Lesser Palestine

12 November 2004

Arafat Failed in His Life’s Ambition

The guns fell silent on 11 November 1918, and it was rather fitting that a man who promoted vicious violence dropped dead on that anniversary. Yasser Arafat, a hero to many and devil to others, leaves this world a failure. For roughly half a century, he was the leader of the Palestinian Arabs, a people who never got the country he promised them nor the kind of leadership they deserve. Many thing have been said of him in his last days but few have called him what he was a common criminal who stole from his people while claiming to be their paladin.

To assess the effectiveness of any politician one must ask first whether he succeeded in achieving his goals. Lost causes and noble failures are the stuff of poetry, and as such, contribute to much to the bad name poetry has in the Anglo-American world. A political leader who doesn’t deliver the goods cannot, by definition, be a great leader. By this measure, Mr. Arafat was a bungler. As the Romanian writer Panait Istrati once asked a Soviet in Stalin’s days, “All right, I can see the broken eggs. Where's this omelet of yours?” Where is this free and democratic Palestine?

In addition, the tactics and strategies of a leader determine much of his effectiveness. Mr. Arafat chose the terror tactics of hijacking aircraft and murdering civilians. How ironic to consider that if all the Palestinians had stayed in Israel and not bothered fighting in 1948, they would comprise a majority in the Zionist entity today. It might even be an Arab and Jewish democracy with a commitment to human rights. Instead, the Palestinian people have nothing. And after 50 years of Mr. Arafat’s armed struggle, Israeli tanks still do as they please in Palestinian lands.

Mr. Arafat’s greatest problem was his desire to be the leader of the people rather than achieve anything for them. In Ireland, Michael Collins knew he signed his own death warrant when he agreed to the Free State, and it started a civil war in which hundreds died (Bless the Irish, they couldn’t muster up enough guns to kill thousands). Yet, the Irish got self-rule, and that has been used to create 21st Century Ireland, a place people emigrate to instead of immigrate from. Mr. Arafat turned down numerous chances for his people because he feared the militant strain of nationalism that would call him a “sell-out.” Yet, there is nothing wrong with selling out for a decent price. He let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

And then, there is the matter of all the money. Literally billions of dollars found their way into the PLO apparatus, and months before his death, French authorities began investigating suspicious transfers amounting to millions that Mrs. Suha Arafat arranged. The estimates for Mr. Arafat’s money run as high as $6 billion. His defenders will say that was money for the people of Palestine. Indeed, it was, but Mr. Arafat never did bother with transparency. He wouldn’t be the first to co-mingle assets, or appropriate them outright. One thing is certain -- whatever money he commanded in Switzerland should have been spent in Palestine and wasn't.

© Copyright 2004 by The Kensington Review, J. Myhre, Editor. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent.


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