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In the News
Last Updated: 11/16/2004
Yasser Arafat: Around the World
Joe Schumacher

The World debates Yasser Arafat’s Legacy and what his passing means for Middle East.


The World debates Yasser Arafat’s Legacy and what his passing means for Middle East.





From BBC News


Hamas seeks unified leadership


Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad have again called for a unified leadership to be set up following Yasser Arafat's death.

Their call came at a meeting in Gaza with Mahmoud Abbas, who has replaced Arafat as leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The groups want to be part of a joint leadership until presidential elections scheduled for early January 2005.

For now, both groups are refusing to participate in the election.

They argue that the vote will only be used to install a leader associated with Mr Arafat's Fatah movement, which has always held the levers of Palestinian power.

The BBC's Alan Johnston in Gaza says it is hard to see the Fatah leadership giving up any real decision-making power to the Islamic groups.

He says the levers of Palestinian political power have always been firmly in the hands of the faction that Yasser Arafat founded and led - the Fatah party.

Powerful Islamic movement

But the powerful Islamist movement, Hamas, and its sister party, Islamic Jihad, say that they should now be drawn into the power structure.

After the meeting with Mr Abbas, a spokesman for Hamas said that there would be further talks on the issue.

"We are insisting on the need for legislative and municipal elections in addition to the presidential poll," said Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zukhri.

"We are opposed to any monopoly on power."



From Al Jazeera


Can Barghouti Be the Palestinian Mandela?

Roger Harrison, Arab News 

With Marwan Barghouti allowing himself to be nominated as a candidate in the Palestinian elections slated for Jan. 9, 2005, Israel and the US are placed in a politically interesting position.


Keen to see Western-style democracy take root in the Arab region — to the extent of invading Iraq and tolerating the huge “collateral damage” among the civilian population during the drive for liberation — it promises to be an interesting test of America’s commitment to the principle of democracy should Barghouti win.


Having ousted a president they determined as evil and threatening in Iraq, how will the US deal with a freely and democratically elected president — described as a terrorist — in jail in Israel?


To argue that Barghouti should not be recognized because he has a history of terrorism would be disingenuous in the extreme. The US has accommodated ex-terrorists quite comfortably before in the Middle East, as several generations of Israeli prime ministers evidence. Their terrorism though was not directed against the US or its current chums.


Indeed, the world and the US have rightly acclaimed the jailed Rolihlahla (Nelson) Mandela as a statesman. Ironically Rolihlahla can easily and somewhat prophetically be interpreted as “troublemaker.” The Nelson was added by a schoolteacher.


Mandela’s time in jail did nothing to damage his standing. He was there as a result of what the state he lived in perceived as terrorism. The policy of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) — armed wing of the ANC of which Mandela was a prominent figure — was not to target civilians or white people. However, a report from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission says that whatever the intent, it happened. Between 1961 and 1963, before Mandela was jailed, about 190 attacks were recorded, undertaken mainly by regional operatives.


Barghouti is the leader of the Fatah movement in the West Bank, and has been closely identified with one of its militant offshoots, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigade. Israel issued an arrest warrant for him in September 2001, accusing him of organizing paramilitaries and conspiring to murder. Eventually he was only convicted for causing the deaths of five people, as there was insufficient evidence connecting him to the other 21.


He first appeared in court August 2002 — charged with the killing of 26 Israelis and belonging to a terrorist organization. He denied the legitimacy of the Israeli court, insisting he was not a criminal but an elected politician; he was a member of the Palestinian Legislative Council. He has denied founding Al-Aqsa but has hailed some operations by the group, which has also attacked Israeli military targets. The group claimed him as their leader, not helping his denials.


Barghouti and Mandela are products of their native lands. Barghouti has never been exiled or been compromised by questionable links with political figures outside the state. Amin Al-Husseini — a mulla and friend of Hitler and Ahmed Shuquairi who worked for the Egyptian Ministry of the Interior could not claim that. Arafat was born in Cairo — though he frequently claimed Jerusalem as his birthplace — and cannot claim a Palestinian birthright. Barghouti is fluent in the language of the people he has to deal with. Mandela as a lawyer understood the language and culture of the powers he opposed. Barghouti speaks Hebrew and has dealt at many levels with Israeli society. Barghouti’s targets, like Mandela’s, were essentially military and his organization was entirely home grown.


