Analyze this: A fitting memorial for the 'Ra'is'

His legacy is written in blood on graves of those killed in Gaza.

arafat 88 (photo credit: )
arafat 88
(photo credit: )
It's an 11-meter-long, two-story-high oblong made of glass and Jerusalem stone, flanked on three sides by water and built over a slope that will soon be covered by "25 species of trees and shrubs," and it is slated to be the centerpiece of a complex that includes a mosque and a personal museum. It's the Yasser Arafat memorial mausoleum, unveiled earlier this week in Ramallah on the third anniversary of the death of the Palestinian Ra'is (leader). Arafat died in a French hospital, of course, under circumstances still murky, but was buried in Ramallah, from where he led the Palestinian Authority during the last decade of his life, and where he spent his last few years during the second intifada as a virtual prisoner of the Israel Defense Forces in his mukata headquarters. His successor, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, dedicated the mausoleum over the weekend, hailing Arafat as a "uniter" of his "fractured people" and declaring, "We are continuing [his] path, continuing the pledge, to establish an independent Palestinian state, with Jerusalem as its capital." Arafat, of course, failed to make good on that pledge, having missed out on an opportunity to do just that in the 2000 Camp David talks, a chance the likes of which might not come again any time soon. As for uniting his people, a far more fitting memorial for Arafat came on Monday, when a reported 200,000 Palestinians in Gaza joined a march in his honor - and Hamas gunmen opened fire on the crowd, killing seven and wounding dozens, and followed it up on Tuesday by arresting hundreds of Fatah members. These actions were indeed an appropriate tribute to Abu Amar, the "father of the nation," since Hamas's rise to power in Gaza and its heavy-handed tactics are also Arafat's legacy to the Palestinian people. When Israel first withdrew from most of the Gaza Strip and other Palestinian population areas in the early days of the Oslo Accords, it was widely assumed both here and elsewhere that the Palestinian leader would assert his authority over a defiant Hamas that violently rejected Oslo, either by imprisoning its leaders, or at the very least by taking steps to disarm its military wing. That never happened. Instead, Arafat contented himself with brief, cosmetic arrests, only when pressed to do so by Israel and the international community in periods of intense suicide bombings. In the meantime, he allowed the more extreme elements of his own Fatah movement, such as the Aksa Martyrs Brigades, to form links with Hamas's armed wing, Izzadin Kassam. By the time the second intifada broke out in late 2000, these groups were ready to collaborate on terrorist attacks. "Arafat does not see Hamas as a rival or an adversary; he never did," commented Palestinian affairs expert Ehud Ya'ari in 2002. "For Arafat, Hamas is a partner, which he keeps as a junior partner. Arafat's legacy is the combined structure that he allowed to emerge during the intifada, an informal alliance, and now formal, among his own Fatah faction, Hamas and the rest." Perhaps this is only way Arafat can rightly be remembered as a uniter of his people, and Hamas returned the favor by never challenging his rule directly. But they felt no such compunction about his successor, who was foolish enough to allow the Islamists to take part for the first time in elections last year, without requiring them to fulfill even the minimal democratic conditions of the rule of law. Hamas inevitably deposed Abbas's authority in Gaza when it had built up the strength to do so, and now threatens to do the same in the West Bank. Yet it also continues to pay lip service to Arafat's heritage. Shortly after its activists broke into Arafat's old office in Gaza this summer, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh made a big show of having it restored, and then personally calling Suha Arafat in front of the media to reassure the widow of the Ra'is that it had not been damaged. "We honor and respect Yasser Arafat because he refused to give up the rights of our people," a Hamas spokesman declared just days ago. But that honor and respect has limits - and when Hamas saw how a rally called in his name by Fatah could bring hundreds of thousands out to the streets to challenge their authority in Gaza, they paid their respects with the barrels of their guns. Arafat had the chance to try and turn his people away from violent struggle, the way Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi did, but he chose to do the opposite - so it is fitting that internecine bloodshed would eventually come to consume the Palestinians in his wake. Arafat could have challenged the extremists in his society within a democratic framework, the way Yitzhak Rabin did, but he preferred not to take the risk that eventually cost Rabin his life. And Arafat had the opportunity to attain a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital - but he threw it away and returned to terrorism as a tool of diplomacy. As Annapolis approaches, Abbas has been given another opportunity to advance the self-determination of his people - provided he doesn't follow the path of Arafat, by trying to reach genuine compromise with the Jewish state and to challenge extremism and terror among his own people, rather than allowing it to fester. As for the Ra'is, his mausoleum may be set in stone in Ramallah - but his truer legacy is written in blood on the graves of the Palestinians killed this week in Gaza. [email protected]