Life and Times of Arafat; Mission Incomplete (B) by K. Gajendra Singh
Yasser Arafat, also known as Abu Ammar , who died on 11 November, 2004 , seven years ago , "in exile " in a Paris hospital, away from his Israeli battered Ramallah residence in Palestine, would always be remembered for creating the Palestine nation and its identity against insurmountable odds. But his mission to achieve an independent and a sovereign state remained incomplete. A fact not much highlighted even in these days of growing catastrophic religious divide between Judaism and Christianity on side and Islam on the other, lies in his keeping the Palestinian liberation movement secular in spite of many pressures. He was very popular in India and was always a welcome visitor.
Arafat, born in Cairo 75 years ago and at whose funeral at the military airport Al Maza, presidents, kings and other world leaders paid their last respects on 12 November, was the perfect example of " One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." Others so called terrorists who fought for the freedom of their nations were Benjamin Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Jomo Kenyatta, Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Subhash Chandra Bose (all by the British), Ho Chi Minh, Houari Boumidienne, Shiekh Mujib-ur-Rehman, Nelson Mandela among others.
For half a millennia under the Ottomans , Palestine, Lebanon and Jordan were all part of Greater Syria with ill-defined borders based on tribal grazing rights than cartographic delimitation. It is curious that Israel, USA and some others, while accepting UN division of Palestine recognized Israel but not the state of Palestine. Israelis and Emir Abdullah of Jordan established contacts to divide Palestine and with the latter annexing areas to his Kingdom after the 1948 Arab Israeli war. But Abdullah did that but paid the price. He was assassinated in 1951 by a Palestinian while coming out of the Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. Egypt took over Gaza. Palestinians were just Arabs and their homeland was up for grabs. Yes, the Palestinians have been denied citizenship rights in their own country and continue to live in refugee camps in other countries since over half a century.
Arafat died with his dream of independent Palestine unfulfilled, but even when sick, he refused to bow and accept Bantustans for a Palestinian state. Incarceration of Arafat in a few bombed out rooms in Ramallah, the land of his ancestors, with US corporate media maligning him would remain a blot against human rights and dignity. It is a dark tribute to the Jewish hold over US politics that both the candidates in the recent presidential polls dared not say a word against Sharon's policies. Verily proving the Israeli stranglehold over US electoral system and the bankruptcy of US policy in the Middle East.
Blame on Arafat's refusal to accept a dysfunctional Palestine with little sovereignty is a result of the spin of so called Western media in the words of John Pilger and Robert Fisk. A lack of solution lies squarely with the Maximalist Israeli rulers, mostly former military generals .The claims for non- acceptance of Clinton Camp David and Taaba talks are similar to the corporate western propaganda claims that Iraq was somehow responsible for 11 September and Iraq and Al Qaida were interlinked. Western propaganda's bark against those "not with us " is worse than unilateral wars in spite of UN and world opposition.
"Rejoice not when thy enemy falleth," the Old Testament
Israeli Labour leader Simon Peres was considerate after Arafat's death and said ," The Palestinians see in Yasser Arafat the father of their nation. Like a father, he did much for his children, but he was also often overprotective of them. Arafat is a difficult figure with whom to come to terms. He did more than any other leader to forge a unique and separate Palestinian identity. He was the voice and symbol of the Palestinian cause. His tireless efforts brought the Palestinian cause to the forefront of the international agenda and kept it there for four decades." Peres also called on his countrymen to 'let bygones be bygones and let openings be openings'.
But the Guardian reported that while after the death of Yitzhak Rabin, condolence and sympathy was offered to the Israelis by many Palestinians; even by some who had lost sons, husbands and brothers to Rabin's "iron fist" policies; to "break the hands and legs of every stone-thrower" during the first intifada. Leaders of the Palestinian Authority who were interviewed by the Israeli media, talked of their grief. Arafat got special permission to visit the bereaved widow, Lea Rabin, in Tel Aviv, and sat with her, tears in his eyes. But the Israeli government announced, as soon as a dying Arafat was flown to Paris, that he would not be allowed to be buried in Jerusalem, where Arafat claimed he was born.
