Arafat’s Reign as “Chief” Ends

As Israel intensified its war on civilians in the Palestinian ghettos known to the world as the West Bank and Gaza, newspaper headlines screamed “Israel severs all contact with Arafat“.

This remarkable turn-about is a far cry from the not-too-distant images of Yasser Arafat shaking hands with former Israeli Premier Rabin, on the lawns of the White House, with ex-President Clinton between them. Camouflaged then from public view, was the same unwritten obligation placed on Arafat’s lap, which has now come to haunt him by order of the war criminal turned Premier, Ariel Sharon: rein in the leadership of Hamas and Islamic Jihad and stop the Intifada`:

Arafat’s failure to do so, not from want of trying, has finally sealed his fate as a “negotiating partner“, and arbitrally dismissed as “no longer relevant to Israel“.

The present drama being played out vis-�-vis Arafat and his Palestinian Authority can be best understood in a colonial context. After all, Israel is a settler colonial state. This new “solution” by the Sharon regime to sever relations with Arafat is not any different to the historically discarded “solutions” devised by white colonialists to the problem of native peoples in nineteenth century Africa and the Americans. The Palestinian scholar Professor Edward Said, makes this parallel by describing the concept that natives could be turned into irrelevant exotics, with their land taken from them, and living conditions settled on them that reduced them to day laborers and pre-modern farmers.

Secondly, he asserts that the division of lands (reservations) into non-continuous Bantustans, in which an apartheid policy gave special privileges to white (today’s Israeli) settlers, while letting the natives live in their own run-down ghettos: there they would be responsible for their municipal affairs, yet subject to white (again, Israel) security control. This was the South African model. Finally, the need to give these measures some degree of local acceptability required a native “chief” to sign on the dotted line. He temporarily gathered a little more status than before; the whites gave him more support, a title and a privilege or two, even a native police force so that everyone could rest easy that the right thing had been done for his people. This was the French and British model for nineteenth-century Africa. Arafat is the late-twentieth-century equivalent of the African “chief“.

Now that the chieftainship of the Palestinian Authority has been ignominiously curtailed, divisions within the Knesset are bound to surface yet again. The fragile coalition government held together by Sharon’s Likud party is likely to face it’s severest test. By painting himself into a corner, Ariel Sharon has one option left only: self-destruct.

The Palestinians on the other hand have demonstrated an impressive sense of political maturity. Hamas in particular, despite being on the receiving end of the “chief’s” security clampdown on behalf of Israel and the US, announced that it would not fall into their trap designed to ignite a Palestinian civil war. Instead it would continue to retain Palestinian unity in the face of the current challenges. Hamas has also rejected the call by US secretary of State Colin Powell on Arafat to ” handle Hamas“, and has described it as an “evil call” for killing members of the Islamic Movement.

With the spotlight on Arafat publicly being humiliated by the Israeli regime and held hostage within the Occupied Territories, unable to attend the most recent Organisation of Islamic Conference meeting held in Qatar, it is certain that the resistance movements, including Arafat’s Fatah, will win more support to continue the Intifada. It is an Intifada not only against the very texts and maps of the Oslo accords, but also against it’s planners and participants, Israeli as well as Palestinian.

(Mr. Iqbal Jasarat is Chairman of the Media Review Network, which is an advocacy group based in Pretoria, South Africa.)