The funeral arrangements having been made, Yassir Arafat died early this morning.
What is this man going to be remembered for? He certainly brought the Palestinian cause into the world spotlight – in fact, he was in no small part responsible for the creation of the whole notion of Palestinian identity. He led them through 30 years of struggle to where they are today.
What else? He’s famous for his 30-year campaign of murder and terror; his PLO was the engine of kidnappings, highjackings, bombings and shootings. Unlike the civil rights movement in America or the independence movement in India, he went for armed conflict from the beginning; and unlike the IRA, he went for the deliberate targeting of civilians from the first day as well. He’s the man most responsible for modern airline security; the notion of extensive checks at the gates was due to his people’s orchestrated highjackings and bombings of airplanes.
Nor will we forget his political accomplishments once he returned to lead the Palestinians in person. Who else could have taken the leadership so thoroughly? Who else could have taken on a semi-divine status as the people’s savior? Who else could have secreted so much of the money that came in to the Palestinian territories after the Oslo accords, and passed it on so effectively to his friends and cronies to build their villas while the cities rotted in poverty? Who else could have built twelve separate political police organizations so quickly, and set them all to spying on one another and his own populace? Or made alliances with Hamas, Hezbollah, the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigade, Jihad al-Islamiya, and a full alphabet soup of organizations of professional murderers and recruiters of children for suicide bombings to kill children even younger than them, and held such a crew – all hungry for power in their own right – together as a quasi-nation for so long?
And let us not forget his masterful planning for succession, allowing no one person to gain in power enough to threaten his hold, making sure that the Palestinians could be certain of absolutely centralized, unified authority until the day he died. Nor should we forget the deep legacy he has left his people, of unemployment, lack of infrastructure and lack of hope that their situation could ever be improved by anything other than following him, by anything other than sending their children to fight with their neighbors and filling the streets with blood, of lack of any educational system not run directly by terrorist groups, and of thwarting all attempts at peace or reconciliation with the Israelis, no matter how sophisticated or well-backed, with his endless poisonous invective and his endless ability to add one more demand every time there was a chance an agreement could be reached.
No, this man was a total bastard. He talked a lot about the goals of Palestinian statehood, but when I look at his actions, I see only a man in love with power and with the idea of being the leader who never compromised – so much in love with it that he destroyed the hopes of his own people in the name of preserving them.
Rest in peace, have a good afterlife, and I’m only sorry you didn’t go to it sooner. And let’s hope that your successor, whoever he may be, will have some more foresight and be able to create a genuine Palestinian society.