Friday, November 12, 2004

What lays in store for Palestine?

Before I continue, I want to point out a few corrections. In my previous posting, I mentioned a Palestinian insider and made 2 inaccurate statements:

  • He never implied that he thinks new leadership after Arafat will be better. He just disagrees with analysts who project chaos & civil war amongst factions after Arafat's death, because he is a firm believer of the Palestinian Constitution and that it will prevail.
  • Although he realizes that corruption exists amongst some Palestinian officials, he points out that there are many others who have dutifully & sincerely served for the Palestinian cause.

    Today is the last Friday in Ramadhan and Ayatollah Khomenei (former leader of Iran) had started the tradition of dedicating this day as the World Al-Quds (Jerusalem) Day to the Palestinian cause. This entry will be entirely dedicated to Yasser Arafat’s death and analysis of his life and the future of Palestine. Reports coming in BBC show some chaos during the funeral process – for more reactions and pictures, click
    here. For the time being until an election is held, Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei - will take charge of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas - the former prime minister will lead the PLO, the umbrella body bringing together most Palestinian factions Farouk Kaddoumi - will head the Fatah faction

An interesting article called Palestine Greater than Arafat says: "The Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence is larger than the late President Yasir Arafat. The decades-long symbolism that Arafat embodied should not be underestimated. It is this symbolism that Palestinians are mourning. Despite the confusion of the hour, one fact remains clear. The Palestinian people, collectively,whether in the Occupied Territories, scattered in squalid refugee camps around the Middle East, or living in exile,will never wake up one day and accept the historic injustice that has been done to them. "

An important event that Arafat is usually held responsible for is the failure of peace talks in 2000. One thing that is left out of the discussion is that the status of refugees and Jerusalem were not put on the table, and Israel would control Palestinian borders and water sources amongst many things. From Electronic Intifada, Challenging Camp David mythology, four years on: Middle East Envoy Dennis Ross continues to project a selective analysis of Camp David 2000 and what took place in its immediate aftermath. In The Truth About Camp David, one of the more astonishing revelations I collected was Ross's own recounting of why he decided to deny Arafat's formal request by letter for a follow-up summit on August 9, 2000, less than two weeks after the summit's collapse. Ross' verbatim quote is telling: What were we supposed to do? Arafat, at Camp David, indicated no readiness to do anything. If we were to chase after him at that point then you would tell him that that kind of negotiating behavior was fine. You know what they were saying, right? Arafat goes back to a hero's welcome for being defiant--the tradition of the Palestinian movement once again reinforced: "Don't agree to anything; prove how you rejected everything!”… According to Ross's deputy, Aaron Miller: There was not a formalized, written proposal that covered the four core issues. There was no deal on the table. None of the issues were explained enough in detail to make an agreement, though the Israelis made an interesting argument on Jerusalem. On the last point of Jerusalem, it is worth quoting the reaction of Gemal Helal, an influential State Department advisor who translated for President Clinton: "What the Palestinians were offered, no Arab leader could accept.” … Ross, under intense pressure from [Ehud] Barak, made freelance edits to the draft just moments before Clinton's formal presentation to Arafat. Those handwritten changes included alterations to the American ideas regarding the status of Jerusalem. For Palestinians, those controversial changes affirmed that the US was working in undue collusion with Israel. Ultimately, for Israelis and Palestinians alike, the slap-dash alterations by Ross on the most contentious core issue were unacceptable. In the wake of both their protestations, the drafting process was killed and the summit began to resemble what one would find in a bazarre.”

For those of you interested in more about the peace processes, here is Electronic Intifada’s Blaming Arafat for Israel's torpedoing of Oslo criticizing the television screens of America are filled with "Middle East experts" who tell us that it was Arafat who was the obstacle to peace and that a new dawn is now upon us.” Also interesting is an editorial from the NY Times by former President Jimmy Carter, Casting a Vote for Peace: “peace efforts of a long line of previous administrations have been abandoned by President Bush and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. For the last three years of his life, Mr. Arafat was incapacitated and held as a prisoner, humiliated by his physical incarceration and excluded by the other two leaders from any recognition as the legitimate head of the Palestinian community. Recognizing Mr. Arafat's failure to control violence among his people or to initiate helpful peace proposals, I use the word "legitimate" based on his victory in January 1996 by a strong majority of votes in an election monitored by the Carter Center and approved by the occupying Israelis. Lately, with Mr. Arafat politically and physically debilitated, the resulting leadership vacuum has been filled by factions, some of which have resorted to unconscionable acts of terrorism. The Israelis have used this political interregnum to impose their will unilaterally throughout Palestinian territories, with undeviating support from Washington.”

