Volume 6, No. 2, February 2005



The Man Who Kindled and Betrayed Hopes

— A Testimony of Our Times



"Don’t speak evil of the dead," the adage goes. And when historical figures are evaluated after they are gone history stands as the judge, the witness and as the hangman at the same time. No one though considered great while living, can escape the judgment of history which is merciless while handing out its verdict. Evaluating a dead person is one of the most difficult tasks when taken up by other mortals. But again, history is made out of a larger canvas of controversies and contradictions that the people of various ideologies put forward. When the final solution comes up the persons and events tower up or crumble down laying all debates and paradoxes to rest.

The man popularly known by the name of Yasser Arafat, born as Mohammad Arafat, and introduced to the world as Abu Ammar, once most feared guerrilla leader of the Palestinian freedom movement, passed away on November 11, 2004 in a hospital in the French imperialist capital, Paris. His dead body was brought back to Ramallah (a town in the West Bank), his prison, where he remained incarcerated as the president of the stillborn mini-state of Palestine. More than a hundred thousand people, many of them with moist eyes or weeping, thronged the Muqata grounds around his Ramallah office, indicating he was still revered and honoured widely among the Palestinian masses. And right in Palestine there were others who had the opinion that he recognised the Zionist State of Israel imparting it legitimacy, and compromised the rights of the Palestinian nation. In the later years of his life he became "irrelevant" for the U.S.A.; Israeli P.M., Sharon, "regretted" not killing him during the early eighties; and Hamas and many others wanted him replaced as leader of the Palestinian national struggle. In a way, he was unwanted in many quarters —for some an unreliable capitulationist, for others an unreliable nationalist, for still others a revolutionary who betrayed his cause.

Arafat’s life history is also a history of the Palestinian national struggle, a life which intertwined with the contemporary history of the Palestinian people. In his life we can also see the larger phenomena that appeared on the world stage, especially, that of the national liberation struggles, the imperialist and social imperialist machination vis-à-vis national struggles, the character and role of the Arab regimes and that of the so called anti-imperialist non-aligned countries, and the wavering behaviour of leaders of the national movements who saw liberation not as a complete break from imperialism and all reaction but a sort of compromise with them and co-option into the world imperialist system.

Let us go through a brief history of the Palestinian national liberation struggle and that of the life and times of Yasser Arafat.

The land where the Zionist state of Israel stands today was known as Palestine since ancient times. The Palestinians have been living there for more than three thousand years. This land is also home to Judaism, Christianity and Moslem religions. In ancient times, most of the Jews migrated mainly to Europe and also other parts of the world. In the process of historical development they developed as part and parcel of the respective nations where they lived. Only a small number remained in Palestine. The Zionist movement started in the late nineteenth century with the aim of establishing a Zionist state extending from the Nile to the city of Baghdad in Iraq, with the active help and support of the British imperialists. By the time the First World War was over, the Jewish influx into Palestine started gathering momentum as Palestine came under the direct rule of the British after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. After oil was discovered in the Middle-East the region increasingly acquired importance as a strategic point for imperialists to use it for world domination. The Zionist movement with the active support from the British army indulged in terrorism, terrorizing and driving out Palestinians from villages and setting up Jewish colonies in their place.

When the State of Israel was declared through a British sponsored and American supported resolution in the U.N. in 1948 Israel was a tiny enclave and had only 56 thousand Jewish settlers. But after the withdrawal of British forces from Palestine the Zionists invaded much of the rest of Palestinian lands driving out vast majorities of the Palestinian masses. Thus the creation of Israel itself was an act of aggression exterminating and pushing out Palestinian people from their homes and lands in great numbers. For the Palestinians it was the Nakba (the catastrophe) that brought untold sufferings and homelessness which are still continuing despite the so called peace process.

Arafat, as a young man of 19, took part in the 1948 war as a fighter. The Arab governments fought against Israel half-heartedly and did not do enough to support the Palestinian people’s resistance against Zionist aggressors, allowing the latter to occupy most of Palestine. These reactionary Arab governments, being protectorates of the British imperialists could not have been expected to genuinely support the Palestinian national cause. Like most of the Palestinian people, Arafat too felt "betrayed by these regimes." The resistance of the Palestinian masses was brave though spontaneous, scattered and unorganized and, without a military organization of their own. Nevertheless, they fought the Israelis bravely and did not take their defeat as final and irreversible. This sentiment is still strong among the Palestinians despite the fact that they have been betrayed, hounded, terrorized and continuously killed.

