Sylvia Shihadeh and Robert Jensen
ZNet | Mideast
November 11, 2004
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Arafat died as the leader of a country that does not yet exist, and
therein lies the tragic nature of the former leader and the ongoing
tragedy of the people of Palestine.
passion and commitment helped forge a Palestinian independence movement,
putting the dispossession of his people on the political map in a way the
world couldn't ignore. Pundits are talking of him as merely a "symbol," a
strategy not only to ignore his real contributions but also to denigrate
the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people for justice.
long carried those aspirations, for which he will be remembered. But at a
crucial turn, he betrayed both principle and pragmatic politics by
accepting the 1993 Oslo agreements, which left him not an independent
leader of an emerging state but a subordinate to Israel in charge of
policing his own people but with few other powers. The irony of the
tragedy is that this fatal mistake is the one thing for which he is lauded
in the halls of power in the United States.
hack through the propaganda that blankets the U.S. public, it becomes
clear that the Oslo accords were an instrument of continued Palestinian
subjugation; Israeli settlement building in the occupied territories more
than doubled, suggesting that Israeli leaders preferred expansionism and
were never serious about a just peace based on international law. An
Israeli "matrix of control" -- Jewish-only highways and Israeli
checkpoints, enforced by an increasingly brutal occupation army -- cut the
occupied territories into isolated cantons, undermining the possibility of
a functional Palestinian state. Arafat accepted these repressive terms in
exchange for being allowed to continue to rule, the most corrupt of
has been compounded in recent years, as Arafat was condemned in those same
halls of power in the United States for failing to be a "partner for
peace." Translated: Arafat refused to accept completely Israel's
conception of peace based on Palestinian capitulation to Israeli
understand that requires clearing away the obfuscation around the
so-called "generous offer" of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that
Arafat refused at Camp David in 2000. That offer included Israeli
withdrawal from Gaza but would have allowed Israel to annex valuable and
strategically crucial sections of the West Bank and retain "security
control" over other parts, including all Palestinian borders. The net
effect would have been to institutionalize some of the worst aspects of
the occupation. Arafat could not, and should not, have accepted it.
Palestinians had grown increasingly critical of Arafat's inability to
challenge forcefully Israel's domination, but all understood that with the
United States supporting Israeli intransigence -- support that intensified
under Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, making claims that the United
States could be a "neutral broker for peace" more laughable than ever --
any Palestinian leader was working against tremendous odds.
remained the Palestinian leader, and remained an object of hatred in
Israel. A Palestinian writer recently recalled that as a child in a Gaza
refugee camp, he often saw Israeli soldiers forcing young Palestinians to
their knees, threatening to beat them if they did not spit on Arafat's
photo. "Say Arafat is a jackass," the soldiers would scream, but the
gone, but the spirit of resistance to occupation that gave children the
strength to endure pain rather than buckle to that brutality remains. The
Palestinians have lost a founder of their movement for independence.
Israel and the United States have lost a figure they could demonize easily
when they wanted to manipulate public opinion and squash calls for real
peace with real justice.
Israel and the United States will try to promote new "leadership" in
Palestine that they hope will allow them to finish the project of
solidifying permanent Israeli domination. No doubt Palestinian resistance
to that project -- a resistance that owes much to Arafat -- will continue.
Israel and its supporters in the United States would profit from
recognizing that fact and committing to a real peace process that can
bring into existence what so many Palestinians have dreamed of but Arafat
did not live to see: A truly free Palestine in which peace is secured by
justice not power.
Shihadeh is coordinator of the Women's Association for Middle East
Understanding in Austin and a member of Women in Black and the Interfaith
Community for Palestinian Rights.
Robert Jensen is a journalism professor at
the University of Texas at Austin and the author of "Citizens of the
Empire: The Struggle to Claim Our Humanity." He can be reached at
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