In light of the meeting between Bush and Blair to discuss the Middle East “peace process” and the renewed hope of active US & global involvement, from
Informed Comment (Friday entry) - The Death of Arafat and the Myth of New Beginnings: “Palestinians have been trying to build [a non-violent political] movement for the last two decades, and the Israeli Government, IDF and American policy-makers have done everything possible to make sure it could not be heeded… One of the first exponents of Palestinian non-violence the Palestinian-American doctor Mubarak Awad, founded the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence in 1985. His innovative ideas and training of Palestinians in the tactics of non-violent resistance to the occupation was considered dangerous enough by Israel that it expelled him from the land of his birth in 1988. During the same period, the government supported the rise to power of militant religious groups such as Hamas as a counterweight to the PLO (which that year recognized Israel’s right to exist)… Awad has just been jailed without charge by a military court on the accusation he constituted a “threat to security.” The judge who handed down the order hoped that his detention would lead him to “turn away from th[is] bad road with its unhappy ending,” although its hard to see whom his stated goal of “letting the world understand that there can be coexistence between us and the Jews” threatened… As the Bush Administration and America’s pundocracy search for a new generation of pragmatic and non-violent Palestinian leaders, they should be heartened to know that they won’t have to look very hard to find them. But that’s because so many are either in the hospital, jail or exile…the Palestinian peace movement will continue to wither as long as Israel is more comfortable confronting Hamas than Ahmed Awad.”

There are several reports from all over about Yasser Arafat’s life, successes and failures. I, too am hoping that his passing away will pave a new future but something I noticed in many reactions from Palestinians that I read is ho wit was Arafat who brought the Palestinian cause onto the global scene, with his involvement in Fatah and later that Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), especially with his speech to the UN in 1974, where he said “I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter's gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hands.” Here’s a timeline from
BBC News Online. Also from BBC is reactions from world leaders, the most insulting one from Israeli Justice Minister Tommy Lapid, “(It is) good that the world is rid of him... The sun is shining in the Middle East.” Some of Arafat’s quotes can be found here: “Zionism is an embodiment of neo-Nazism... intellectual terrorism and racial exploitation.” I chose the analysis of his life from Electronic Intifada to capsulate Arafat’s life: “For nearly five decades, Yasser Arafat (Abu Ammar – his nom de guerre) was a larger-than-life figure for those who admired him as well as those who hated and feared him, or, to be more precise, for those who hated and feared the Palestinian view of history, justice, and politics. Since the late 1960s, Arafat was the icon of the Palestinian cause. Like Che Guevara, Arafat's image on a poster, a T-shirt, or a television screen could convey rich and complex meanings and sentiments across wide and diverse social landscapes. With his trademark black-and-white checkered kuffiyah draped carefully over his shoulder so as to assume the proportions and shape of the map of Palestine, appearances by Arafat were almost always electrifying political events.

Few modern figures were as controversial as Yasser Arafat. Lionized by some and vilified by others, Arafat was a complicated figure. He was the leader of the PLO since before most Palestinians alive today were born. Even among his most vocal Palestinian critics, Arafat could inspire affection and loyalty in a way no other living Palestinian could. Palestinians, though, were also always his first and most vocal critics, a reality rarely conveyed by the mainstream press. And in the last decade of his life, Arafat received considerable and consistent criticism from Palestinians frustrated by the inevitable disappointments and injustices of the Oslo Accords, particularly the accelerated settlement building of this period and the lack of movement on key social justice and political issues. Arafat also received stinging rebukes from former friends and supporters in the Arab world as well as in the West for administrative corruption, mismanagement, favoritism, and a politics of patronage that made a mockery of democratic practice in the Palestinian Authority.

Arafat's backing of Saddam Hussein following the Iraqi Army's occupation of Kuwait in 1990 was arguably the worst of several major blunders, costing him, his people, and their cause dearly. Gulf states cut off financial and political aid to Arafat and the PLO following this decision, and with the concomitant collapse of the USSR and the emergence of the United States as the sole arbiter of Middle Eastern politics, Arafat had little leverage to resist the humiliating requirements of the Oslo peace process. Though his return to Palestine was met with joy, parades, wildly ecstatic crowds, and high hopes, the honeymoon was short-lived, largely because of the relentless and continuing Israeli colonisation, but partly because of the culture the exiled symbol brought back with him. Arafat did not return alone, but rather was accompanied by security forces, politicians, wheelers and dealers, and other hangers-on whose political styles and personal values frequently clashed with those of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who had just waged a momentous and largely non-violent intifada from 1987-1993. The end of Arafat's exile marked the beginning of new political and social class tensions in Palestine and the entrenchment of a political elite that, like Arafat, did not like to share power and cared little for transparency and accountability in administrative matters…Although his political obituary was written again and again, Yasser Arafat displayed a legendary tenacity and an amazing ability to pull through at the eleventh hour, usually thanks to his remarkable skill in cobbling together coalitions and allies from very disparate backgrounds. Trapped by Ariel Sharon in the rubble of his Ramallah headquarters, though, Arafat was marginalized politically and virtually powerless militarily since the murderous Israeli attack on Palestinian cities in March-April 2002 that killed over 500 people and destroyed most of the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority. He departs the Palestinian and Middle Eastern political stage as a wraith of his former self, with no political heir apparent.”