Arafat’s death: a Palestinian view

Ali Sarsour is a longtime Chicoan who grew up in the town of Al-bireh, near Ramallah in the West Bank.

President Arafat left the Palestinians many legacies.

One: He nationalized the Palestinian issue. Before Arafat all spokesmen on behalf of the Palestinians were appointed and directed by other Arab governments. He established himself as the first independent Palestinian leader.

Two: He internationalized the Palestinian cause. Today the Palestinian Authority has diplomatic relations and is recognized by more than 100 countries. The Palestinians are members of many United Nation and international organizations.

Third: He refused all Israeli and American proposals that would put the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza on reservations. He saw that many of their proposals were misleading and essentially disguised as proposals to create a Palestinian state. He was vilified, dehumanized, imprisoned and boycotted when he took such a stand.

Fourth: Arafat failed to develop institutions that would eventually assist in running a Palestinian state. He saw and established himself as a tribal leader rather than a president, reserving all of the power to himself, including the power to collect and dispense funds. It did not help matters that many of his people were corrupt.

The death of Arafat offers challenges and opportunities, with the biggest one being that his death removes an easy target for Israelis and the American government. It will force them both to show whether they have any concrete proposals to solve the Palestinian problem or if they will continue with meaningless recyclable general statements that only tire and try the Palestinians.

The challenge to both the U.S. and Israeli governments is to overcome their political inability to offer such concrete proposals. President Bush has to deal with the political pressure of the strong pro-Israeli Jewish lobby and the strong pro-Israeli neo conservatives in his administration, and he still has to deal with Iraq. Israel’s Prime Minister Sharon is not in a better position. He squandered all of his political clout with Israel’s right-wing groups and parties (including his own) by proposing to move less than 3 percent of the Jewish settlers from the Gaza and the West Bank. His government is divided; half of his party members in the Israeli Knesset voted against him.

The challenge for the new Palestinian leadership is that, without concrete, tangible proposals from the Israelis and Americans, they have nothing to offer the Palestinians and therefore will lose the support of Palestinian public opinion to those who feel that military resistance is the only way!