One of the strongest points in Barghouti’s favor is that, born in the post-partition generation, he has always called for a two-state system. Arafat for 30 years of his career called for the elimination of Israel; in the last ten he became at best equivocal.


“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner,” said Mandela; but it could just as easily be Barghouti.


Comparisons may be odious, but if they were not effective, then the lessons of history would teach us nothing. By electing Barghouti, the Palestinian people may create an iconic president. This will force the major powers oppressing Palestine to deal with what will then be an ex-terrorist elected by the people.





From Yahoo News – Opinions



By Georgie Anne Geyer

BRUSSELS, Belgium -- The European and American perspectives of Yasser Arafat (news - web sites)'s death could not be more different.

His broken and failing mortal body was welcomed in Paris hospitals last week, French officials accompanying the dying Palestinian leader at every turn almost in the style that they would honor any head of state. When he died, his coffin was carried to the plane that would take the man on his last journey, to Cairo and then Ramallah, where world leaders would respectfully see him off.

The American response looked quite different. President Bush (news - web sites), who never liked the difficult, indecisive, sclerotic Palestinian leader, was civil in wishing the Palestinians well, but only barely. Speaking in Washington with an ever-worshipful Tony Blair (news - web sites), the American president gave no indication that he would finally fulfill his promise to the British prime minister to use American power to help force an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Why these extreme differences of policy and perception between America and Europe, and even Great Britain?

First, on the spiritual and existential level, Europe has learned from a series of destructive wars over the centuries that human motivation and behavior are not fixed. Individual human beings for the most part are not inspired by implacable evil but by the worldly situations they find themselves in. Human beings can change according to these conditions -- so the wise man changes the conditions.

Anwar Sadat, who originally supported the Nazis in World War II, eventually became the world's most respected voice of peace; Jomo Kenyatta, the Mau-Mau terrorist in the colonial war against the British, later was accepted by the world as leader of an independent Kenya; the wise Sultan of Oman co-opted the leaders of a Marxist movement fighting him and made them his leading cabinet members.

But there is little understanding in the Bush administration that life is an evolving experience, a moving river that can carry one to different destinations. Rather, the "W" vision is that good and evil are set in man, and the person is doomed to be that forever. That is behind the Bush idea that all insurgents must be destroyed, pure and simple.

Today, the Americans question the Europeans' principles of evolutionary change, of seeing Arafat as the leader, albeit flawed, of the Palestinians, and of working with Iran on its nuclear policy until they find it cheating.

The Europeans, for their part, question the American principles of employing unlimited force to gain suzerainty in Iraq (news - web sites), of seeing other nations as cultureless pieces on a cynical chessboard, and of refusing to distinguish between "good dictators" in Libya, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and "bad dictators" in Syria and Iran.

The European position is that most evil in the world is situational, the result of historical dislocation and injustice. The American position is that some men and women are evil incarnate and thus must be destroyed.

Also, the European position on Israel, far more critical than America's, sees criticism of Israel as simply responsible judgment of an immensely armed nation-state that has, in fact, done considerable harm to the Palestinians. The American position on Israel is that it, as the famous "only democracy in the Middle East," can do no harm in protecting itself and all "give" must come from the Palestinians.

Europe today is a work in progress, fluid and ready for responsible change; America believes it is completing a long democratic experiment that has essentially led to its perfected end.

The Israeli/Palestinian struggle, then, is caught between these two interpretations of man's mind and soul.

These counter ideas and counter convictions on human change also are emerging over Iran. The Europeans do not want to turn Iran into a mortal enemy, even while keeping an eye on their nuclear program. The American policy is, at least rhetorically, leaning toward still another military "solution" there.

So is the death of Yasser Arafat likely to bring forth real change in the ongoing tragedy that haunts the Middle East? Not likely, I would think.