Inbal Gavrieli, a member of the Knesset, shouted at Ahmad Tibi, an Arab member of the Knesset, that Arafat was "a dog". Yosef Lapid, one of Mr Sharon's ministers, said in an interview with Israeli Radio. "I hated him for the deaths of Israelis ... I hated him for not allowing the peace process ... to move forward." An Israeli official, critical of Mr Lapid's intervention, said: "Arafat was a monster but it is not right to say such things on the day that the Palestinians are preparing to bury him." But many Israelis followed suit with insults and celebrations at Arafat's death. This hatred and self-righteousness is the harvest of Ariel Sharon's poisonous policies.
Arafat: early life and influences
Born in 1929 at Cairo and named Muhammad Abdul Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa al-Husseini, the sixth child of a Palestinian middle class merchant, Arafat was sent at the tender age of 4 years to live in a house by the Wailing Wall and the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. His exposure to the struggle between marauding Jewish settlers and a disorganized and aggrieved Arab peasantry left an indelible mark on the little boy. He was a witness to the Zionists' passionate struggle to take over the traditionally Muslim-administered Wall and other disputed holy places in an atmosphere charged with emotions .He also witnessed anguished debates about the country's future, and the beginnings of the "great rebellion", and armed uprising of a desperate and dispossessed poor people.
The other child hood influence was the female domination at home, which made him rebellious and independent .His marriage when 62 years to a 40 year younger Suha Tawil was a hangover of that trait, which created much embarrassment all around. But such marital alliances were not uncommon and were socially accepted in the region. But now it caused an acrimonious debate between Suha and the PLO leadership over Arafat's health and then his will and money.
Arafat returned to Cairo in 1937 and thus escaped the Arab catastrophe in Palestine, when the ill prepared Arab Armies led by corrupt leaders were defeated in 1948 by the new state of Israel, adding to the humiliation already felt by the Arabs under the British colonial rule. After the war ,the Jews imposed their rule on 78% of Palestine. Arafat could empathise with the terrors and humiliation of mass flight and exile of his people, the Palestinians from their homes. Over 700,000 Palestinians were forced to flee. But Arafat had became a key, intrepid figure in smuggling arms from Egypt into Palestine. However, when "an Egyptian officer came to my group and demanded that we hand over our weapons ... we protested ... but it was no good ... in that moment I knew we had been betrayed by these regimes." He was convinced that if Palestinians relied on others, they would never recover their homeland.
While doing civil engineering degree he took over the stagnant Cairo-based League Of Palestinian Students with some help from Moslem Brotherhood, which was then organizing and asserting itself. He was tireless, wily, domineering, but he had another vital trait which makes for charisma; of showmanship and the theatrical gesture. In 1955 at a congress in Prague, he suddenly donned the keffiyeh, the traditional checkered headdress, which, while hiding his entirely baldpate, also became his emblem. He referred to himself, perhaps half-jokingly, as "Mr Palestine", which he ultimately did become.
Arafat then went to Kuwait in 1958, and could have become a multi-millionaire as a building contractor as many others have. But his stay in Cairo had left a lasting impact, where Col Gamal Nasser, had begun his revolution in the Arab world .Nasser stood up to the British colonial power, removed its military bases and nationalized the Suez Canal. The ignominious failure of the British –French –Israeli aggression in 1956 made him a hero not only in the Arab world but in Asia and Africa, then fighting for independence from colonial rule. Nasser openly supported freedom movements from all over the world, with headquarters in Cairo. The author, posted as a young diplomat there in early 1960s savoured that revolutionary air, and later in Algiers, where he met with Che Guevara.
Arafat's business experience in handling money and men was later useful as the leader of his people, when he disposed of billions of dollars and made canny use of it as an instrument of policy and patronage. But personally he led a most Spartan private life, his only failing being love of honey .He reportedly had liaisons with women, but he could claim that he was married to his Revolution until in 1992 he took as wife Suha, from a wealthy Christian family of Jerusalem.
