Opinion

The No-shows at Arafat’s Funeral

All those who don’t understand why it was so difficult for the Palestinian-Israelis’ political representatives to show their final respects to Shimon Peres, should recall Arafat’s funeral and the 'respect' shown him by the Israelis.

Shlomo sand
Shlomo Sand
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Yasser Arafat's funeral, Ramallah, 2004.
Yasser Arafat's funeral, Ramallah, 2004.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Shlomo sand
Shlomo Sand

On November 11, 2004, Palestinian Authority President Yasser Arafat died under mysterious circumstances. The next day his body was brought to Cairo, where a official state funeral was held. Representatives of 50 countries participated in the event, both admirers and rivals.

Behind his coffin marched Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syrian President Bashar Assad, King Abdullah of Jordan, King Mohammed VI of Morocco, the presidents of Tunisia and Sudan, the leaders of Sweden, Brazil, Turkey, Malaysia and Pakistan, the deputy prime minister of China, the vice presidents of Austria, Bulgaria, Tanzania, Iraq and Afghanistan, the foreign ministers of Great Britain, France, Spain, Germany, Holland, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Denmark, Finland, Luxembourg, Greece, the Czech Republic, Croatia, Slovakia, Canada, Indian and Slovenia, the parliamentary leaders of Italy, Russia, Switzerland and the United Arab Emirates. It was an official farewell that was less impressive that Shimon Peres’ funeral, but still quite respectable for a president without a country.

The United States, the well known neutral intermediary between Israel and Palestine, sent a low-ranking representative: William Burns, assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs. Israel, on the other hand, gave it the finger.

No Israeli representative, either high- or low-ranking, or even very low-ranking, attended. None of the leaders of the opposition dreamed of showing his final respects to the leader of the Palestinian people, the first who recognized the State of Israel, and signed the Oslo Accords. Not Shimon Peres, not Ehud Barak, not Shlomo Ben-Ami and not even Uzi Baram bothered to participate in the Palestinians’ mourning.

Some of them had courageously shaken his hand in the past, other had embraced him enthusiastically several years earlier. But with the outbreak of the second intifada he was once again categorized as a satanic terrorist. The pundits of the sane, moderate left repeatedly claimed in innumerable learned articles that he was not a partner and there was nobody to talk to. When the body of the rais was transferred to Ramallah, the funeral was attended by several “extremist,” marginal Israelis, the likes of Uri Avnery and Mohammed Barakeh.

All the other peaceniks had to wait for the screening of the film “The Gatekeepers” in 2012; in other words, for the videos of all the chiefs of the Shin Bet security services, who declared that in real time they knew that Arafat did not encourage, organize or initiate the mass uprising in the second intifada, nor the acts of terror that accompanied it. For lack of choice the leader was forced to join the wave, otherwise he would have lost his prestige and his status. The disappointment at Barak’s unprepared and totally bizarre diplomatic step, and Ariel Sharon’s ascent to the Temple Mount, were among the main reasons for the eruption of the Palestinians’ unbridled opposition.

All those who don’t understand why it was so difficult for the Palestinian-Israelis’ political representatives to show their final respects to Peres, should recall Arafat’s funeral and the “respect” shown him by the Israelis. Of course, they’ll ask me, what’s the connection between the two funerals? In the first case it was a despicable terrorist, in the second a fearless fighter for peace. In the first a politician as cunning as a snake, in the second a great leader, among the rare ones who changed history. In the first an indefatigable anti-peace subversive, in the second a figure reminiscent of Nelson Mandela. How can you even compare, the online provocateurs will say.

Napoleon in his day already defined history as a set of lies that people have agreed upon. Even if that clever statement is not necessarily true of all histories, there is no question that it is right on target for every national history. It is also an amazingly accurate description of the ways in which 2016 Israel perceives the past.

Peres was a typical reflection of the self-image of the arrogant left, or, to be more precise, he was a typical political embodiment of its self-deception. The adjutant of David Ben Gurion, who helped his mentor organize the failed attack of 1956; the political commissar who supported the military administration to the end, when even Menachem Begin opposed it; the subversive who approved the establishment of settlements in the heart of the West Bank only to harm Yitzhak Rabin; the ambitious politician who became the good cop in the governments of both Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon – ended his life as a president providing patronage and an alibi for the politics of Benjamin Netanyahu.

There is no question that he always played his opportunistic role wonderfully. And so he rose and rose and rose until he reached the summit. We were left behind at the bottom.

Prof. Sand is the author of the book “History in Twilight: Reflections on Time and Truth” (Resling Books, Hebrew).