Miguel Angel Moratinos: Arafat's legacy is negotiation as the path to peace

I knew him well, and from the heart can bear witness to his brave, honourable struggle
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The Independent Online

President Arafat is history. And I do not mean that he belongs to the past because he has died. Quite the contrary: his tireless efforts over so many years represent the hope of the Palestinian people. Quite simply, today the Palestinian state is more on the cards than ever thanks to Arafat.

President Arafat is history. And I do not mean that he belongs to the past because he has died. Quite the contrary: his tireless efforts over so many years represent the hope of the Palestinian people. Quite simply, today the Palestinian state is more on the cards than ever thanks to Arafat.

Abdel Raouf, as he was born, will be remembered by the Palestinians as the embodiment of their struggle to achieve nationhood. Under his other names, Yasser Arafat or Abu Amar, he will also be remembered for his smiling expression and constant good humour despite the hard times he had to live through. With his traditional keffiyeh - as chequered as the geography of Palestine - and his olive-green military uniform, he became established in the public eye and imagination as an indefatigable warrior who dedicated himself body and soul to his cause. The fervour he aroused in his people is an enduring testament to the legitimacy of his cause.

I knew him very well, and from the heart I acknowledge and bear witness to his brave, honourable struggle. We shared many, many hours at different stages in the recent history of Palestine. He was a warm-hearted man, as people tend to be in those lands, regardless of their nationality or culture.

Both Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat believed that Jerusalem was a unique city and wanted to make it a centre for hope and peaceful co-existence. Both men signed the Oslo accords, the foundations of a peace for the brave, as Arafat referred to them so insistently. It was at the Madrid peace conference in 1991 that the first great step towards peace was taken, with the international community looking on as witness. Even today, many are still opposed to that ground-breaking leap, which meant for the first time abandoning the dynamics of confrontation. Yet the seeds sown by Rabin and Arafat in those historic agreements are still alive and represent, in the road-map, a hope for reconciliation .

Arafat, who was democratically elected their president, was a great leader for his people. He was tenacious and defended Palestinian interests valiantly. He was aware that for the Palestinians to enjoy peace and freedom among themselves, they must be in a position to elect their representatives and parliamentary deputies freely under international supervision. Thus, the legitimacy of his actions was backed up by popular support, as evidenced by democratic election.

Arafat survived many decades of exile and banishment, bombardments, an air accident that left him with permanent health problems, missile attacks (one of which we underwent together, two years ago), the searing pain of incomprehension and, at times, isolation. In the last few years, his life was darkened by confinement within his Mukata headquarters, reduced almost to rubble, but, nevertheless, he continued fighting to defend his people, inspiring negotiations and seeking alternative routes towards peace. Fundamentally, this is his legacy: negotiation as the way to peace.

Not everything in Arafat's record was unblemished. He was unable politically to channel Palestinian frustration after Camp David and to control the second intifada. As I personally had the opportunity to point out to him, more than once, he was unable or unwilling to cast off the cloak of revolutionary leader and assume the institutional solidity of a genuine head of state. He could also be criticised for not being firm enough with some of his entourage who were more concerned with their ambitions than with the cause of the Palestinian people.

Arafat's legacy obliges us to look to the future. He had faith that those who went into exile but who kept their house keys with them, together with those who remained in the Palestinian territories, would one day receive the rewards of return and freedom.

Many endings are, in fact, beginnings and Arafat's passing should enable us to reach peace. We must overcome the temptation to look back, where pain and suffering abounded. History should judge him with intelligence and with honesty. In his life, there was no shortage of action, vision or political courage. Rest in peace, and may the Palestinian people honour him by achieving a future as an independent state, based on good relations with its neighbours, mutual respect, peaceful co-existence and co-operation with Israel.

The Spanish foreign minister was EU special envoy in the Middle East from 1996 to 2003

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