When President Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair met this week, the American leader still made no promises to the Brit. Journalists in London were immediately saying, "Hey, Tony, where's the beef?"

There was no answer. And so the Americans continue to hyperventilate that the "road to Jerusalem runs through Baghdad," while the Europeans insist it is the other way around. Meanwhile, in the Middle East, no road seems to be going anywhere.



From Foreign Policy Magazine


Think Again: Yasir Arafat

By Dennis B. Ross

July/August 2002


In 1974, Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), declared before the United Nations that he came “bearing an olive branch and a freedom-fighter’s gun.” Nearly 20 years later, the world still does not know if Arafat is a statesman dedicated to peaceful coexistence with Israel or a resistance leader dedicated to armed struggle. As the Israeli-Palestinian conflict enters a tenuous new phase of peace negotiations, understanding Arafat’s true motives will be essential to fostering a lasting agreement.


“Arafat’s Goal Is a Lasting Peace With the State of Israel

I doubt it. Throughout the Oslo peace process, everyone involved—Palestinians, Israelis, Americans, Egyptians, Saudis, and other Arab leaders—shared the belief that Arafat wanted peace with Israel. It seemed logical. After all, Arafat had crossed the threshold and recognized Israel, incurring the wrath of secular and religious rejectionists. And he had authorized five limited or interim agreements with the Israelis. Although Arafat held out until the last possible minute and strived for the best deal, he eventually made the compromises necessary to reach those interim agreements.

Unfortunately, such short-term progress masked some disquieting signals about the Palestinian leader’s intentions. Every agreement he made was limited and contained nothing he regarded as irrevocable. He was not, in his eyes, required to surrender any claims. Worse, notwithstanding his commitment to renounce violence, he has never relinquished the terror card. Moreover, he is always quick to exaggerate his achievements, even while maintaining an ongoing sense of grievance. During the Oslo peace process, he never prepared his public for compromise. Instead, he led the Palestinians to believe the peace process would produce everything they ever wanted—and he implicitly suggested a return to armed struggle if negotiations fell short of those unattainable goals. Even in good times, Arafat spoke to Palestinian groups about how the struggle, the jihad, would lead them to Jerusalem. Too often his partners in the peace process dismissed this behavior as Arafat being caught up in rhetorical flourishes in front of his “party” faithful. I myself pressed him when his language went too far or provoked an angry Israeli response, but his stock answer was that he was just talking about the importance of struggling for rights through the negotiation process.

But from the start of the Oslo negotiations in 1993, Arafat focused only on what he was going to receive, not what he had to give. He found it difficult to live without a cause, a struggle, a grievance, and a conflict to define him. Arafat never faced up to what he would have to do—even though we tried repeatedly to condition him. As a result, when he was finally put to the test with former President Bill Clinton’s proposal in December 2000, Arafat failed miserably.


To read more – go to







Yasser Arafat – Biography


Mohammed Abdel-Raouf Arafat As Qudwa al-Hussaeini was born on 24 August 1929 in Cairo**, his father a textile merchant who was a Palestinian with some Egyptian ancestry, his mother from an old Palestinian family in Jerusalem. She died when Yasir, as he was called, was five years old, and he was sent to live with his maternal uncle in Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine, then under British rule, which the Palestinians were opposing. He has revealed little about his childhood, but one of his earliest memories is of British soldiers breaking into his uncle's house after midnight, beating members of the family and smashing furniture.

After four years in Jerusalem, his father brought him back to Cairo, where an older sister took care of him and his siblings. Arafat never mentions his father, who was not close to his children. Arafat did not attend his father's funeral in 1952.

In Cairo, before he was seventeen Arafat was smuggling arms to Palestine to be used against the British and the Jews. At nineteen, during the war between the Jews and the Arab states, Arafat left his studies at the University of Faud I (later Cairo University) to fight against the Jews in the Gaza area. The defeat of the Arabs and the establishment of the state of Israel left him in such despair that he applied for a visa to study at the University of Texas. Recovering his spirits and retaining his dream of an independent Palestinian homeland, he returned to Faud University to major in engineering but spent most of his time as leader of the Palestinian students.

