Shimon Peres: Palestinians have lost a father; they must now shed the dreams of youth and grow up

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The Palestinians see in Yasser Arafat the father of their nation. Like a father, he has done much for his children, but he was also often overprotective of them.

The Palestinians see in Yasser Arafat the father of their nation. Like a father, he has done much for his children, but he was also often overprotective of them.

Arafat is a difficult figure with whom to come to terms. He has done more than any other leader to forge a unique and separate Palestinian identity. He was the voice and symbol of the Palestinian cause. His tireless efforts brought the Palestinian cause to the forefront of the international agenda and kept it there for four decades.

Unfortunately, these achievements came all too often by way of the sword. He fought bitterly against Israel and Israelis. He perpetrated numerous heinous acts that left a sad trail of broken families and tortured lives. Despite his commitments for change, he never truly abandoned terrorism as a way of keeping the Palestinian cause alive.

Arafat enjoyed the love and respect of his people. This love was dear to him. He lived a modest life and wanted little for himself. He lived for his people. From his position of leadership he opened the door for a historic resolution with Israel of a division of the land between a state for the Jewish people and a state for the Palestinians.

He showed courage in breaking with the past. He accepted a painful compromise with Israel based on the pre-1967 borders, finally leaving behind the map offered by the United Nations in 1947 in its Resolution 181, which the Palestinians at the time rejected. He accepted the changed realities.

But he did not go far enough. In the choice between the love of his people and the betterment of their lives, he unfortunately chose their love. He was not willing to risk losing his popularity and standing in the name of tough decisions he estimated as too controversial. He once bitterly said to me, after we signed the Oslo accords: "Just see what you did to me. From a popular figure in the eyes of my people, you have turned me into a controversial personality in the eyes of the Palestinians and the whole of the Arab world."

Ultimately, popularity triumphed over controversy. His declared policies were courageous, but he did not carry them out. He did not turn his back on terrorism and hate. He failed the hopes of many people, and lost his credibility with those who could have done most to help his cause.

Arafat kept alive for the Palestinian people dreams and hopes that had no place in this world. He did not open the way for the painful but necessary process that every person and nation must go through, of leaving behind dreams of grandeur that bring nothing but misery, and learning to live, love and prosper in this world. Arafat had the choice between the path of negotiations and the path of terror and violence. He would have done much more for the Palestinians and their cause had he truly abandoned terror in favour of negotiations.

Arafat was a talented man. He was sharp and focused. Few things escaped his attention. He was intrigued by the ways of the West, but all too often judged them irrelevant to his own experience.

He thrived in anarchic situations. He lorded over an archaic and highly centralised system, keeping extremely close rein over the armed groups and the financial flows. In response to demand for transparent financial management from the donor countries, he retorted that he was "no belly dancer". He had no intention to engage in what he judged indecent exposure. He was bemused by Israel's chaotic democracy, telling me once: "My God, democracy, who invented it? It's so exhausting." He had an excellent memory for names. He chose to forget many facts.

The passing of a father is always a cause for deep grief. But it is also an opportunity to emerge as a mature adult. The world is watching now the orphaned Palestinian people. The world hopes to see them take control of their own fate, bid farewell to their dreams of youth, and exhibit the courage to live in this world as it is, rather than as they wish it to be.

The Palestinians must recognise that Israel is here to stay. The Jewish people are deeply attached to their historical land, but we also desire to live together in peace. We must all share this small tract of land. The Jewish people are a moral people, and our tradition and values mandate that we learn to live together in peace.

We grow up as people when we learn to recognise and live with the other - no matter how different he is from us and no matter that his dreams are different from our own. We grow up when we learn to share. And we grow up when we substitute our anger with the world for the productive energy of making it a better place for all to live.

My prayer for all of us - Palestinians and Israelis, Jews and Arabs - as we look today to our future: that we will learn to want that which matters most in life. No more, no less. A life has ended. It is time for many lives to begin.

Shimon Peres is a former prime minister of Israel. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994 with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin

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