The death of Palestinian President, PLO Chief and Fatah Head Yasser Arafat should be a catalyst for movement towards resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Since September 2000, when the Palestinians launched the intifada, Arafat had reclaimed his mantle as one of the world’s leading facilitators and perpetrators of terror. After being awarded the Nobel Peace Price in 1994 alongside Israeli statesmen Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, Arafat almost single handedly turned back the clock as if the Oslo years had never happened.
The elections for Palestinian President announced for January 9, 2005 and the upcoming Palestinian municipal elections give us an opportunity to hope that the Palestinians will opt for a path of peace.
Many believed that the Oslo process, set in train in the early 1990s, would chart a course which would end one of the world’s longest-running conflicts. In the words of the Palestinians’ own leadership, this was never the case.
In his final interview before his death to the Egyptian daily Al-Arabi on June 24, 2001, Faysal Al-Husseini, the Palestinian Authority Minister for Jerusalem Affairs, declared, “The Oslo Accords were a Trojan Horse; the strategic goal is the liberation of Palestine from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea”.
Arafat frequently made statements in Arabic to his people which contradicted his English speeches. Addressing a public event in July 2001 he said, "Kill a settler every day. Shoot at settlers everywhere. Do not pay attention to what I say to the media, the television or public appearances. Pay attention only to the written instructions that you receive from me”.
To Arafat and his followers, the settlers to whom he was referring were not merely those people living in Judea, Samaria or Gaza: Arafat regarded the whole of Israel as one giant “settlement” and saw it as his mission to claim it for the Palestinians.
It is pertinent to note that the first terrorist attack by Arafat’s Fatah organisation on Israeli soil occurred in 1964, three years before the 1967 Six-Day War, when Israel captured Judea, Samaria, Gaza and the Golan Heights. Fatah’s raison d'être was not “liberation of the Occupied Territories”, as it claims, but “liberation” of the entire State of Israel.
The following statement is just one example of the indoctrination by Arafat’s Palestinian Authority over Palestinian children from an officially-sanctioned teaching tool. Titled Our Arabic Language for Fifth Grade #54, it states: “Know, my son, that Palestine is your country... that its pure soil is drenched with the blood of Martyrs ... Answer this: Why must we fight the Jews and drive them out of our land?"
The map which Arafat wore on his uniform depicted a state of Palestine which stretched from Lebanon in the north to Egypt in the south and from the River Jordan in the east to the Mediterranean in the west. Every symbol in the official Palestinian Authority structure depicted the same image - a Palestinian state located where Israel is today. Neither the official Palestinian Authority symbols nor the Fatah symbols have ever been amended to accommodate a Jewish state.
Arafat has cemented his place in history. The question is what that place will be.
Will he be remembered as somebody of the stature of Rabin or Mandela, who, after spending years at war, were able to become men of peace, or will he be remembered as a failed leader who stole billions of dollars from his people and educated generations of Palestinians to hate and to value death more than life?
There is an adage that says the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Let us hope that the new Palestinian leadership will reflect the true interests of their people. That it will be able to rid the education system of its blatant indoctrination. That it will use the millions of dollars in its coffers to build infrastructure. The leadership will need the support of the international community and of Israel and this will be forthcoming if a moderate and responsible leadership is put in place.
The new Palestinian leadership has an opportunity to start educating its people to accept a peace that will give both the Israelis and the Palestinians the ability to live normal, secure and peaceful lives. The Palestinians deserve a leadership that will show the people that a viable, independent and flourishing Palestinian state is possible alongside the State of Israel - not in its place.
Let us hope that the death of Arafat and the upcoming elections will usher in an era in which both Israelis and Palestinians will be able to co-exist in peace, security and prosperity and find a path to end this painful conflict.
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