Aljazeera America has the exclusive on the Swiss scientists’ findings that Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat was poisoned with polonium, after the fashion of Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko. That the Likud government of Ariel Sharon in Israel was behind the assassination is not much in doubt. Polonium is only produced in Russia and wouldn’t be easy for a non-state actor to get hold of. Israel has a long tradition of murdering its political enemies (configuring all resistance to its Apartheid and colonial policies of aggressive expansion and ethnic cleansing as “terrorism” and then eliminating the “terrorists.”) This is not to deny that terrorism (in the sense of non-state actors killing innocent civilians for political purposes) has been committed against Israelis; it is to point out that the Israeli Right’s rhetoric sweeps up a lot of things besides that specific problem.
Mossad, Israeli intelligence, poisoned Hamas leader Khalid Mashal, who would have died if President Bill Clinton hadn’t ordered PM Binyamin Netanyahu to give him the antidote. Ariel Sharon sent a helicopter gunship to murder Ahmad Yassin, a nearly blind quadriplegic who was being wheeled out of a mosque, with the rocket killing innocent bystanders as well. Sharon’s action produced fury among newly-occupied Iraqis, both the Sunnis of Falluja and the Muqtada al-Sadr Shiites, and the outrage fed into the spring, 2004, offensives in Falluja and the Shiite South against US troops. American troops in Iraq never understood that they were viewed as analogous to Israeli occupiers of Gaza and the West Bank by most Iraqis, who often called them “the Jews.”
Arafat is widely hated in Washington and the policy elite there will greet the Swiss findings with a yawn. “Who cares?” said one member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The American 1% has ptochosophobia, the irrational fear and hatred of the poor, especially of the poor made poor by being looted by the 1%. For Palestinian families, the vast majority of whom were displaced from their homes and rendered stateless by the Israeli ethnic cleansing campaigns of 1948, and many of whom were made refugees all over again in 1967, Arafat was a symbol of resistance, perseverance and longevity.
He died more or less a political prisoner, under siege by the Sharon government. Only four years earlier he was near a deal with Ehud Barak, the Israeli prime minister who negotiated with him and Bill Clinton at Camp David in 2000. American pundits, who have a real blind spot on Palestinians, all blame Arafat for not being able to close the deal with Barak. But Barak never gave him a written, specific proposal, and the Israelis were determined not to give Arafat the entirety of pre-1967 Gaza and West Bank territory. Would an American negotiating with the British in the War of 1812 have ceded, e.g., New Orleans for the sake of peace?
The real tragedy of 2000 was not that a deal wasn’t reached in August. It was that Ariel Sharon succeeded Barak that fall, and Sharon did not want a deal. He, like Netanyahu, wanted to reverse and destroy the Oslo Accords. Indeed, even if a Camp David deal had been reached, Sharon would never have honored it, just as he didn’t honor Oslo. He had irredentist claims on the Dome of the Rock, sacred to 1.5 billion Muslims, in Jerusalem. His provocative visit to the area of the mosque that fall enraged Palestinians who correctly interpreted it as an announcement of a renewed round of Israeli expansionism and aggression. Indeed, Sharon, who had annexed 10% of Lebanon at one point, started claiming “security interests” in the Ghur Valley of neighboring Jordan! The Palestinian negotiators at Camp David in summer of 2000 had expected to come back in January of 2001 when there was a new US president and a new Israeli prime minister, and try again, since the two sides had been very close.
Neither George W. Bush nor Ariel Sharon was interested in any further negotiations when they first came into office. Bush is alleged to have urged “unleashing” Sharon, as though the old general ever held back in the first place. He also said that sometimes conflict clarified things, according to his then Treasury secretary. I guess things are clear now, Mr. Bush.
Aware that they were being screwed out of the gains of the Oslo Accords, and that Israelis had doubled the number of settlers on the West Bank since 1993, activist Palestinian youth launched the Second Intifada or uprising. Sharon blamed Arafat for it, and the violence it entailed, but it was a broad social and political movement for which Sharon himself bore a good deal of the blame. You couldn’t screw the Palestinians out of Oslo without there being some reaction.
With the crushing of the Intifada, the murder of the national symbol, Arafat, and the abrogation of key Israeli commitments at Oslo, including the return to the Palestinians of the West Bank, the chance for a decent life for the stateless Palestinians rapidly receded. Now, their land, water, oil and other resources are being daily claimed by Israelis as they are confined to closely-policed Bantustans far more brutal than those set up by South Africa in the heyday of Apartheid. There will be no Palestine, and the Palestinians are doomed to be a stateless people, a people without the right to have rights.
It wasn’t Arafat who was assassinated by radioactivity in 2004 but the Palestinian people.