The first seeds of organized Palestinians to Zionism arose with the formation of Fatah (Victory), an underground organization in which Arafat had played a prominent role. Then he also became the leader of Palestine Liberation Organisation, the P.L.O. Under Arafat the P.L.O became an independent umbrella organization of various militant Palestinian groups that had taken up arms against the occupation of their country. The dominant group in the P.L.O. was Arafat’s Fatah and the victory symbol of two raised fingers (V) that gained popularity among the fighting organizations throughout the world, had derived its power and appeal from the Palestinian national struggle.

The reactionary Arab governments tried to control the expanding power of the Palestinian Resistance and the first major attack on it by them came in 1970 when American puppet king Hussein of Jordan opened a whole sale aggression on the Palestinian refugee camps in and around Amman in September 1970, known as the Black September. The Palestinian refugees and fighters in tens of thousands were pushed into Lebanon, and the P.L.O. declared King Hussein as an agent of the U.S. imperialists and Israel, and an enemy of the Palestinian revolution. The Jordanian attack on the Palestinians was in the making right from the days of the 1967 "Six Day War" in which the Arab governments had suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the U.S. and British backed Israeli army. In this war, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip were overrun and occupied by the Israeli army and they captured Sinai Peninsula from Egypt, and the strategic Golan Heights from Syria. The Arab governments considered the Palestinian revolutionary struggle as a dangerous nuisance. The Black September of 1970 opened the chapter of open hostilities of the reactionary Arab governments against the Palestinian national liberation movement.

Why the Arab governments feared the Palestinian movement was not difficult to understand as the establishment of a radical, democratic, secular and a socialist Palestine would have unleashed a chain of revolutions in the Arab countries ruled by pro-imperialist and reactionary kings, sheikhs and presidents. The Arab masses have always identified themselves with the sufferings and national cause of the Palestinian people. The national liberation movement of the Palestinians has always exerted a radicalizing impact on the Arab masses and aroused anti-imperialist hatred in them. The Arab governments, fearing radical upsurges in their own countries, have paid lip service to the Palestinian cause while at the same time indulged in conspiracies against the Palestinian revolution.

After the Arab-Israeli war of 1973, when a part of Sinai was wrested back from Israel by the Egyptian army, Sadaat, the president of Egypt went to Camp David and signed the document of surrender of the Palestinian national rights to the Israeli government by extending recognition to the State of Israel and legitimizing its existence, thus, paving the way for the idea of a Palestinian mini-state alongside Israel. Sadaat had to pay for his life for his betrayal of the Palestinian cause. Till then, no Arab government had dared to recognize the State of Israel, not even the puppet king Hussein of Jordan or the kings of the reactionary sheikhdoms. Sadaat’s signing of the agreement with Israel did a great damage to the charter of the P.L.O. that categorically rejected the State of Israel and instead worked for the establishment of a unified single Palestine where both Jews and Palestinians would live together democratically. It opened the way for further betrayals of the Palestinian national cause.

After the Camp David, Arafat shunned the pro-U.S. Egyptian regime and sought greater co-operation with Syria and even Saudi Arabia. In the Lebanese civil war of 1976, the Palestinians, along with the Lebanese government troops, fought against the pro-Israel Phalangist party and helped the Lebanese preserve their autonomy. In 1982 Israel invaded South Lebanon, enacted the massacre of the Sabra and Shattila refugee camps and carried out a long war against the Palestinian fighters. In that war of extermination of the Palestinians the Syrian regime worked for the defeat of the Palestinian resistance fighters while consolidating and strengthening one pro-Syrian faction of the Palestinian fighters, thus breaking their unity in action. The then Soviet Union, which had lost its clout and influence in Egypt, helped the Syrian designs by not supplying the Palestinian fighters much required ammunition and equipments to fight against Israel and instead, gave huge aid to the Syrian regime declaring it a bastion against the Zionist State of Israel. The Syrian forces in Lebanon and the pro-Syrian Palestinian faction did not engage the Israeli army but remained restricted to the Becca Valley over which Syria always had an eye.

The results of the 1982 Israeli aggression on Palestinians in South Lebanon proved disastrous for the liberation movement. South Lebanon came under Israeli occupation, the PLO had to surrender its arms and move its headquarters form Lebanon to Tunis. And worst of all, Arafat, as head of PLO, started his journey towards the two-state solution, the thing which Sadaat had initiated in 1973 at the dictates of the USA. It is said that Arafat had started contemplating this, not after 1982, but after 1973 itself. Whatever be the real fact, the crux is that the decline of Arafat and a major part of the PLO, except groups like the People’s Front For the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), culminated in the Oslo process when in 1988 he recognized the existence of Israel as legitimate and condemned terrorism, an oblique reference to the Palestinian liberation movement, thus initiating a complete somersault.

