After Arafat

THE first death anniversary of Yasser Arafat this week has yet again turned the spotlight on the Middle East peace process. The iconic leader had come to represent and symbolise the Palestinian freedom struggle like no other leader in recent history.

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Published: Mon 14 Nov 2005, 9:37 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 6:48 PM

Arafat did not just lead the movement from the front, but he also shared the suffering and trauma of exile and homelessness with fellow Palestinians. He shared their hopes and aspirations for the future and an independent Palestine. He managed to put the issue of Palestine firmly on the world agenda. No wonder Abu Ammar was seen the world over as the walking Palestine. It's a great tragedy then Arafat didn't live to see the dream of free Palestine become a reality. But then his mission lives on as his people continue to march towards freedom.

As the Palestinians remember Arafat, it is hard not to miss the fact that one year after his death, little has changed in the Occupied Territories. In the years before his death, Arafat had come to be demonised as the only 'obstacle to peace'. He had been imprisoned in his Ramallah headquarters and cut off from the rest of the world like a common criminal as Israel accused him of not doing 'enough' to check Palestinian militants. Israel couldn't break his fighting spirit and resolve though. He remained dignified and defiant in life - and in death.

Of course, Arafat had his fair share of flaws. He could have done more to deal with the appalling state of affairs in the Occupied Territories. Despite the Occupation, Arafat could have improved things a great deal by delegating power to second rank leadership. That said, it's not fair to revile him as a failure or blame him for the failure of the peace process.

It's one year after Arafat's death. Now that the 'obstacle to peace' has disappeared from the Middle East scene, why isn't the peace process moving forward? What excuses are there now for the breakdown of the Palestinian-Israel dialogue? When Arafat was around, Mahmoud Abbas, the current leader, was projected in the Western media as a 'credible peace partner' and someone who could rein in the militants. He was seen as someone who could move the peace process forward and settle the business with the Israelis.

Disconcertingly, Abu Mazen is now being painted into a corner — just as Arafat had been — as a 'failed peace partner' by Israel. Which is unfortunate. On the other hand, Ariel Sharon has vowed to press ahead with the building of more Jewish settlements in the West Bank and elsewhere. Both Israeli and Palestinian leadership must realise that there cannot be a better time and opportunity for peace than now. Peace will continue to evade Israel as long the Palestinians remain without peace and freedom.

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