Israel was released yesterday from the punishment of the most treacherous and wildest of its enemies. It will remember Yasser Arafat as the person who eight months after he signed the Oslo Accords whispered in a Johannesburg mosque that the agreement was equivalent to the one between Mohammed and the Qureish at Hudbeiya that the Prophet broke two years later and is considered a paragon of Muslim cunning and tactics. It will remember him as the person who two months after he competed in courtesies with then prime minister Ehud Barak at the Camp David summit gave his blessing to - if not the signal for - the outbreak of another fatal round, which has been going on for more than four years, in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It will remember him as the person who gave the green light for the continuation of cruel terrorist acts while he was still conducting truce negotiations with Israel's leaders.
Israel wished for Arafat's death not only because of the vast amount of its blood he has spilled and not only because of the terror he imposed on its streets, but because of the crushing of the belief in the ability to reach an agreement with the Palestinian people. A month after he appeared on the stage of Oslo's City Hall at the side of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres to receive the Nobel Prize for Peace, the terror attack in Beit Lid occurred; Arafat blamed Israel for carrying it out. Israel has not forgiven him, and will not forgive him on the day of his death, for releasing the beast of terror and letting it sow killing and destruction in every corner of the country. It has not forgiven him for having broken his commitments, for having shattered its hopes and for having brought down upon it rampages in the style and methods of a primitive tribal world.
The Palestinians, of course, have a different opinion of their leader. In their eyes, and also in the eyes of others, he is the person who brought their national entity to light, the person who brought their distress and their impoverishment under the Israeli occupation to the forefront of the international stage, and the person who unflaggingly bore the torch of their demand for independence and honor.
The Israelis, in almost wall-to-wall agreement, ignore or repress this dimension of his actions: He was, and remained until his dying day, the cunning enemy, the serial misser of opportunities, the threat to the Zionist project and the Jews' right to establish a sovereign life for themselves.
In Israel's eyes, Yasser Arafat was a primitive individual who played in the territories that were given to his rule by corrupt and unbridled rules that faithfully reflected his conceptual world. He was the essence of the personification of the Palestinian character as it is depicted in the world of Israeli prejudices - violent, murderous, wily, conspiratorial. He was not a harbinger of a new age, as Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was when he came to the Knesset. He did not arouse admiration and respect among the Israelis the way King Hussein of Jordan did when he came to kneel at the feet of the families of the girls who were murdered at Naharaiyim; he did not even arouse feelings of respect mingled with suspicion as happened in the wake of the contacts between Israeli representatives and emissaries of former Syrian president Hafez Assad; he aroused repulsion, loathing and scorn.
The Israelis will remember him as the person who tipped the wink to the terror organizations to strike at them indiscriminately, as the person who supported Saddam Hussein when he invaded Kuwait, as the person who issued the inflammatory call for a million martyrs to go to Jerusalem, as the person who tricked their leaders and explained to them that the Palestinian Charter is effectively null and void.
Arafat has died without fulfilling his dream of declaring a Palestinian state. This has happened in proximity to November 4, nine years after the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, the man who was wise enough and daring enough to shake his hand and to sign with him an agreement in which the government of Israel recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization as the representative of the Palestinian people and took upon itself to begin negotiations with this organization in the framework of a peace process in the Middle East.
Arafat, for his part, committed himself in that agreement to settle the conflict between the two peoples in peaceful ways and to relinquish the use of terror and other acts of violence. Rabin fulfilled his part in the agreement and paid for this with his life; Arafat broke his commitments and sent the Israelis into a sealed room, from which they sent the Palestinian enemy death and severe distress and caused it disgraceful injustices.
With Arafat's death, Israel has breathed a huge sigh of relief. Following this death, there should be a recovery from the residues of the past and a willingness to put to the test the Palestinians' ability to turn over a new leaf in the relations between the two peoples. The excuse for the continued wallowing in the swamp of blood has evaporated with Arafat's demise.
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