Yasser Arafat is no more. But it is Israel that has died. The United States is the biggest loser in Arafat’s passing. Of course, appearances are all to the contrary. But we ignore the obvious and elementary truths at our peril.
The English Poet John Dunne reminded us: "No man is an island, entire of itself-¦Any man’s death diminishes me-¦Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee."-¦ Israeli dictator Ariel Sharon, and U.S. President George Bush said Arafat was "irrelevant." They were wrong. Arafat’s bell tolls for them.
Right-wing Israelis are dancing in the streets at the passing of Arafat; in the United States so-called "neo-cons" are tipping their champagne glasses; their "enemy" is dead. But just as Arafat outsmarted them in life, he has outsmarted them in death.
Arafat was the last of the great twentieth century leaders. He was a genius whose genius will only be recognized with his passing. Allow me to elaborate:
Forty years ago, Arafat began his puny movement to recognize Palestine and to renew efforts for Palestinian nationhood. Forty years ago, Israel stood supreme: powerful militarily, and reaping sympathy because of its creation after the Holocaust. In forty years, Arafat destroyed Israeli power. Israel’s guns and atomic bombs are worthless and useless. Israel today is a pariah nation, condemned under international law, doomed to rejection by the world community.
Arafat, like the pope, had no divisions. He had no bases, no camps that could not be attacked. But history shows that the power of an idea always triumphs over the power of a gun.
Last year, while picking olives with brave Israelis in the West Bank, I heard them mourn the passing of the "old Israel," the Israel of its founders, of high hopes, an Israel anchored in 6,000 years of glorious Jewish history. Today Israel is a mafia nation, its young trained from birth to hate, to abuse their neighbors, to murder innocents, and to claim a conquest and "victory" that has destroyed their nation. This is the tragedy of Israel, an Israel that has become a hollowed-out parody of its founders’ glorious dreams.
The defeat of Israel came at the hands of Yasser Arafat, a general who never won a battle, let alone a war, yet vanquished his adversary by delegitimizing the Israeli soul.
Would Israelis choose to go back to the 1960,’s, before Arafat, or would they choose the present? Most Israelis would quickly choose to return to the period before 1967, before Israel became a brutal and bloodthirsty colonial power and triggered its own decline. Moshe Dyan the warrior knew in 1967 that Israel must make peace or die. The politicians refused to make peace, and so his nation has slowly been dying. Arafat brought about this downfall without ever defeating Israelis on the field of battle.
What about 2000? What about the "offer" Arafat "rejected?" Can an offer be in good faith when it is not reduced to writing? Of course not. Should Arafat have accepted the "final offer" in Taba? A good case can be made he should have. Arafat was a great leader, but a lousy negotiator, and even worse administrator. Charismatic personalities usually are.
Israeli propaganda has created the myth that Arafat "rejected" a "dream offer" that is never to return. No one really believes that. The tragedy of Israel and Palestine is that they shed blood, and waste years, only to return eventually to Taba as the starting point.
Is Israel better off today, four years into the second intifada? Obviously not. Just as Africans never conquered South Africa militarily, Israel will not surrender to Palestinians. Instead, it will eventually surrender to the world community. All because Arafat delegitimized his enemy.
Whose vision will have triumphed in fifty years? Sharon’s? Or Arafat’s? Merely to pose the question is to realize the great tragedy of the Israeli people, and the death of the Israeli state. Even as Sharon imprisoned Arafat, Arafat delegitimized Sharon. The delegitimization of Israel by Arafat was a profoundly more powerful historic gesture than restricting the movements of a dying old man to Ramallah.
Even in death Arafat remains all-powerful. Sharon the mafia leader feared the power of the helpless Arafat, and as death approached stated that Arafat would not be allowed to rest in Jerusalem. But Arafat is already in Jerusalem. Arafat will someday be buried in the Noble Sanctuary. Where Sharon will lie is open to question.
What has Sharon accomplished in four years? He has spilled the blood of young Israelis, he has coarsened and corrupted his society, and he has wasted time, precious time. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to say that "Arafat lives" and it is "Israel that has died."
Why is the United States the biggest loser in Arafat’s passing? Again, simple counterintuitive analysis presents the obvious facts: young Americans are dying for "freedom’ in Iraq. Yet President Bush never harnessed the moral authority of Arafat and the creation of a Palestinian state to obtain advantages in the Arab world. Bush has mouthed platitudes but failed to deliver. Bush claimed the road to Jerusalem ran through Baghdad; we now see the road to Baghdad runs through Jerusalem. Bush has lost an interlocutor who could have made American policy viable again in the Middle East.
Arafat was an idea man. He was an idea himself. Ideas do not die. Ideas acquire iconic power in death.
No doubt the entire world will mourn Arafat at his state funeral in Cairo. How can such a man have been "irrelevant?" Rather, it was American foreign policy, dominated, and manipulated by pro-Israeli interests, which was and continues to be irrelevant in the Middle East. President Bush no doubt feels he has a "mandate" to continue his destructive policies. If so, it is a mandate with no more substance than the sifting sands of Ozymandias.
Like Moses, Arafat did not live to see the Promised Land. He died a little too soon. But even as President Bush and his allies in Washington celebrate, even as Sharon is exuberant at the death of Arafat, they should remember that history and fate play cruel jokes on the powerful, as inevitably they will do some day even on the United States.
No one should celebrate at Arafat’s death. His passing reminds us the bell he sounded for over four decades tolls for all of us. If only others were as brave as Arafat in his fight for freedom to now, finally, accept the inevitable peace and bring these two tragic, warring nations together. Next year in Jerusalem.