Friday, August 14, 2009

Yasir Arafat: Martyr to His Own Political Methodology

By Barry Rubin

"'Mistah Kurtz--he dead.

"All the pilgrims rushed out to see. I remained, and went on with my dinner. I believe I was considered brutally callous….” --Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness"

I think that the death of Yasir Arafat is a perfect metaphor for the problems of the Palestinian movement but I mean something different from that than anyone else has said hitherto. (Sorry I just wanted to use the word “hitherto” in a sentence.)

The Fatah congress has just officially and unanimously declared that Israel murdered Arafat. There is no proof of this and it says much about Fatah and its leadership (including such “moderates” as Mahmoud Abbas) that they endorsed and indeed fomented this move. But then Abbas holds a PhD from a Soviet university for saying the Holocaust didn’t happen, so history isn’t his strongpoint.

At the same time, there is equally no proof that Arafat died of AIDS. Whatever Arafat was, he wasn’t a womanizer or a drug addict who used dirty needles. And there’s no evidence h e was a “manizer” either. I mean, with all due respect to Oriana Fallaci, that all began when she speculated on Arafat having a handsome bodyguard. Let me just say that I did extensive research on this issue and never turned up anything.

So why is the manner of Arafat’s death so significant? The answer is: For an entirely different reason. Let me quickly add that I’m not a doctor (and don’t even play one on television). But I know some doctors and I also have reasonably good powers of observation.

Here’s the truth: Arafat was ill for a long time. You could see that he was in serious physical trouble long before it became critical or anyone mentioned it in writing. Israeli, Palestinian, and Jordanian doctors knew it. The real reason Arafat deteriorated faster than he would have otherwise is that he got terrible medical attention.

And why is that? Because his colleagues, staff, and the Palestinian Authority elite could not admit that he was in bad shape. They didn’t want to face the reality. They were afraid of what would happen without him both to the movement (serious internal crisis) and to their own careers (loss of position and personal income, and I don’t just mean official salary).

So they looked the other way, indulged in fantasy and wishful thinking, ignored facts. And things got worse and worse. Sort of the same with their own cause.

If they had gone to the hospital in 1948 and had a check-up, they could have accepted partition and had a state. If they had gotten their shots after the 1967 war, they would have perhaps made a deal with Israel instead of saying, “No!” to proper treatment. And so on through their reckless (but not wreckless) confrontation with Jordan’s army in September 1970, years of terrorism, opposition to Camp David I, all the way down to their support of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in 1990, destruction of the peace process in 2000 at Camp David II, and down through all the games they continue to play.

That’s why Arafat didn’t get proper treatment until he was at death’s door, they could stall no longer, and had to rush him off to Paris. And that’s why the Palestinian state never gets born, too.

They did it themselves and they blame that one on Israel, too, don't they?

Sure, Arafat built the movement, kept it together, moved it forward. But he also crippled it, inflicted massive terrorism, damaged and detoured his own cause. In short, he ensured its existence and survival but also its ultimate failure. Since his death, nothing substantive has changed.

New faces? What a joke! When Mahmoud Abbas was unanimously elected at the Fatah congress, who announced it to the delegates? Why Tayyib Abu Rahman, that's who! The voice of Arafat, his most faithful servant, who himself only missed getting on the allegedly new, young, pragmatic new Central Committee by a single vote.

Here's the most apt description of Arafat's demise and summary of his life: 

"Anything approaching the change that came over his features I have never seen before, and hope never to see again. Oh, I wasn't touched. I was fascinated. It was as though a veil had been rent. I saw on that ivory face the expression of sombre pride, of ruthless power, of craven terror--of an intense and hopeless despair. Did he live his life again in every detail of desire, temptation, and surrender during that supreme moment of complete knowledge? He cried in a whisper at some image, at some vision....:

"'The horror! The horror!'"

--Joseph Conrad, "Heart of Darkness"

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