He did manage to get his degree in 1956, worked briefly in Egypt, then resettled in Kuwait, first being employed in the department of public works, next successfully running his own contracting firm. He spent all his spare time in political activities, to which he contributed most of the profits. In 1958 he and his friends founded Al-Fatah, an underground network of secret cells, which in 1959 began to publish a magazine advocating armed struggle against Israel. At the end of 1964 Arafat left Kuwait to become a full-time revolutionary, organising Fatah raids into Israel from Jordan.

It was also in 1964 that the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) was established, under the sponsorship of the Arab League, bringing together a number of groups all working to free Palestine for the Palestinians. The Arab states favoured a more conciliatory policy than Fatah's, but after their defeat by Israel in the 1967 Six-Day War, Fatah emerged from the underground as the most powerful and best organised of the groups making up the PLO, took over that organisation in 1969 when Arafat became the chairman of the PLO executive committee. The PLO was no longer to be something of a puppet organisation of the Arab states, wanting to keep the Palestinians quiet, but an independent nationalist organisation, based in Jordan.

Arafat developed the PLO into a state within the state of Jordan with its own military forces. King Hussein of Jordan, disturbed by its guerrilla attacks on Israel and other violent methods, eventually expelled the PLO from his country. Arafat sought to build a similar organisation in Lebanon, but this time was driven out by an Israeli military invasion. He kept the organization alive, however, by moving its headquarters to Tunis. He was a survivor himself, escaping death in an airplane crash, surviving any assassination attempts by Israeli intelligence agencies, and recovering from a serious stroke.

His life was one of constant travel, moving from country to country to promote the Palestinian cause, always keeping his movements secret, as he did any details about his private life. Even his marriage to Suha Tawil, a Palestinian half his age, was kept secret for some fifteen months. She had already begun significant humanitarian activities at home, especially for disabled children, but the prominent part she took in the public events in Oslo was a surprise for many Arafat-watchers. Since then, their daughter, Zahwa, named after Arafat's mother, has been born.

The period after the expulsion from Lebanon was a low time for Arafat and the PLO. Then the intifada (shaking) protest movement strengthened Arafat by directing world attention to the difficult plight of the Palestinians. In 1988 came a change of policy. In a speech at a special United Nations session held in Geneva, Switzerland, Arafat declared that the PLO renounced terrorism and supported "the right of all parties concerned in the Middle East conflict to live in peace and security, including the state of Palestine, Israel and other neighbours".

The prospects for a peace agreement with Israel now brightened. After a setback when the PLO supported Iraq in the Persian Gulf War of 1991, the peace process began in earnest, leading to the Oslo Accords of 1993.

This agreement included provision for the Palestinian elections, which took place in early 1996, and Arafat was elected President of the Palestine Authority. Like other Arab regimes in the area, however, Arafat's governing style tended to be more dictatorial than democratic. When the right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu came to power in Israel in 1996, the peace process slowed down considerably. Much depends upon the nature of the new Israeli government, which will result from the elections to be held in 1999.




From Democracy Now

Noam Chomsky on Yasser Arafat, Iraq and the Draft

 This past weekend, MIT linguistics professor Noam Chomsky spoke at the 25th Anniversary of Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, New Jersey. The historian and author of over 100 books spoke about Yasser Arafat, Iraq and the military draft. This is an excerpt of what he had to say.

Noam Chomsky, speaking at the 25th Anniversary of Coalition for Peace Action in Princeton, New Jersey.



NOAM CHOMSKY: I had a little time on the airplane and read this morning's Times and there is, as expected, a front page story that is in the weekend review by a very good reporter. It's about a highly significant topic, how to establish democracy -- or the president's messianic vision, as the Boston Globe calls it, my own newspaper. And it discusses a current example, which has had a huge amount of media commentary in the last couple days, the Palestinian issue, what happens after Arafat. The first paragraph says that the post-Arafat era will be the latest test of a quintessentially American article of faith, that elections provide legitimacy, even to the frailest institutions. Okay, that's our quintessential article of faith. Then it goes on, and we'll skip to the last paragraph. The last paragraph on the continuation page says there's a paradox. In the past, the Bush administration, and he could have added every previous one, resisted new national elections among Palestinians. The thought was that the elections would make Mr. Arafat look better, and give him a fresher mandate, and might have helped give credibility and authority to Hamas. So in other words, we have a quintessential commitment to democracy, but in the single example that is given we oppose democracy because the outcome might come out the wrong way. Well, there are some conclusions you can draw from that one example.


