Yasser Arafat and the Future of Palestine
By Dr Nayyer Ali

The death of Arafat has brought a long chapter in the history of the Palestinians to a close. His defining achievement was to lead a dispossessed and despised people and turn them into a national movement that sustained itself against unbelievable odds. He brought them to the brink of a real victory, but ultimately failed in delivering a state of their own to them.

Arafat in the last 10 years was not the best man to lead the Palestinians. His style of leadership, which kept all power and decision-making to himself while his underlings constantly jockeyed for advantage, prevented serious decisions from being made. His biggest miscalculations were in 2000. First was the failure to present a real counteroffer at Camp David, a decision that allowed Israel and Clinton to blame him for the failure.
Second was the decision not to stop the second Intifada when it broke out in September 2000. Once Sharon took power, the Israelis began a strategy of destroying the Palestinians’ security infrastructure, which then prevented the PA from reasserting control even if it wanted to. But during the first six months of the uprising, Arafat could have stopped it if he so desired. He calculated that perhaps the Palestinians could force the Israelis to leave under fire, just as they had finally withdrawn from Lebanon earlier that year.

But the West Bank and Gaza were far different in importance to Israel than southern Lebanon, and Israel quickly replaced the failed Barak with the hawkish Sharon who set out to destroy the Palestinian Authority. Eventually, Arafat would find himself confined to a partially rubbled complex in Ramallah where he spent the last two years fighting any Palestinian reform effort that would have created a more democratic and accountable Palestinian leadership. The Israeli and American pressure on him actually strengthened his ability to resist reform as reformers could then be accused of being stooges of Israel. Arafat’s end now gives the Palestinians a golden opportunity to build a democratic government, which will sharply raise their international credibility and strengthen their hand in negotiating with Israel.

The death of Arafat may be welcomed by Israelis, but it is actually bad for Zionism, at least the Ariel Sharon kind. The Israelis and Americans will be forced to deal with a new Palestinian leadership, which will likely be a coalition that includes Hamas and Islamic Jihad. For Israel, the choice will be clear. If it wants peace, it will have to give up the West Bank and East Jerusalem and withdraw the settlers, of which there are over 400,000. The 7,000 settlers in Gaza are to be unilaterally withdrawn next year, and Sharon is setting the precedence for further settler withdrawal.

Between the Jordan River and the sea, there are now three Palestinian children for every two Jewish ones. By 2050, there will be 20 million people living in historic Palestine, and two-thirds will be Palestinian. Even if the Israelis make a peace of equals with the Palestinians, one-third of Israeli citizens will be non-Jewish in 2050. The end result will be intermarriage, and a rate of even 5-10% will result in the inevitable bi-national state that Zionists have always rejected. Even the demographic consequences of the right of return, once there is a peace treaty between Israel and Palestine, will be partially carried out through a mix of newlywed Palestinians with Israeli citizenship bringing in their spouses from Palestine, and illegal immigration into Israel from just over the border. Economic imperatives such as free trade, labor flows, and a common currency, along with integrated national electric grids and water systems wi ll tie Israel and Palestine into the functional equivalent of a single state.

If Zionism means having a “Jewish state”, i.e. a state that embodies Jewish values and in which a Jew can feel at home, then Zionism, and Israel, can survive and even thrive in this future. But if Zionism means creating a “state of the Jews” as a people, an exclusivist and ethnically defined state that marginalizes its non-Jews, then Zionism is headed for a demographic cliff. A real peace will only accelerate the process. In fact, the oppression of the Palestinians, and the resentment that creates toward Jews, is the oxygen on which right-wing Zionism survives. Which is why right-wing Zionists do not want the conflict to end. It is the only thing that sustains their dream. Comments can reach me at Nali@socal.rr.com.

Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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