Yasser Arafat gambled and lost – the intifada has brought nothing but suffering
to the Palestinians.
By Emanuele Ottolenghi, December 20, 2002.
The Palestinian uprising has failed. More than two years after its outbreak, the
Palestinians cannot point to one significant achievement. No Arab country came
to their rescue. Neither Egypt nor Jordan cut ties with Israel, despite Israel’s
iron-fisted policy toward the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority has all but
collapsed, its leadership discredited.
Efforts to internationalise the conflict have so far failed, as have
attempts to decisively isolate Israel. Though the intifada brought the region to
the brink of war, if war happens, no armies of deliverance will come to the
rescue of the beleaguered Palestinians.
The Palestinians inflicted a severe blow to Israel, but at what price? The
Palestinian economy is near collapse. People live mostly under curfew. The
spectre of anarchy and civil war looms.
In the twilight of Oslo, Israel’s most leftwing government to date proposed a
compromise based on the only realistic solution there is for the conflict:
partition. Though perhaps unable to meet all Palestinian expectations, Israel
offered all it could give, and then some more. Violence was the answer Israel
And the result? Today the Palestinians face Ariel Sharon instead of Ehud
Barak, and if negotiations resume, Israel’s new wary national consensus will
almost certainly offer them less than was on the table two years ago.
Every time Palestinian leaders were offered peace based on partition, they
rejected it and resorted to violence, in the mistaken belief that force could get
them what diplomacy could not. This pattern recurred in 1937, 1948 and 2000,
and each time with the same result: suffering for the Palestinians and another
This is the greatest tragedy – and the leitmotiv – of Palestinian history.
Yasser Arafat was no exception: he had to choose peace over war,
independence over dreams, a prosaic future of state building over a glorious
past of revolution. He had seven years to prepare his people for the price of
Instead, he deceived them and inflamed their delusions. He preferred
history to the future, recrimination to vision. As armed militants and
explosive-laden terrorists rampaged, Arafat chose to exploit the situation,
condemning violence in the western media while encouraging it at home.
He thought he could both remain Israel’s sole interlocutor, and be the
leader of the revolution. He gave terrorists free rein and thereby relinquished
the monopoly of force over his society, hoping that violence would improve his
position in future negotiations. His police stood by while fighting raged on. They
could always be called in to restore order once political achievements could be
shown to the people. But success never came, and Israel gradually escalated.
For Arafat, the price of restoring order in the streets increased: the more he
gambled, the more he lost; the more he lost, the more he had to gamble.
As the dream of Greater Palestine returned, a truncated but tangible
state of Palestine faded away. The dream was a potent – if elusive – rallying cry
for action, and too hard to resist given what was on offer: a mini-state short of
expectations irresponsibly fed for generations.
For many Palestinians, it was easier to hold on to their distorted
self-image of “victims of victims” and bask in the glory of revolution rather than
dirty their hands in the muddy waters of state building and take responsibility
for their destiny.
Arafat believed that fire, not diplomacy, would restore Palestinian national pride
and in the process deliver a state, a people and independence.
Instead, that same fire is quickly devouring Palestine. Palestinians are
victims: of their own irresponsible leaders and their inability to choose what is
possible over what is desirable.
After 29 months of human bombs and harsh military responses, most Israelis
understand that there is no military solution to this conflict.
By contrast, many Palestinians are still convinced that their struggle
against Israel will deliver them what negotiations could not. They are wrong.
The time has come to lay down their weapons and understand that their war
has been futile and tragic. Only a return to negotiations based on pragmatism
will deliver the Palestinians from their ordeal.
Meanwhile, Israelis feel that peace will remain elusive for this generation – and
perhaps the next as well: many are willing to leave the Palestinians to their own
devices. Unilateralism will not be a substitute for peace, but at present most
Israelis prefer it to the current stalemate.
It is up to the Palestinian leadership to end violence and return to
negotiations before it is too late.
Unless this happens, after the elections, Israel will move to unilaterally
withdraw. Partition will happen, but on Israel’s terms alone: the line of
demarcation will look less like European borders, and more like a mixture of the
Line of Control, the DMZ and the Great Wall of China.
The Palestinians will be the losers: unless they acknowledge the futility
of armed struggle, history will once more leave them behind.