Sunday, Dec. 19, 2004

Yasser Arafat

The crude joke in Israel is that Yasser Arafat deserves a second Nobel Peace Prize for dying. Arafat, felled by a mysterious illness, had spent his early career championing the cause of Palestinian nationhood. But his final legacy was shaped by his refusal to accept compromises that could have achieved that dream. The kaffiyeh-clad fighter drove the Palestinian cause onto the global agenda through brute violence and canny propaganda. As a revolutionary in exile, he invented TV terrorism and tenaciously waged long-distance guerrilla war. Though Palestinians never stopped loving him for his devotion to their cause, they might have fared better under a more flexible ruler. When Arafat came home to the occupied territories as chairman of a constricted Palestinian Authority, he wasted the respect of his citizens with his corrupt, authoritarian rule. As a diplomat, he left a lamentable trail of missed opportunities. He wanted history to revere him as the founding father of Palestine, but his inability to renounce violence cost him and the Palestinians the international allies they needed to achieve independence. Israel and the U.S. finally cast him out as a negotiating partner. Small wonder, then, that those he led and those who loathed him see in his death the best chance in years to make peace.