Cultural Revolutions

Obstacle to Fresh Vision

Yasser Arafat, the president of the Palestinian Authority, is dead.  While he was alive, he was an obstacle to any fresh vision for peace in the Middle East.  Vainglorious and shifty (he changed his mind about his place of birth thrice), he was unattractive as the “icon” of Palestinian aspirations.  His ineffectiveness as an administrator was exceeded only by his insatiable avarice.  As a negotiator, he was unable to close a deal, to make compromises, or to state his bottom-line position coherently and honestly.  The best that can be said of Arafat is that, in all this, he was true to the Arab political tradition.

Born in 1929 as Rahman Abdul Rauf al-Qudwa al-Husseini, Yasser Arafat was the nephew of the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, an ardent Nazi collaborator during World War II.  This pedigree helped “Abu Ammar”—another pseudonym—to cofound Fatah (Victory), an underground organization for the liberation of Palestine that postulated the destruction of Israel, in 1958.  A few years later, he became leader of the PLO and started building up the image of a leftist anti-imperialist revolutionary.  In that role, Arafat peaked in 1974 when he addressed the U.N. General Assembly—the kaffiyeh (Palestinian headscarf), uniform, and holster included—and the world body passed a resolution condemning Zionism as a form of racism...

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