To read more go to -





From the New York Times


The Arafat Voids



The day after Yasir Arafat died, USA Today carried a big, bold headline that caught my eye. It said: "Arafat Dies, Leaves Void."

All I could think of when reading that headline was its double meaning. Yasir Arafat left a void of leadership, with no formal successor. But he also left a void of achievement. And it is that second void that really matters, considering that he led the Palestinian movement for some 40 years.

You will pardon me if I don't join in the insipid chorus about how Arafat's great achievement was the way he represented the "aspirations" for statehood of the Palestinian people and, through terrorism and resistance, put the Palestinian cause on the world map.

Excuse me, but Yasir Arafat put the Palestinian cause on the world map in 1974, when he was invited to address the U.N. General Assembly. What did he do with all that attention after that? Very little. There is a message in his life and his legacy for every world leader: If all you do is express the aspirations, but never produce the reality, then history will judge you very harshly. And any honest history of Yasir Arafat will judge him on his voids, not his visions.

Will we now see the emergence of a Palestinian leadership - a broad coalition from Hamas to Fatah - ready to take the collective decision to really reconcile with the Jews that Arafat was not ready to make on his own?

Will Arab leaders, like Crown Prince Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who put forth a peace plan, be ready to really help the Palestinians make the tough decisions by giving them Arab cover? Or will we simply have another generation of expressive politics by Arab leaders, who love the Palestinian cause but not the Palestinian people?

Ariel Sharon seems to have already started to learn some of the lessons of Arafat's life. Mr. Sharon was asked recently what made him change his mind, and risk his own life and political career, to undertake a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza after so many years opposing such a move. His answer: There were things he could see "from here" that he couldn't see "from there."

In other words, sitting in the chair of the prime minister, he could suddenly see the long-term interests of the Israeli people in a different way.

"Sharon has started to give up his popularity among his own constituency, because he realizes that the welfare of the Israeli people, as a whole, requires decisions that are unpopular but unavoidable," said the Israeli political theorist Yaron Ezrahi. But Sharon cannot stop just with Gaza. He's got a lot more popularity to give up with his old constituency if we're going to see a deal on the West Bank.

Finally, what about President Bush? When it comes to the Arab-Israel question, he's had a little bit of Arafat disease himself. He's given some of the best speeches of any president on the Arab-Israel issue and delivered the most pathetic diplomacy I have ever seen.

This divide reflects the paralyzing split in his administration between those who understand that America will never win the war of ideas in the Middle East without working seriously on the most emotional issue in Arab political life - the Palestine question - and those, like the vice president and secretary of defense, who think the whole issue is overrated. The first group are right, the second are wrong. The president needs to choose.

If only President Bush called in Colin Powell and said: "Colin, neither of us have much to show by way of diplomacy for the last four years. I want you to get on an airplane and go out to the Middle East. I want you to sit down with Israelis and Palestinians and forge a framework for a secure Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and progress toward a secure peace in the West Bank, and I don't want you to come back home until you've got that. Only this time I will stand with you.

"As long as you're out there, I will not let Rummy or Cheney fire any more arrows into your back. So get going. It's time for you to stop sulking over at Foggy Bottom and time for me to make a psychological breakthrough with the Arab world that can also help us succeed in Iraq - by making it easier for Arabs and Muslims to stand with us. I don't want to see you back here until you've put our words into deeds."

Yasir Arafat preferred to die, beloved by all his people, in a Paris military hospital - rather than sacrifice his popularity and maybe his life so that the majority of his people could live and die at home. Will Ariel Sharon, George Bush and the Arab and Palestinian leaders now follow his model and play to the crowds, or play to history?