Helped by funds and his zeal, Arafat took the first clandestine steps that led to his emergence as one of the household names of the age: an ideal, however flawed, of all the aspirations to most Palestinians; of all the evil and the would-be destructor of their state, to most Israelis. He also took the name of "Abu Amar" .If Arab regimes exploited him and the Palestine cause, he became a sacred, exasperating, and unavoidable obligation to most Arab regimes. During decades of his leadership he transformed himself from a "terrorist" to politician, even statesman, in the eyes of the world. If the Palestine cause and presence in the Arab world proved a cement in uniting the Arabs, he threatened that it could also act as dynamite if the cause was ignored.
To begin with, in 1959 with his close friend Abu Jihad in Kuwait, he edited the magazine "Our Palestine " .It highlighted the Palestinian refugees' plight and the inaction of Arab regimes, and espoused the ideal of the "Return to Palestine ", with a full-scale "popular liberation war" as the only means of achieving it. The two established the Fatah guerrilla organisation's first five-man underground cell. On 1 January 1965, ill-trained, pitifully short of both weapons and funds, the Fatah Feyadeen (those who sacrifice themselves), mounted their first trans-frontier raid into the "Zionist gangster-state".
But in political terms Arafat's guerrillas were a much greater challenge to the Arab regimes than they were to the Israelis. In theory, the regimes too were preparing to liberate Palestine - but mostly by talk, by conventional military means in their own good time. The early Arafat exploits, were mere pinpricks that gave Israel another reason to fight a war that would end with it gaining the remaining 22% of Palestine; East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza - after the shattering Arab defeat in the 1967 war. But the guerrillas' power grew steadily in Jordan, to which 380,000 Palestinians had fled after Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, joining others who had arrived earlier in 1948.
Arafat's major daring feat remains the battle of Karameh, a small Jordanian town in the valley, when on March 21 1968, and an ill-armed band of guerrillas inflicted heavy casualties on a vastly superior force of Israeli invaders. Having been humiliated in 1948 and 1967, the Fedayeen became the Arab world's darlings with volunteers flocking in to join it. Arafat became chairman of the executive committee and commander in chief of the Palestine Liberation Organization in 1969. The Palestinian National Council, the PLO's parliamentary body, adopted Al Fatah's goal: "creating a democratic society in Palestine where Muslims, Christians and Jews would live together in complete equality." PLO was established in 1964 by Egypt's President Nasser.
But Al Fatah became a state within the Jordanian state. When swaggering guerillas behaved almost like masters of Jordan, in which Palestinians form 55% of the population, it became intolerable for the Hashemite King Hussein. The hijacking of 3 civilian planes by guerillas by a faction outside PLO control and their destruction in Jordan's deserts was the last straw. In September 1970 (named Black September events by PLO ), King Hussein used his tribal Bedouin soldiers against PLO guerillas to drive them out of his Kingdom. In the planning of the operations Brigadier Zia-ul Haq then on deputation played a key role. Zia's boss in Pakistan received a message that " a kingdom has been saved". There were some Palestinian officers who were involved in many attempts to overthrow King Hussein, so Jordan's armed forces and security services have few Palestinians now. Open provocative declarations by senior Israeli leaders that Jordan is Palestine did not help matters.
PLO and its guerillas then shifted to Lebanon, where they fitted not easily into that country's ethnic and ideological divisions. Arafat built himself a stronger power base. After the 1973 Arab-Israeli war when a US military Hardware Bridge made Israelis roll back Egyptians' initial gains, began the American peace-making. Arafat then began moving away from "revolution till victory" towards a "doctrine of stages". He sought what immediate gains could be made from a political settlement without renouncing the historical right to all of Palestine.
After the Arabs had accepted the PLO as "the sole legitimate spokesman of the Palestinian people" in 1974, King Hussein, his historic Arab rival, also did the same. Soon Arafat addressed the United Nations general assembly at its first debate on the "Palestine question" since 1952, thus becoming the first leader of a "national liberation movement" to be so honoured. That diplomatic triumph was followed by a dreary period of diplomatic military-strategic reverses, inflicted by Arabs and the Israelis. He sided with the Muslim-leftists in the Lebanese civil war. But then Syria's President Assad sent in his army to help the right-wing Christian Phalangists. The civil war's first phase ended in 1976 with the siege and fall of the Palestinian refugee camp of Tal al-Zaatar. But at an emergency summit, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait rescued Arafat from Syrians.
In 1982 the Israelis with Ariel Sharon as defense minister invaded Lebanon and hunted Arafat using F-15s as flying assassination squads, killing 200 people when a laser-guided vacuum bomb, flattened an apartment block Arafat had left moments before. Under US pressure and assurance, Arafat and his fighters were exiled to Tunisia which became his headquarters. And PLO lost its Lebanese politico-military power base across Israel and occupied West Bank.
Then under the 'benign' gaze of Ariel Sharon the Phalangists carried a pogrom against defenseless Palestinian refugees in the camps of Sabra and Shatila. When Arafat slipped back 15 months later into the Syrian-controlled part of Lebanon, where Assad had helped foment a rebellion against him in the ranks of what was left of the Fatah guerrillas, he was rescued by a European-arranged safe passage from Tripoli, being bombarded by Israel from the sea and besieged by Syria. "Such is the bizarre ending of a movement that, for all its daring, never found a political vision," prematurely declared the New York Times.
Far away in Tunis Arafat almost became irrelevant. But the Israelis never gave up on Arafat and his comrades .In 1985 Israeli F-15s killed 73 people at his seafront Tunis headquarters. Arafat was out "jogging" at the time. At the 1987 summit, to his fury, Arab leaders for the first time put something other than Palestine - the Iraq-Iran war - at the top of their agenda.
Intifada; a grass roots uprising
But in November 1987, when the Israelis thought they had created a South Africa style regime in the Occupied Territories and exploited cheap Palestine labour for its economy, the young Palestinians, fed up with daily humiliations and oppression rose up against the occupying Israeli forces in a spontaneous, non-armed intifada. The Palestinians had fought from West bank, part of Hashemite Kingdom up to 1967, then from Jordan up to 1970 and then from Lebanon up to 1982. Now with PLO far away in Tunis, the grass roots Palestinians refused to accept slavery and worse. It is this leadership, which will now decide the future of Palestine.
It was not difficult for Arafat to take over Intifada as he still embodied the idea of rebellion and Palestinian aspirations .It was a new asset, stronger than the long, costly "armed struggle". The stones that youngsters hurled at Israeli soldiers were more potent than Kalashnikovs and the harsh Israeli response telecast around the world on TV screens aroused passions and anger even among American people .In order to keep the Intifada non-violent and united, Jordan TV used to telecast Attenborough's film Gandhi, which was seen by Palestinians, Jordanians and Israelis alike.
Arafat accepts 'two states solution
Then in a bold political move in 1988, Arafat solemnly proclaimed recognition to the "two-state" solution, which meant that the Palestinians gave up 78% of their original homeland. He recognized Israel's right to exist. Then began a long sought US-PLO dialogue; called the Palestinians' "passport to the world". But it turned out to be a historic mirage, a failed gamble. For Israel, he remained the unregenerate terrorist; and Washington was too beholden to Israel.
Only President Saddam Hussein supported the Palestinian cause fully, so Arafat aligned himself to a militarily powerful and increasingly militant Iraq. And when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, he backed him, a miscalculation in American eyes. But then he had to respond to the feelings of the Palestinians. Even King Hussein, so reliant on the west, had to listen to the majority of his Palestinian origin population .He did not join the US led coalition against Saddam Hussein, which almost all Arab and Muslim countries did, for money, out of rivalry and some other consideration .So much for Arab solidarity .It was Saddam Hussein who had saved the Gulf Kingdoms and Sheikhdoms from the fury of the Iranian Shiite revolution after 1979. So much for gratitude!
But USA had to promise its Arab, Muslim and other Allies in 1991 war that it would make a serious effort to resolve the Arab-Israel problem, which had been highlighted by Saddam Hussein. So in late 1991 the Madrid peace conference was organized . Arafat persuaded the Palestinians to go to the conference. For the first time Israel and its Arab neighbours talked to each other and at each other across a table. But the Arabs did so at the cost of historic concessions. The Israelis went through the motins of the exercise. They chose which Palestinians they would talk to. There was no place for PLO members, let alone Arafat, in the Palestinian delegation. They also largely set the agenda; the Americans backed their refusal to discuss anything suggesting the Palestinians' right to "self-determination". Israelis saw that Madrid got nowhere.
But an inveterate traveler, Arafat kept up his endlessly airborne routine. In 1992, his aircraft crash-landed during a Libyan sandstorm. The crew sacrificed themselves to save him – testimony to the loyalty he inspired. His escape was described as a "heavenly referendum" by many Palestinians. The relief and joy was genuine enough all around the world. It was in Tunis that at 62, and to the disapproving surprise of his people, Arafat took a 28-year-old wife, Suha Tawil.
1993 Oslo Accords
Soon Arafat began the secret talks that astonished the world and from which the Oslo agreement emerged. Some of his officials unkindly whispered that the crash, the shock to his faculties already going awry, had pushed him into this last extremity of "moderation". Others accused him of individualism, vanity, deviousness, authoritarianism and a mystical belief in his infallibility. What he wanted almost at any price was to internalize the Madrid conference and face the rise of the "insider" leadership, and the appeal of Hamas fundamentalists, which all threatened to bypass him. Israel which had helped create Hamas took full advantage.
The 1993 Oslo Accords were along the lines of the Labour Party's Alon plan which called for the annexation of 35-40 percent of the Occupied Territories, and either Jordanian rule or some form of autonomy for the remaining land to which the Palestinian population would be assigned. In the past, the Palestinians had always opposed such plans, which would take away too much of their land. Perhaps without realizing its ramifications, Arafat had agreed. Only an apparent "smashing victory" could have kept Arafat in focus and power. So behind the back of the Palestinian negotiating team headed by Haider Abd al-Shafi, Arafat accepted an agreement that left all Israeli settlements intact, even in the Gaza Strip, where 6,000 Israeli settlers occupy one-third of the land, while a million Palestinians are crowded in the rest.
On September 13 1993 in a signing ceremony on the White House lawn, overseen by Bill Clinton, the 64-year-old former "terrorist" shook hands with Yitzhak Rabin, Israeli Prime Minister and was accepted as a statesman. For this he shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Rabin and Peres. But the price was immense. He claimed that the accord would inexorably lead to Israel's withdrawal from all the occupied territories; the Palestinians were on the road to statehood with its capital in East Jerusalem. Nine months later he returned "home" to Palestine. But the self-governing areas were the merest fragments, in Jericho and Gaza, not merely of original 1948 Palestine, but of the post-1967, 22% of it, on which he was to build his state.
According to Labour leader Simon Peres, Arafat once bitterly told him after the Oslo accords "Just see what you did to me: From a popular figure in the eyes of my people, you have turned me into a controversial personality in the eyes of the Palestinians and the whole of the Arab world."
Oslo had provided for a series of "interim" agreements leading to "final-status" talks. An Israeli commentator said of the first of them: "when one looks through all the lofty phraseology, all the deliberate disinformation, the hundreds of pettifogging sections, sub-sections, appendices and protocols, one clearly recognizes that the Israeli victory was absolute and Palestine defeat abject." For 6 years nothing happened except what Israel wanted, with the balance of power now more overwhelmingly in Israel's favour than ever. The "interim" agreements which should have advanced Arafat 's conception of "final status" only advanced the Israeli interests.
A revolutionary, Arafat was not good at building democracy .PLA was no different from other Arab regimes he denounced as corrupt. More people went into Palestinian jails than in Israeli ones. His so-called economic "advisers" shaped a nepotistic edifice of monopoly; racketeering and naked extortion which enriched them as it further impoverished the people. Funds meant for the PLO were distributed among close associates (some of them look quite well fed and content ) In 1999, 20 leading citizens denounced not just high officials and their business cronies, but even the "president", who had "opened the doors to the opportunists to spread their rottenness through the Palestinian street". There was open opposition to his dictatorial one-man rule and open corruption. This is a common problem with all revolutionary organizations when they acquire levers of power.
By 1997, three years after Arafat's triumphal return to Gaza, the Palestinian economy was stagnant and per-capita annual income in Gaza had declined by $100, to $1,050. Refugee camps were mired in squalor, a situation that did not improve with time. According to United Nations figures, 50 percent of the 2.2 million Palestinians on the West Bank were living below the poverty line in 2004, compared with 22 percent in 2001; the figure is now 68 percent in teeming Gaza, with its 1.3 million people.
Israel's Phantom offer
Israeli PM Ehud Barak then conceived the idea of telescoping the "interim" stages, which had fallen behind schedule as well as the "final status" which had been left to the end precisely because they were so intractable - into one climactic conclusion to end the 100-year conflict. US President Bill Clinton fell in line. Most US presidents in their second term want to write their names in history .In July 2000, at Clinton's Camp David retreat, Barak laid before Arafat his take-it-or-leave-it "historic compromise." In return for his solemnly dropping all further claims, Israel would agree to the emergence of a Palestine state, covering even less than the 22% of the original homeland to which he was confined to without real sovereignty or East Jerusalem as its capital, or the return of refugees. And the illegal settlements would remain.
The summit collapsed as Arafat stood firm, evidently deciding that to cede historic goals would be ruinous. Even he had no Palestinian, Arab or Islamic mandate for ceding Jerusalem's sovereignty or abandoning the rights of four million refugees. From this collapse grew the second intifada, essentially a popular revolt, first against the Israeli occupation and the realisation that the Oslo peace process would never bring it to an end and, potentially, against Arafat and the discredited Palestine Authority. It took on its own life and momentum with Arafat only in nominal control. Its true leaders were men of a younger generation such as Marwan Barghouti.
The intifada's other activists were the fundamentalists of Hamas and Islamic jihad. They did not oppose Arafat, nor did they owe any allegiance to him. Their suicide bombers inside Israel proper harked to the much larger meaning which the intifada carried for them: "complete liberation." The death toll mounted beneath the overwhelmingly superior Israeli firepower, from small-scale attrition of sniper and small arms fire, through systematic assassinations, to tanks, helicopter gunships and F-16s unleashed on targets in densely populated civilian neighbourhoods. This has only increased poverty, hatred and despair and the willing bomber volunteers. Most Israelis saw the intifada as an existential threat and they all blamed Arafat. For the peace-seeking Israeli left he had betrayed them with a resort to violence just when a historic breakthrough seemed possible .The right, felt he was the unregenerate killer he always was. This led, in February 2001, to the rise of Ariel Sharon, tainted from by the Sabra and Shatila massacres, to head Israel's most extreme and bellicose government in history.
Like Saddam's 1990 invasion of Kuwait, the events of September 11, 2001 were a further setback for the Palestinians. This time Arafat was determined to put himself on the US side by supporting America's "war on terror". But his attempts to end the intifada, arresting militants who broke the ceasefire and protested against the US led assault on Afghanistan had little effect. George W. Bush, the most pro-Israeli president ever, did little more than look on as Sharon re-conquered much of the West Bank, wreaked havoc on the infrastructure of the PA, and subjected Arafat himself to a humiliating siege in his headquarters in Ramallah, his office reduced to mounds of rubble.
In the summer of 2002, Bush pronounced Arafat unfit to rule and "irrelevant", as he had imperiously declared UN in early 2003. In Sharon's world, along with Saddam Hussein, Arafat was ready for "regime changes" which Bush now envisaged across much of the Middle East. In 2003, Bush secured the appointment of a docile prime minister, Mahmud Abbas aka Abu Mazin, hoping he would do what Arafat would not - to war against the Islamic militants without any assurance of worthwhile concessions. But Arafat, with his continued grip on the levers of power, drove the hapless and unpopular Abu Mazen to despair and resignation.
With the total breakdown of the ceasefire and the "road map" in tatters, and a resumption of the suicide bombings, the Israeli government announced its intention to "remove" Arafat, this "absolute obstacle to any attempt at reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis." As time went by, Israel extended the "Arab-free" areas by new settlements and connecting roads etc in the Occupied Territories to about 50 percent of their land. Labor circles had talked about the "Alon Plus" plan, namely, even more land to Israel.
At the time of Oslo Accords, the majority of Israelis were tired of war. They thought fights over land and water resources were over. Haunted by the memory of the Holocaust, most Israelis believed that the 1948 War of Independence, with its horrible consequences for the Palestinians, was necessary to establish a state for the Jews. But now both sides with their states could live normally and peacefully. Most people on both the sides believed that what they were witnessing were just "interim agreements" and that eventually the occupation would somehow end, and the settlements would be dismantled. Two-thirds of Jewish Israelis supported the Oslo agreements in the polls. It was obvious there was no stomach for any new wars over land and water.
But the ideology of war over land never died in the Israeli army, or in the circles of politically influential generals, whose careers moved from the military to the government. From the start of the Oslo process, the Maximalists objected to giving even that much land and rights to the Palestinians. This was most visible in military circles, whose most vocal spokesman was then chief of staff Ehud Barak, who objected to the Oslo agreements from the start. Another beacon of opposition was, of course, Ariel Sharon. In 1999, the army got back to power through the politicized generals - first Barak, and then Sharon.
So the Maximalist generals-turned-rulers decided to correct what they viewed as the grave mistakes of Oslo. In their eyes, Sharon's alternative of fighting the Palestinians to the bitter end and imposing new regional order may have failed in Lebanon in 1982 because of the weakness of the soft Israeli society, but now, given the new war philosophy established through US military operations in Iraq, and earlier in Kosovo and Afghanistan, the political generals believed that with Israel's massive air superiority, it might still be possible to execute that vision.
However, in order to get there, it was first necessary to convince the Israeli society that, in fact, the Palestinians were not willing to live in peace, and were still threatening Israel's very existence. Sharon alone could not have possibly achieved that, but Barak did succeed with his generous offer- fraud. There was no real offer on the table. It was a media-assisted creation like the belief created in the US population that Iraqis were responsible for September 11.
"The Israeli press is as obedient as elsewhere, and it recycles faithfully the military and governmental messages. But part of the reason it is more revealing is its lack of inhibition. Things that would look outrageous in the world are considered natural daily routine," writes Israeli Prof Tanya Reinhart. Earlier the world was made to believe that Israel was willing to withdraw even from the occupied Syrian Golan Heights. In the polls, 60 percent of the Israelis, hoping for peace, had enthusiastically supported dismantling all settlements in the Golan Heights. But the end of this round of peace negotiations ended in the same way as with Palestinians. It was made out that Syrian leader Hafiz al-Assad did not comprehend and had let the opportunity slip. But it was not true. Media then convinced the Israelis that it was the rejectionist Assad who was unwilling to get his territories back and make peace with Israel.
Why did Barak permit Sharon a provocative visit to Temple Mount/Haram to ignite the boiling frustrations accumulated in the Palestinian society? The massive security forces used rubber bullets against unarmed demonstrators. When the visit triggered more demonstrations the next day, Barak escalated the shootings and ordered Israeli forces and tanks into densely populated Palestinian areas. By all indications, the escalation of Palestinian protest into armed clashes could have been prevented had the Israeli response been more restrained. Even in the face of armed resistance, Israel's reaction was grossly out of proportion, as stated by the General Assembly of the UN, which condemned Israel's "excessive use of force" on October 26, 2000. The second intifada has so far left more than 900 Israelis and almost 3,000 Palestinians dead. And Israel, less secure.
The first Palestinian terrorist attack on Israeli civilians inside Israel took place on November 2, 2000, a month after Israel used its full military machine including helicopters, tanks and missiles against Palestinians. So it was not defense against terrorism as claimed by Israel. It would appear that another plan to destroy the Palestinian infrastructure and to discredit Arafat, i.e. that he had never given up the "option of violence", was ready in October 2000 and are contained in a manuscript known as the "White Book".
Professor Tanya Reinhart suggests in her book Israel/Palestine that despite the horrors of the past years, there was still another alternative. "Israel should withdraw immediately from the territories occupied in 1967. The bulk of Israeli settlers (150,000 of them) are concentrated in the big settlement blocks in the center of the West Bank. These areas cannot be evacuated overnight. But the rest of the land (about 90-96 percent of the West Bank and the whole of the Gaza Strip) can be evacuated immediately. Many of the residents of the isolated Israeli settlements that are scattered in these areas are speaking openly in the Israeli media about their wish to leave. It is only necessary to offer them reasonable compensation for their property. The rest ... are a negligible minority that will have to accept the will of the majority."
But this not likely to happen. Instead a Berlin wall, in spite of a ruling against it by the International Court in The Hague, continues to be built to claim more Palestinian territory. The United Nations concluded that the barriers and enclosures had cut off 11.5 percent of the West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem. Israel has confiscated 24 per cent of the area of the West Bank and Gaza and 89 per cent of East Jerusalem for settlements, highways, military installations, etc. It controls 80 per cent of the water resources of the occupied territories and also appropriates a large quantity, equal to one-third of its consumption, from the Jordan River. Fourth-fifths of the water from the West Bank's sole underground aquifer goes to Israel.
The greatest, and most immediate, challenge is offered by Ariel Sharon's plan to wind up all the 21 settlements in Gaza and four others in the West Bank, beginning in 2005.The "Disengagement Plan" is opposed by a large number of Palestinians because it is part of Israel's comprehensive strategy to continue its occupation under more favourable conditions while freezing the peace process. And as Sharon's senior adviser D. Weisglass openly says: "When you freeze the peace process, you prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state." Sharon wants to bypass any political process and reconfigure the entire territory of Palestine and make a genuine two-state solution virtually impossible. The strategy to change the facts on the ground is being implemented thoroughly.
There appears little chance of peace or accord in Palestine, in spite of some recent polite talk by Bush to lift Tony Blair's spirits in Washington a few days ago. Bush , whose re-election was on 'more of the same " will look around for a Hamid Karzai if not an Iyad Allawi among Palestinians. Both Abu Mazen and Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia command little support among Palestinians. According to a recent survey by An-Najah university in Nablus, less than 43% of Palestinians have confidence in Abbas, while Qureia, commands even less support, with just 28 believing he is capable of managing the PA's affairs. From the outset, these "outsiders" antagonised the Israeli-occupied "insiders". Arafat parceled out office among his inner circle of cronies - old, sycophantic, inefficient, corrupt - who depended entirely on him for their survival, as he did on them for the preservation of his autocratic style.
According to Yahia Said, of the London School of Economics, PLA was a 'rudderless' Authority with 'pervasive decay' for which Arafat was 'directly responsible'. 'Arafat elevated symbolism to a full-time job,' said Said. 'We are seeing the end of a generation of politicians who were seen as almost divine.' Yes, Arafat's death signals the end of the era of major historical figures - such as Saddam Hussein, Hafez Assad of Syria and Anwar Saadat, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt - who emerged from the various nationalist, socialist-influenced, post-colonial liberation movements in the Middle East in the second half of the twentieth century.
Their doctrines are now being replaced; it appears by Islamic radical ideologies. Recent polls show that Palestinians' support for Islamic groups went up from 17 per cent to 35 per cent in last four years while support for Arafat's Fatah movement, slipped from 37 per cent to 28 per cent. The main Islamist party, Hamas, will certainly be a key player in any election - either by actively endorsing a candidate or because the organisation can make or break any incumbent by unleashing suicide attacks on Israeli targets. If local elections are held, Hamas is expected to win a number of municipalities, especially in Gaza. They have taken over the dominant, heroic role in the national struggle. As for governance, they have demonstrated their potential in their welfare services, with dedication and competence. It was this kind of service and organization in Turkey, which brought to power its Justice and Development party, with its Islamist roots.
As for PLO , public supports the former head of Fatah's military wing on the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti, but he is in an Israeli prison serving five consecutive life terms for organising attacks on soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories. After the departure of the Symbol, time is now for home grown leadership from the two Intifadas. But with the father of Palestinian identity and nationalism gone, things are likely to get worse than better.
K Gajendra Singh, served as Indian Ambassador to Turkey and Azerbaijan in 1992-96. Prior to that, he served as ambassador to Jordan (during the 1990-91 Gulf war), Romania and Senegal. He is currently chairman of the Foundation for Indo-Turkic Studies.