The Right Coast

November 12, 2004
Fouad Ajami on Arafat
By Mike Rappaport

Fouad Ajami writes:

He would be neither a Palestinian David Ben-Gurion leading his people toward practical politics and statehood nor an Anwar Sadat accepting the logic of peace and compromise. It was a pity for the Palestinians that Yasser Arafat was what he was: a juggler, a trimmer, a man who never had it in him to tell his people great historical truths about their condition in the world of nations and their practical possibilities. The void, and the failure, Arafat leaves in his wake were of his own making. He indulged his people's worst fantasies and squandered great opportunities that opened up for them.

Character is destiny. And in the end, character doomed Arafat. The peace of Oslo, concluded in 1993…had rescued Yasser Arafat from political oblivion, brought him back from the wilderness and from exile to give him a political base, a home on the soil of Gaza and the West Bank. Arafat understood the bargain that Labor Zionism made with him: He would have to keep the peace, and he would have to begin to lay the foundations of a moderate Palestinian polity. He would do nothing of the sort. He was good at starting fires. Temperamentally, the man abhorred the hard work of state building…

It is idle to lament the historic opportunities wasted by this man. The fault lies not in a leader whose weaknesses were known the world over but in the illusions and the hopes invested in him by outsiders willing to be deluded.
There is much to be said for Ajami's view. But another possibility is that Arafat was simply scared to be assassinated, like Sadat, if he concluded a peace deal. If that was his motivation, then there is less reason to believe his death will lead to an improvement -- unless a Sadat emerges in his wake.