A Eulogy for Yasir Arafat

Author: Samuel Metz

Date: 11/21/2004

Yasir Arafat struggled relentlessly for an independent Palestinian state. 

Yasir Arafat stifled every opportunity to create an independent Palestinian state. 

These are not contradictions. 

Look at his legacy. On a planet of six billion people, he made the seemingly insignificant plight of six million Palestinians a daily headline. His was the only Palestinian voice heard outside the villages of the Holy Land for the last half of the twentieth century. For a community whose only previous international spokesman was the infamous Mufti of Jerusalem, Arafat was a godsend. 

Arafat designated himself the living embodiment of the Palestinian people. The struggle for a Palestinian state was his lifeís sole purpose. Cultivating his image with deliberate care by appearing in military dress, he sported firearms and a trademark battlefield growth of beard. He wore the Kaffiyah, headdress of the Bedouin soldiers. And he defended his self-appointed title of Palestinian savior against all challengers.

Yet he systemically destroyed every opportunity to create a Palestinian state. The most notable example: In January of 2001, then Prime Minister of Israel Ehud Barak privately offered Palestinian negotiators nearly everything they demanded for a Palestinian state. Whether Barak could have convinced the Israelis to support this proposal is questionable, but this challenge never arose. Arafat claimed the rights of Palestinians to return to homes within Israel were not addressed. He rejected the proposal as unacceptable and turned his back. End of negotiations. 

Why did Arafat sabotage the creation of the Palestinian state he claimed was his sole goal? The answer appears rather sad: A Palestinian state recognized by Israel, Arab nations, and the international community would require a relatively uncorrupt government, a security force that protected rather than endangered citizens, working economic relations with Israel, collegial diplomatic contacts with other Arab nations, and establishment of schools, hospitals, roads, electricity, water supply, and other infrastructure essential to any nation. Arafat could never answer these needs. Arafat knew that the first free post-sovereignty election in Palestine would reveal credible and popular competitors. A democratic Palestinian electorate would retire him in a heartbeat. The establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state would have, ironically, ended his career.

Arafat was no George Washington: First in war, but not first in peace. Arafat was not a Cincinnatus: At the end of the battle he could never forsake his wartime leadership and allow more skilled peacetime diplomats to continue his work. Arafat was a warrior who never wanted the war to end. 

Thus it is no surprise that Arafat dedicated his life to the struggle for, but not the achievement of, Palestinian independence. Instead he made impossible both peace and justice for Palestinians. Now the next generation of Palestinian leaders, free of Arafatís inability to lead a peacetime government, must walk the final mile and create the state.

Arafatís life made the Palestinian state inevitable. His death makes it possible.

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