the PLO, and Arafat's pledge to do so even to conduct elections is in itself a vote of confidence. It is also a measure of how far American and Israeli interests have diverged. In the Israeli view, you may as well try to reform Osama bin Laden. The American view, as we have seen, is quite different.
By their enemies shall ye know them this is often a reliable rule of thumb when judging controversial public figures. Arafat, having acquired all the right enemies the Norman Podhoretz Right, the reflexively anti-American Euro-Left has me rooting for him. As the Harry Houdini of Palestine evades the well-laid traps of his numerous opponents, and, by his sheer sense of self-preservation, manages to bounce back after every defeat, no matter how humiliating and "final," he becomes a legend, a kind of Palestinian Pimpernel.
Those Israelis seek him everywhere.
Is he in heaven, or is he in hell?
That damned elusive Pimpernel!
No doubt Arafat will continue to elude his enemies, if only by the skin of his prominent nose: pragmatic, vainglorious, and cunning, he is, in short, a born politician and nation-builder. Is he a terrorist? No more than David Ben-Gurion and the other founders of the state of Israel, all of whom were leaders of groups branded as "terrorist" by the West and subsequently recognized by these very powers as statesmen. Like them, Arafat is no doubt fated to go down in history as the father of his country.
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