Arafat became a disillusioned man as he tried to use reactionary Arab governments and the guerrilla movement as tactics to pressurise Israel to come to the negotiating table for a compromise. He stopped relying on the strength of the Palestinian people to resist the Zionist aggressors and their imperialist backers. Expelled from Amman he went to Egypt, then to Syria and Lebanon, staying a long time in Damascus (Syria). When Sadaat started openly collaborating with the US and Israel, he again built bridges with King Hussein. Imagine Hussein or the king of Saudi Arabia acting as the puppets of the US and at the same time smiling and shaking hands with Arafat to pose as a friend of the Palestinian revolution!

Arafat continuously visited the revisionist Soviet Union to get help, and these social-imperialists were happy to use him and the Palestinian movement in their rivalry with the US to control and dominate the strategic oil rich region of the Middle East. The Soviet social-imperialists once threatened to bomb Israel out of existence. But in reality they tried to mislead and sidetrack the Palestinian liberation movement. They also sent tens of thousands of Russian Jews to Israel to help it buttress its fighting capacity with human resources.

The downward plunge took Arafat into the lawns of the White House where he signed the historic surrender of the PLO in 1993, known as the Oslo Agreement. In the presence of Bill Clinton he recognized Israel, abandoned armed struggle and accepted the road map to a truncated, spineless, dependent and helpless Palestinian state. The charter of the PLO trampled under foot, he took charge as a tool of the US imperialists and the Zionist Israeli terrorist State to impose peace on the fighting and struggling masses of Palestine. Collaborating with the CIA and Israeli secret police he arrested militant Palestinians. He wanted to act as a willing cop but the demands of US and Israel were so exacting that he found it difficult to cope with them in the absence of a commitment from the US and Israel on some highly sensitive issues like the return of the refugees, the issue of Jerusalem as the capital of "Palestine", and dismantling of the Jewish settler colonies in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. He, as the "President" of ‘Palestine’ and head of the Palestinian Authority, had no power to stop occasional Israeli incursions into Gaza and the West Bank showing his own helplessness and powerlessness. He took up the duty of a policeman acting at the behests of the US and Israel and could not deliver as an efficient man in face of a powerful resistance of the Palestinian masses against the Israeli onslaught. This resistance movement also forced him not to use his clout indiscriminately and he had to humbly ask the people to shun guns and instead protest "peacefully" against the invading tanks, bulldozers, bombers and helicopter gun ships. He advised the people that the Intifada should not go beyond peaceful means.

The Gaza and West Bank, which were to comprise his Palestinian state, remained under constant Israeli occupation, never fully retrieved to the Palestinian Authority. Even he himself was put under office arrest in his presidential office in Ramallah for more than two years, till his death in Paris, where he was flown after Israeli permission was given to leave his premises. His offices were attacked many a times and many of its apartments were razed to the ground, reminding him that he was able to survive only at the benevolence of the Israeli State. When such was the situation of the head of the state, what could be his state besides being completely at the mercy of the Zionist enemy? It was a pathetic and humiliating end for a heroic beginning — a historical lesson for all those who seek the path of compromise and a ‘dignified adjustment’ with the imperialists. Imperialism and all reactionaries demand only total capitulation; for them compromise is only the first step in their path to disarm the masses and get total servility. A similar course was to be seen not only with Arafat’s PLO, but also the liberation movements of Africa (Nelsen Mandella being the best example), Nicaragua, El Salvador, etc. etc. And what was the solution granted in the ‘compromise’— the two-state solution, where one state was only on paper, with no spine, no punch, no army, no economy, no dignity?

With Arafat gone, the two-state theory needs to be buried and the original P.L.O.  charter of a single democratic, secular and socialist Palestine needs to be revived where Jews and Palestinians would live together, and the national struggle needs to get rid of the influences of reactionary ideas and forces of all kinds rejecting all acts of capitulation, and to once again aggress upon the right path of national liberation from Zionism, imperialism and all reaction. But, for the present, the man that has replaced Arafat, has been hand-picked by the US-Zionist gangsters. The answer lies with the masses of Palestine and the Arab peoples.





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