Thursday, October 28, 2004

Arafat's endgame? 

Preparing for the end?

"Top Palestinian leaders are gathering at Yasser Arafat's battered headquarters in Ramallah amid reports that the longtime Palestinian leader's health is rapidly deteriorating."
There's an old tale retold by the ancient historian Arrian of young Alexander the Great laying on his death bed in Babylon, surrounded by his trusted generals who over the previous decade had conquered most of the known world at his side, all now uneasily waiting for Alexander to appoint his successor from among them. Alexander, always a ruthless realist at heart, despite his semi-divine pretensions, is said to have finally answered their question "Who do you leave your empire to?", "Hoti to kratisto" - to the strongest.

If and when Arafat finally shuffles of this mortal coil, it is of course possible that the dominant section of the Palestinian establishment will want to continue business as usual. But this is not a long term strategy, because business as usual - particularly in the Middle East - does not solve anything; it merely perpetuates an inherently unstable and unsatisfactory status quo. And history shows that such a state of affairs can only last so long.

Hence, with Arafat finally gone after towering over the Palestinian cause for four decades, the Palestinians will have two simple choices: radicalisation or normalisation. Should they choose the former, the extremists will assume complete control over the Palestinian destiny launching their people onto the armageddon path of a one-state solution - Arab Palestine from Jordan to the sea. Should the Palestinians choose the latter, it will be their best opportunity to resolve the Middle Eastern crisis and finally move towards normalcy. The final settlement might look similar to Ehud Barak's proposal in 2000; a Palestinian state taking virtually most if not all of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, coexisting peacefully with Israel wound back to its pre-1967 borders. Sovereignty and peace might finally give the Palestinian people a chance to resurrect themselves, and being among the best educated and the most hardworking people of the Middle East, a chance to channel their energies, creativity and passion into making up for the decades of lost time and finally building a normal, decent future for their next generations.

I hope they choose the latter - I hope that at Arafat's deathbed the "strongest" will be those most realistic and most moderate. And I wish them well.


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