From Socialist Voice, November 2004

Yassir Arafat

Muḩammad ‘Abd al-Ra‘uf ‘Arafāt al-Qudwah al-Husayni

President Yassir Arafat, the elected leader of the Palestinian people, led his people away from isolated acts of terrorism, aeroplane hijackings, and assaults on Israeli athletes. He brought greater unity of purpose and raised the demands of the Palestinian people at an international level.
     Though much of the media dutifully peddle the American-Israeli line that he was a terrorist and was the mastermind of the current Intifada and co-ordinated suicide bombers, this is complete rubbish. He made a huge effort to make peace with his enemies and negotiated and signed the Oslo Accord, recognising the right of Israel to exist and changing the PLO Charter to give recognition to this. The Oslo Accord was a major shift in the Palestinian position; some would say too much was given for too little, but history will judge that.
     There was corruption within the Palestinian Authority—it would be very surprising if there was not. Arafat was president of a disjointed and occupied country. The ability of the Palestinian Authority to have effective control was limited. Many political activists who would have been the key to ensuring democracy and progress have been murdered or jailed by the Israelis.
     The government of Israel bucked at the hurdle of compromise when Rabin was assassinated. Sharon is not interested in compromise but in victory and in humiliation of the Palestinians. It is possible that the pulling out of settlements in Gaza has more to do with consolidating the settlements on the West Bank and moving those settlers from Gaza to the West Bank, with the hope in the long run that the Gaza Strip will come under some form of Egyptian protectorate.
     When the charlatans who pass for journalists and political and military experts who populate our televisions and radios have long since passed into oblivion, Yassir Arafat will be remembered by his people as a hero—not a god, and not without his faults. They will remember the man who took up arms to free his people, a man who tried to bring unity among Palestinians, a man who travelled the hard and tortuous road to make peace with his enemies, a man who lived out the last years of his life refusing to buckle under to the Israelis, the United States and western European countries; instead he remained in his bombed-out presidential compound, living in one room, suffering from a lack of electricity, water, and heating. They will remember that he did not abandon them, as many of the Arab elites have done over the years.
     Arafat learnt the painful lesson that the Arab elites were more concerned about their own economic and political relationship with imperialism than with the rights of the Palestinians. The Palestinian people know that first and foremost they can rely only on themselves. They have been used and abused and then abandoned too many times.
     We mark the passing of a man who gave his life to the struggle of his people. In the words of the Irish patriot Terence MacSwiney, Mayor of Cork, who died on hunger strike in 1920, “It is not they who can inflict most but they who can suffer most will conquer.”

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