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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2004

15 November 2004

WASHINGTON DC - Yasser Arafat, who died Thursday, tirelessly waged a four-decade struggle to right the deep injustices his people had suffered. In the process, he met and overcame more daunting obstacles than any other modern leader.

All men's hands were against the 5.5 million Palestinian refugees whose ancestral lands had been seized by Israel in the 1948 and 1967 wars. The Palestinian state called for by the UN in 1949 was secretly divided up by Israel, Jordan and Egypt.

Stateless Palestinians became sand in the eye of the Mideast: abused or cynically misused by their heartless Arab `brothers,' and relentlessly oppressed by Israel, which wanted their land. Israeli PM Golda Meir even claimed Palestinians did not exist. The highly effective Zionist slogan that Palestine was `a land without people for a people without land,' however untrue, became the prevailing view in North America.

In the mid-1960's, Yasser Arafat, an engineer, took control of the floundering Palestinian movement at a time when no one recognized or cared about this destitute people subsisting in squalor.

With infinite patience, serpentine cunning, and unshakable determination, Arafat almost single-handedly awoke Palestinian nationalism, created the dream of a sovereign Palestinian state, and kept reminding the world his refugee people deserved justice.

Along the way, Arafat and his lieutenants resorted to what we call terrorism - the only way the weak can fight the strong. Israel's independence leaders did the same. Had Palestinians not employed violence, the world would have totally ignored their plight.

For the past 40 years, each day for Arafat was a life and death struggle. He faced Palestinian rivals, like crazed killer, Abu Nidal, Israeli and American attempts to kill or overthrow him, plots and attempted assassinations by Arab states, and massacres in Lebanon that killed thousands of Palestinians.

Abu Amar, as he was known, led a people without land, money, support, respect, or friends. Yet he somehow managed to create something close to a real nation in the face of the most awesome obstacles.

In spite of his tough talk, Arafat sought peace with Israel on numerous occasions based on an Arab state holding 21% of original Palestine.. But each time, the Israelis moved the goal posts away and stalled, intent on buying time to finish colonizing the West Bank and Golan. Only in his Oslo Peace accords with Israel's PM Yitzhak Rabin did Arafat really come close to a just settlement. But Rabin was murdered by Israeli far rightists determined to expand the Jewish state. Further peace efforts were wrecked by Rabin's successors and Arafat's indecision.

Israel long followed a policy of assassinating or jailing promising Palestinian leaders. This writer believes Arafat may have been murdered by an untraceable toxin brought to Israel from the KGB's Moscow labs.

Israel and the Bush Administration want a `moderate' Palestinian leadership. Translation: weak leaders bribed into agreeing to Israel's continued hold on prime West Bank land and Golan, with weak, isolated little Arab Bantustans surrounded by Israeli territory. In short, Indian-reservations on barren, waterless or heavily Arab parts of the West Bank, and in the human garbage dump of Gaza that Israel does not want.

The most popular, strongest Palestinian leader, Marawan Bargouti, is a political prisoner in Israel. Hailed across the Arab World as the Palestinian Nelson Mandela, Bargouti, like his mentor Arafat, calls for peace with Israel. But PM Sharon rejects any peace plan beyond apartheid-style Bantustans. . He plans, as a senior aid recently revealed in a rare moment of candor: to plunge the peace talks `into formaldehyde.'

In waging his epic four decade struggle, Arafat made many grave mistakes. He was autocratic, allowed corruption to flourish, and always secretive. His management of Palestinian finances may well blow up into a tawdry scandal tarnishing his reputation. He was seen even by Arab admirers as too foxy and clever by half.

But without Arafat, Palestinians would have remained a phantom, forgotten people, doomed to atone for Europe's crimes against the Jewish people. Arafat led his people out of bondage and to within distant sight of their own Promised Land.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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