Saturday, November 06, 2004

Life After Arafat

Perhaps being a bit presumptious - he is after all in a *reversible* coma - but hugely important nonetheless.

Like Fidel Castro (another ailing leader) Arafat both embodies a whole national (or wannabe national) movement and represents an era that has arguably passed. As Castro was a creature of the 50s and 60s, so Arafat's time was the 80s and 90s and arguably ended with the collapse of the Oslo peace process and the start of the second Intafada. After this point, and despite his iconic status among Palestinians, Arafat was rendered less politically potent than the Pope, who is at least allowed to leave the Vatican, whereas the Palestinian president was under effective house arrest in his Ramallah compound - had he even made vocal overtures to the Israeli authorities it is almost certain that in a post-11th September world and in the midst of a 'war on terror' they would have fallen on deaf ears.

However,even those who praise Arafat to the point of hyperbole have a good point: he is the glue that has held together the splintered, loose coalition of religious and political factions that make up the Palestinian 'cause'.

It's up in the air whether the gathering of vultures (including the current Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qurei)can reach the sort of mutual settlement which will keep the beleagured Palestinian authority on an even course. If they manage to do this, there's a chance that with a more moderate outlook (and without the negative history of an Arafat leadership) a more stable relationship can be forged between Palestine and Israel). The alternative is a bitter and divisive civil war.

There is, perhaps, an opportunity for Europe. With neo-con America firmly sat in Israel's camp there's a place for a voice of negotiating reason with the Palestinians. At the very least a decent bit of diplomatic weight thrown behind the right faction at the right time could mean peace talks rather than civil war.

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