Friday, November 12, 2004
Don't mourn - or condemn - Arafat - move on
I admit to knowing almost nothing about the history of Ireland. I did know, sort of, who Collins and De Valera were, but that's about it.
I wanted to follow up upon your comments on Arafat. I appreciated your more balanced review of Arafat compared to what's being said almost everywhere else. Wouldn't we all be terrorists if the land and community into which we were born had some how become disenfranchised and removed from over half that territory, and that same territory became the sovereign home for an entirely different community (tribe) of people?
Wasn't it Churchill who said "in defeat: defiance"? One of the things I learned from reading Churchill is one must recognize the rising, legitimate expectations (i.e. hopes) of ones adversary. No matter how much he loathed his enemy, Churchill, in his writing of them, could put himself in their position and convey their motivations.
You are most earnestly right also in saying Arafat's greatest talent was in his ability to stay alive. I would add, not just physically, but politically as well, and as you suggest, at a huge cost to his own people and their cause. If only he had the courage of Michael Collins, the man most responsible for the creation of modern Ireland.
Collins too was a terrorist and for similar reasons, perhaps the first terrorist in the modern sense, and perhaps one of the most successful. In a similar set of conditions, Collins did, indeed, negotiate with Churchill, head of England's colonial office in the early 1920s, for the creation of the Irish Free State, the precursor to modern Ireland.
Like Arafat and the Palestinians, Collins was never offered a deal that all of his compatriots could agree to. But, fortunately he was bargaining with Churchill, who though reluctantly, was able to identify the legitimate rising expectations of the Irish.
Churchill offered Collins a half a loaf: Ireland minus the six northern counties and Dominion status, not outright independence. Collins took it. Churchill suggested that the agreement would bring about his political death; Collins countered by suggested that the agreement would bring about his actual death. The IRA wanted the whole loaf.
Sure enough Collins was killed shortly afterwards by his nationalist adversaries in the IRA. Eventually, some of his IRA adversaries came around; one in particular, Eamon De Velara, eventually became the leader of the Irish Free State and in time, led the Free State to outright independence from England in the form of the modern Republic of Ireland.
The Free State, then the Republic, languished for decades until it found successful means to economic development beginning in the 1980s. Today it is a thriving model state of social democracy and prosperity. The potential for violence is still a problem in Ireland, but mostly in the north, the Republic of Ireland is nearly a paradise of peace, prosperity and stunning beauty.
Arafat lacked Collin's kind of courage. I am not sure we can blame him, few are made of such stuff - in fact, in the Irish case, De Valera - the IRAs leader and an extremist - had sent Collins to negotiate with Churchill precisely because he knew that a half loaf was all that would be forth coming and it meant death to whomever accepted it. So Arafat lacked Collins courage, and probably his vision, but also, Arafat was never offered so much as half a loaf, more like one quarter. And the closest he came to a Churchill as a negotiating partner was Rabin, and Rabin was assassinated preemptively by a Jewish extremist. Collins, Churchill, Arafat, Rabin, these men all trotted upon dangerous grounds.
So, unlike Collins, Arafat lived to a ripe old age, but his people languished and languish still. Other than for Arafat personally, it has been unfortunate all the way around: Palestinians suffer in poverty and disenfranchisement and Israeli's live in a state of perpetual instability and a political reality far removed from their noble ideals. There is little to mourn at the death of Arafat himself, but in a larger sense there is much to pity, and that itself renders a mourning of sorts, does it not? It is, indeed, amazing that he somehow survived all these years, both politically and physically: More's the pity and therein lies the mourning. As for tomorrow, perhaps therein lies a true morning - for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, and perhaps a chance at peace, prosperity and a stunning beauty of their own kind. Or so I ponder.
True courage is very rare, as is true insight. Being able to understand that you must offer your enemy something, some real hope, is probably even rarer. Most people would rather destroy their enemy, or at least try to, even if what they end up creating is an even worse enemy, one more implacably inimical.
I'm a Jew and a strong supporter of Israel. But my support of Israel does not extend to supporting every action any particular government of Israel takes. I realize that, since I don't live there, it's easy for me to give Israelis advice that I myself won't have to follow. Still, because I don't live there, it's perhaps possible for me to see some things they may not.
We have good reason to despise the Palestinians, at least their leadership. They could have had a state in 1947 and they said no. They probably could have had one in the 1970s and they said no. They could have had something in 2000 and said no. With all due respect to the genuine suffering of many Palestinians, aren't there real-world consequences to ceaselessly being wrong? And if it's Arafat's fault that they said no in 2000, then it's time not to mourn him but to move on.
The status quo in Israel is untenable. The Israelis deserve better and so do the Palestinians. Israel's ultimate security lies in peace, not occupation. Yes, there are risks involved, and no you don't want to "reward terrorism." But they live with risk now, with absolutely no hope of anything ever getting better.
Maybe there won't be real movement until Ariel Sharon exits the scene, too, although I certainly don't wish him any personal ill. There are also some extremely difficult issues to solve - Jerusalem, the "right of return" - far more intractable than I am smart enough to deal with. There is venemous distrust on both sides, not to mention extremists who can be counted on to oppose, almost certainly with violence, any concessions offered by their side to the other.
But what's the alternative? Wait while the demographic timebomb ticks away? Let Islamic extremism fester all over the Middle East? A wise course would be for Israel to come up with a truly generous offer, one that gives up the absolute maximum they are prepared to let go, one that even a skeptical world could see was at least worth something. And then wait for the Palestinians to see that it is the best they are ever going to get. Arafat could never say yes, because that would have removed him from his idealized place on the world stage. Maybe his successors will not be so self-serving. Maybe for once they will put their people first. Maybe they will show some courage.
Hey, if you don't have hope, you don't have anything.
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