In a scene from the American movie, The Insider, the Christopher Plummer
character explains to his colleague the circumstances behind a decision that the
latter finds disappointing in the following way:
“I’m talking about when you’re
nearer the end of your life than the beginning. Now, what do you think
you think about then? The future? In the future I’m going to do this? Become
that? What future? No. What you think is how will you be regarded in the
end, after you’re gone.”
Arafat ordered Hamas attacks against Israel in 2000
This is not far, I think, from what was
preoccupying Yasser Arafat in the last stage of his life, during and after Camp
David II, and it is this anxiety about how one will be “regarded in the end”
that guided his decision-making at that critical period.
As the mourners
gathered for his burial in Ramallah in 2004, I am sure Arafat’s soul was looking
down with satisfaction. He gave his people what they had been desperately
desiring – a hero, a new Saladin and, more importantly, he avoided making a
fatal mistake, and in the nick of time.
Oh boy, he was very close to
losing everything in Camp David II, by signing a final agreement – a compromise
that he would have had to sell to his people. But how ironic fate is sometimes;
who would have known that Camp David itself would be the road to the “glorious”
farewell he had always desired.
With the rumors that he had been poisoned
by the Mossad, the legend was complete. He had secured his place in the
history of his people as the martyr-leader who was assassinated because he
refused to surrender Al-Kuds to the Israelis.
One man’s loss is another
man’s gain. Many were put at a disadvantage because of the man’s
romanticized vision. Arafat ruined president Bill Clinton’s hopes for reaching
an agreement that would resonate with Carter’s historic one, and which could
have given the second term of his presidency a magnificent final touch. Ehud
Barak eventually had to call for a special election that would pave the way for
his rival, Ariel Sharon, and was to subsequently resign as Labor
But il-Khityar, “the old man,” was not the only winner. Hamas was
about to enter a golden age with a golden opportunity; the time was ripe to
mobilize the masses and regain the power and logistic freedom it had started to
lose in the aftermath of the Oslo Accords.
Now, everything was presented
to it on a silver platter by its political rival: The peace process has failed,
they denied us all our rights, jihad is the only way, we told you so, we told
THE PATH was disastrous to the Palestinian cause. But any
objective evaluation of the situation was impossible while celebrating the
martyrdom of il-Khityar. Nobody could blame him for any of the tragic
consequences of his decisions, basically the suffering added on for his people,
and no one could realize the stark fact that the man had just toppled the very
peace process he himself, just a few years earlier, had taken pains to sell as
the “strategic choice” for the Palestinians and the Arabs. Nobody could
grasp that things would never be the same.
Though many details regarding
Camp David II and its aftermath are still controversial, one thing remains
certain: Arafat’s romanticism was his people’s disaster.
probably agree that we don’t need a new Arafat; one was more than enough. But it
is crucial to realize that we do not need to repeat the mistakes of the past. We
certainly don’t need a third intifada – one that would unleash new Hamases
(again one is enough) or refresh the current one.
The Israelis learned
their lesson; they would never trust the PA for their security, and the Guinness
record in suicide bombings achieved in the second intifada (a total that even
Sheik Hassan Nasrallah thought was “unbelievable”) won’t be broken. We
also have to learn our lessons.
It is a pity, but also inherent in Middle
East politics, that a leader like Mahmoud Abbas has to suffer and lose
popularity because he failed to keep up with the Arafat model.
confident Abbas will not seek a hero’s farewell; things are much more
complicated now. For both sides, issues like the extension of the building
moratorium are indeed marginal if the ultimate goal is to avoid the path taken
in 2000. And for Abbas: Please keep negotiations going. Have more
courage. Your realism will be your people’s bliss.The writer is a PhD
researcher in Pittsburgh.