Arafat is no Mandela, but his legacy could be one of peace

Related Topics

Yasser Arafat appears to be slipping from life just as he has lived it, the centre of media attention, the object of an extraordinary confusion of rumour and fact, but still capable of taking the world's attention from the first press conference of a re-elected US president who has spent the past two years trying to marginalise and ignore him.

Most of the obituaries and appreciations had already been produced when Arafat fell seriously ill in Ramallah a week ago and was moved to hospital in France last weekend. So, too, has much of the speculation about his successor and the gap he leaves. Yet his descent into a coma has still come as a shock, leaving the Palestinians, the Israelis and the outside world at a loss as to how to read his likely end. Does it open up the path to peace by removing a figure with whom both the Israeli and US leaders refused to deal? Or does it presage a period of intensifying, and quite possibly violent, uncertainty which will stop the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and delay indefinitely any prospect of peace negotiations?

The confusion over Arafat's condition is an indication of just how far the Palestinians themselves are still from sorting out his succession, despite the time they have had to prepare for it. Formally, his place as president of the Palestinian Authority would be held by the speaker of parliament while elections are prepared for 60 days' time. In reality, Arafat has left a situation in which there was, deliberately, no obvious successor nor a collegiate structure to replace him. The Palestinians have been trying hard to create a group leadership to take them to elections, but whether they can hold together, and whether Hamas and Islamic Jihad will remain quiescent while they do so, remains very much an open question.

So, too, with the all-important issue of peace. Arafat's continued presence undoubtedly complicated the prospects of peace under the road-map endorsed by Washington and grudgingly accepted by Israel two years ago. But then so did the actions of the Israeli Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. By demonising Arafat, Jerusalem - and Washington - ensured that the Palestinian people came to his support.

His demise, however, would not automatically increase the chances of peace. For that to happen depends as much on the Israelis' willingness to chance security in the interests of peace as it does on the Palestinians to come up with an effective and trustworthy leadership with whom the Israelis can negotiate. Sharon, for so long locked in conflict with Arafat, has still to prove himself the better man when it comes to peace. If Arafat became, in recent years, a lesser figure, it was in part because he became the creation of Israel's own policies of ruthless assassination, punishment, incursions and, not least, the security wall. It is a legacy of embitterment and distrust which would have required a Mandela to overcome.

Arafat was never that. But he has been a considerable figurehead, a survivor who was creator as well as victim of his people's tragic history. If his end can help them to a better future, then his life will seem the better for it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: PPC Executive - Manchester City Centre

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This forward-thinking agency wo...

Recruitment Genius: Artwork Design Apprenticeship

£7200 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Artwork Design Apprenticeship is avail...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Web Developer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This web design and digital age...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Web Designer / Front End Developer

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This fast expanding web managem...

Day In a Page

Read Next

i Editor's Letter: Why it won’t be the i wot won it – our promise to you

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor