Victor Davis Hanson Private Papers

Arafat’s Death Changes Nothing

Do we really believe Arafat’s rejectionism died with him?

by Bruce S. Thornton

Private Papers

The post-Arafat age has begun, and the conventional wisdom about what might or should happen in the Israeli-Arab conflict is quickly hardening into a soothing mantra. What we’re hearing goes something like this: since the U.S. and Israel both rejected Arafat as a legitimate negotiating partner, now that he is dead the major obstacle to restarting the “road map” peace process has been removed. All it takes for a final resolution of the conflict is for the U.S. to compel Israel to show some “flexibility” and make some “concessions” to strengthen the “moderates” like newly elected PLO chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Then elections can be held and the elixir of democracy will work its magic.

Like most received wisdom, this view rests on some shaky assumptions. First and foremost, it assumes that a critical mass of Palestinian Arabs really want to coexist with Israel and that that they sincerely accept the “two-state” solution. Yet what should be obvious is that even after Arafat rejected the best chance at such a solution—the Camp David offer of 2000, which included 95% of the West Bank, joint possession of Jerusalem, and billions in cash—he did not suffer any loss of prestige or position among the Palestinians for that lost opportunity to achieve what presumably they had wanted for so many years. On the contrary, many heeded his call to launch the Second Intifada, whose grisly violence not only converted many Israeli doves into hawks, but also rendered Arafat himself nothing more than a symbol while creating more misery for the Palestinians—a blunder to us in the West, but a success at maintaining Arafat’s power and prestige among his people.

Only those in the West besotted by the propaganda of “Palestinian national aspirations” could fail to see that Arafat’s continuing prestige despite his failure to deliver a “homeland” was in fact based on something more important than a state: his commitment to the destruction of Israel, a position he made clear whenever he spoke in Arabic. Arafat’s worldview was one in which the creation of Israel was a “Zionist-imperialist” plot hatched by the West, a “catastrophe” for the Palestinians, who lost their ancestral homeland to interlopers with no religious or historical claims to the region: “We are the unquestionable title-holders to this land throughout history,” Arafat claimed, a bold-faced historical lie that ignores the overwhelming evidence of a Jewish presence for three thousand years in the land the Romans renamed “Palestine” after they destroyed the Jewish state.

Yet there is a reason more disturbing than sympathy with “nationalist aspirations” for the passionate support, both psychological and financial, that the Europeans have for decades given to murderers of the innocent like Arafat. Arafat was a brilliant propagandist who exploited the various mythic obsessions of European and American leftists: a romantic idealization of revolutionary violence, an easy post-colonial and post-imperial guilt, noble-savage fascination with the dark-skinned “other,” anti-Americanism (once the U.S. became Israel’s best international friend), and worst of all, a latent anti-Semitism that found in opposition to “racist Zionism” and solidarity with the “victims of neo-colonialism” a convenient screen for shrugging away the murder of Jews and endowing the architect of such murder, Arafat, with the mantle of “hero,” as French President Jacques Chirac did during his bedside visit to the father of modern terrorism as he lay dying in a French military hospital. It’s hard to say which picture will strike future historians as more revealing of the West’s moral sickness: Arafat receiving a Noble Peace Prize or Arafat receiving a French military honor guard for his casket.

No, Arafat’s status as a secularist revolutionary struggling to create a Palestinian state characterized by individual rights and political freedom was propaganda cooked up for naïve Westerners. In actual fact Arafat characterized the Palestinian struggle as a “jihad,” a holy war against infidels, and called terrorists “jihad warriors” who, just as their ancestors had expelled the Crusader kingdoms, would cleanse the Palestine-which Arafat called a “holy trust from the hands of Allah”—of “Zionists” from the “river to the sea,” the Jordan to the Mediterranean. If Arafat and a majority of Palestinians were truly interested in creating a viable state that could coexist with Israel, they could have started to do so after Oslo in 1993 by putting into place some form of representative government rather than the autocratic kleptocracy of the Palestinian Authority, a glorified mafia that funneled money from the U.N. and Europeans into the pockets of Arafat and his cronies—some estimates put the take for Arafat at a billion dollars—while their “people” saw their quality of life deteriorate.

The hard-line haters of Israel knew that for Arafat, sweet-talk to Westerners of accepting Israel and her right to exist was merely a tactic, like terrorism or signing agreements or visits to Camp David, all employed as part of the “stages plan” adopted by the Palestinian Liberation Organization in 1974, after the Yom Kippur War, the Arab world’s third failed attempt to destroy Israel militarily. The long-term strategic goal of the “stages plan” is the destruction of Israel by “stages,” each “stage” demanding a different tactic depending on the perceived weakness of Israel and her allies. The offer made at Camp David in 2000 was perceived as such a weakness, which invited the unleashing of the Second Intifada as a tactic to further weaken the resolve of Israel and the United States. So too with the “right of return,” the demand that the inflated number of Palestinian “refugees” be allowed to return to Israel, the intent of which is to win through demography what cannot be won by force-as a leader of Arafat’s Fatah faction of the Palestinian Liberation Organization put it, “The Jews must get rid of Zionism . . . . They must be citizens in the state of the future, the State of Democratic Palestine.”

The Palestinian love of Arafat, then, was in direct proportion to his hatred of Israel as evidenced by his history of murdering Jews, praising those who murdered Jews, and maintaining his unwillingness to abandon terror and truly accept Israel’s existence-a hatred, of course, carefully camouflaged whenever Arafat spoke before Westerners. As Mario Loyola writes in the Weekly Standard, “[Arafat] survived in a political landscape of thugs and murderers because they all knew that he was one of them, and that he was the boss.”

Why, then, do we think that his death removes an “obstacle” to peace? The obstacle wasn’t Arafat but what Arafat embodied and expressed for the Palestinians: hatred of Israel and a passionate desire to make it disappear. What else explains the devotion to a corrupt thug like Arafat, the sick cult of homicide bombers, the love of bin Laden, and the culture of hate preached to Palestinian children starting in preschool, where they are dressed in the black ski-masks and dynamite belts of the homicide bomber? Yet Israel is supposed to “negotiate” with and yield “concessions” to a people a critical mass of whom wants her destroyed—the same people that decade after decade have answered every concession with blown-up buses and restaurants filled with the fragments of dead Israelis.

Arafat’s death changes nothing. As long as the Palestinian Arabs are addicted to hatred of Israel, and as long as we in the West function as enablers of that addiction by crediting all the specious excuses and rationalizations for murder, there will not be an inch of real progress towards resolving the conflict, only symbolic gestures and doomed half-measures. The real problem is the same one that drives the mullahs in Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, the insurgents in Iraq to murder their own people, and the plutocrats in Saudi Arabia to fund terror—a dysfunctional Middle-Eastern Muslim culture that can’t adapt its religion to the conditions of modernity.

Arab Muslims who do want to make those changes must begin to take an active role in bringing that change about, whether they be Shi’ites being murdered in Iraq or “moderate” Palestinians languishing in squalor while their beloved leaders reap millions from Western guilt-money. Until those Muslim Arabs who do want to live in societies of political freedom and individual rights and economic prosperity take concrete action themselves to destroy those Muslim Arabs who prefer the cult of murder and death, the Arab world, whether in Iraq or the West Bank, will remain mired in underdevelopment, poverty, ignorance, violence, and autocracy.

©2004 Victor Davis Hanson

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About Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is the Martin and Illie Anderson Senior Fellow in Residence in Classics and Military History at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, a professor of Classics Emeritus at California State University, Fresno, and a nationally syndicated columnist for Tribune Media Services. He is also the Wayne & Marcia Buske Distinguished Fellow in History, Hillsdale College, where he teaches each fall semester courses in military history and classical culture.

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