Of Arafat, hype and peace
14 Nov. 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 US 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 that it was the Israeli government under 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 that Israel killed dozens of civilians in the start of the Intifada even before a single Israeli was killed. These and countless other inconvenient facts were ignored as the well funded and organized media campaign (called hasbara in Hebrew) rolls on. Such PR was common in European colonization of the Americas and in Apartheid South Africa (e.g. Reagan extolled whites not to negotiate with blacks because they were burning people alive in South Africa).
The reality is that Israel gets $5billion per year of our taxes, is armed to the teeth with US weapons (including WMD), waged a relentless war of occupation and colonization. Israeli intellectuals from Martin Buber to Jeff Halper and Ilan Pappe did not shy away from describing such war as aiming to destroy a whole society to replace it with a new society and culture while blaming the victims.
President Bush correctly pointed out that the US 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 (not a mainstream tradition), and the military exports (which now dominate US exports, mostly to the Middle East). As Senator Fullbright said, the US public would be up in arms if they knew the truth.
There is something surreal about middle-aged white Zionists like Dennis Ross and Benjamin Netanahu discussing what to do with brown-skinned people “after Arafat”. Ross worked for a spin-off of AIPAC (the Israeli lobby in Washington) both before and after he was US 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 their homes and 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 US patronage is harmful not only to people in the Middle East (Christians, Muslims, and Jews) but also to US public interests. If truth is told, the US 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 non-partisan way. Only time will tell if this amounted to corruption or merely centralization of what little power he had. To our dismay, under his leadership, the PLO was willing to give up 78% 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 US support (itself influenced by Israeli lobby) foolishly relied on the discredited concept of “might makes right” to even ask Arafat for more. Meanwhile, the US veto was used 35 times at the UN 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 people will to survive cannot be broken. Arafat’s 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 millions of refugees whose voices are silenced, our struggle continues. Instead of foolishly trying to find individuals willing to sell Palestinian rights to satisfy Zionist greed (labeled “acceptable peace partners”), Israeli and American leaders should be compelled by their public to insist on international law and human rights. In other words only justice brings peace.