Law and Disorder

by The New Republic | November 29, 2004

The Palestinians couldn't hold an orderly, peaceful burial. So why does everyone think they can create an orderly, democratic state? Well, not exactly everybody. At his joint press conference with Tony Blair last week, President Bush addressed the Palestinians, "If you choose not to be helped, if you decide you don't want a free, democratic society, there's nothing we can do. " A bit impolitic, perhaps, and more than a bit disappointing to Blair, who wants to pacify a Labour left that is still incensed with his support for the Iraq war and was always infatuated with Palestinian terrorists. But Bush was uttering a crystalline truth. There was very little truth surrounding Yasir Arafat's death. In Cairo, where his formal, strictly controlled funeral was held, he was "mourned" mostly by people who hated him: Jordan's King Abdullah, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syrian President Bashar Assad. Even Arafat's wife, Suha--ensconced first at the super-luxurious Bristol Hotel on the Faubourg St. Honore in Paris and later in some lavish lair in the sixteenth arrondissement with rent paid by the Palestinian Authority--hadn't seen him in more than three years. Arafat's chaotic, violent burial on the West Bank attracted more of his enemies, including most of the pretenders to his succession. They, too, shed crocodile tears. After all, he had humiliated each and every one. Yet, somehow, the Palestinian masses, and especially young men, felt uplifted by him. It is pathetic that a man who robbed his people blind and led them down the blind alley of terrorism against Israel just as it was making quite remarkable (and, I believe, actually reckless) concessions should attract such wild ardors. Hundreds of people were trampled (though none died) at the burial service, and at least nine others were wounded by the Palestinian security force. What is the politics of these young, masked, and angry men? Can they be enlisted in the politics of compromise? Their chants do not encourage much hope: "You are our beloved. Give us a Kalashnikov." "On to Jerusalem: A million martyrs." But the fact is that there were only some 20,000 mourners in Ramallah, a tiny number for a place where the funerals of lesser-known militants often draw similar numbers. And, among Israeli Arabs, a memorial march in Nazareth drew as few as 1,000. Quite shabby, really. Recent history is replete with examples of Arab and Palestinian paranoia. Remember the blood libel that the aids pandemic was a Zionist plot? That the World Trade Center bombing was the work of the Mossad, Israel's (more effective) CIA? So for days it was rumored on the Palestinian street that the Israelis had poisoned the old man in his quasi-isolation in Ramallah--him, but no one else in the Muqata. The chief of Hamas, Khaled Mashal, who resides in Damascus, also accused Israel of poisoning Arafat. Arafat's personal physician, however, proposed another theory. Dr. Ashraf Al Kurdi told The Boston Globe's Charles A. Radin that "Mr. Arafat went to the [Paris] hospital walking and left dead." So perhaps the French poisoned him. By his mourners you shall know him. The North Koreans declared three days of official mourning. And Robert Mugabe attended the cortege in Cairo. Kofi Annan was "deeply moved" by Arafat's passing, certainly more deeply moved than he was by the plight of the Bosnians, the Tutsis, and the million-plus Sudanese, victims of his stubborn indifference. As Arafat's body was about to leave Paris, Jacques Chirac uttered words that were very French, straining for the portentous and ending with the slightly absurd: "I have come to bow before President Yasir Arafat and pay him a final homage." The post-Madrid bombing Socialist government of Spain expressed its "great sadness." Why can't the Europeans--including even the Chechen-traumatized Russians and the newly traumatized Dutch--call Arafat what he was: Osama bin Laden's ideological mentor and the mentor of virtually all the world's prominent terrorists? In my mind, it's rather simple: Arafat, from the 1972 Munich massacre through three decades of random murder of Israeli civilians, killed mostly Jews. And Jews are always guilty of something. What are the chances for change in the Palestinian polity? The Israelis are doing what they can to strengthen moderates like Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the former prime minister of the Authority whom Arafat unceremoniously pushed out of power. Astute observers believe that Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), the current premier, will support his bid to succeed Abu Ammar (Arafat's nom de guerre). Alas, these comparatively reasonable men--still, one did write a Holocaust- denying doctoral dissertation at the University of Moscow--are not especially popular among the populace. There are other Abus--some less disposed to compromise, some even more ferocious--waiting to see what will happen on the street. Well, something did happen, not exactly on the street, but in an official mourning tent for Arafat in Gaza. As Abbas entered the tent last Sunday, dozens of members of the Abu Ammar Brigade, an offshoot of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, started shouting, "No to Abu Mazen," "Abbas traitor," and "Abbas and [Mohammed] Dahlan [the former security minister] are agents for the Americans." Then they opened fire, killing at least two and wounding five others. There will be more of this, and soon. One thing is certain: The European obsession with a special envoy or a summit conference will do nothing to stop the sanguineous habits among the Palestinians. There are many killers, even among Arafat's immediate heirs, and Javier Solana lived quite well with them. In any case, killing was Arafat's way of life, and compromise was not his path to a free Palestine. That is his bitter legacy and the legacy many, perhaps most, of his survivors honor. For the religious zealots in Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who, in a way (but only in a way), were Arafat's rivals, the killing of Jews and of "disloyal" Arabs is a religious obligation, and anyone who seeks compromise with the Israelis is an infidel. These groups are hugely favored in emerging Palestine, especially by the young. There will be much more blood before there are productive peace parleys.

By Martin Peretz

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