Arafat didn't block peace in the Middle East
New Haven Register 11/18/2004
THE hype around the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has mostly centered around his personal failings and his relationship to the two powers attempting to reshape the Middle East, the United States and Israel. Little has been said about his real political and enduring legacy, which shaped and will continue to shape the Palestinian struggle for freedom.
We heard the endless sound bites about "the generous offer at Camp David," "no credible peace partner," and "supporting terrorism." But negotiations continued after Camp David and it was the Israeli government under Ehud Barak who withdrew from negotiations in January 2001 at Taba, months after Camp David.
Amnesty International explained that a major flaw of the Oslo accords was that they ignored human rights, including the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes and lands. The fact is Israel killed dozens of civilians in the start of the intifada even before a single Israeli was killed.
These and countless other inconvenient facts are ignored as the well-funded and organized media campaign rolls on.
The reality is that Israel gets $5 billion per year of our taxes, is armed to the teeth with U.S. weapons and waged a relentless war of occupation and colonization.
President Bush correctly pointed out that the U.S. government stood alone in supporting isolation of Arafat. But he was wrong to state that this is because it was the right thing to do. Not discussed are the Israeli lobby, the Christian Zionist influence and the military exports, mostly to the Middle East.
There is something surreal about middle-aged white Zionists like Dennis Ross and Benjamin Netanahu discussing what to do with brown-skinned people after Arafatís death.
Ross worked for a spin-off of AIPAC (the Israeli lobby in Washington) both before and after he was U.S. envoy to the Middle East. Netanyahu, the ex-prime minister of Israel, once said that Israel should have used the media distraction with the violence in China in 1989 to remove the remaining Palestinians from its lands.
It is like presenting a KKK member with the governor of Mississippi to discuss what to do after the death of a black leader in the South.
Vilification of Arafat and Muslims in general can only go so far in hiding the fact that Israeli apartheid with U.S. patronage is harmful not only to people in the Middle East but also to U.S. public interests.
If truth were told, the U.S. public would not knowingly support Jewish-only roads and settlements and a system of discrimination described by Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa as worse than what occurred in his country under apartheid.
Arafat had flaws. He lived a frugal life, but did not create mechanisms for dispensing public money in a transparent and nonpartisan way. Only time will tell if this amounted to corruption or merely centralization of what little power he had.
Under his leadership, the PLO was willing to give up 78 percent of Palestine and accept resettling large numbers of Palestinian refugees away from their stolen lands instead of advocating for a pluralistic state for all its people.
Israeli leaders, enabled by U.S. support, foolishly relied on the discredited concept of "might makes right" to ask Arafat for even more. Meanwhile, the U.S. veto was used 35 times at the United Nations to shield Israel from international law while its military hammered the Palestinian population and continued the process of ethnic cleansing.
Golda Meir and founding Israeli leaders used to say there is no Palestine and no Palestinians. Arafat and the Palestinian people not only proved them wrong, but also showed how a peopleís will to survive cannot be broken.
Arafatís death provides an opportunity to open the discourse to rational discussion that includes the Palestinian narrative.
For all Palestinians, including 300,000 Palestinian Americans, and 20 million refugees whose voices are silenced, our struggle continues.
Instead of foolishly trying to find individuals willing to sell Palestinian rights to satisfy Zionist greed, Israeli and American leaders should be compelled by their publics to insist on international law and human rights. In other words, only justice brings peace.
Mazin B. Qumsiyeh is co-founder and media coordinator of the Palestine Right to Return Coalition. Readers may write him at P.O. Box 1172, Orange 06477-7172. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org