Arafat in Australian Media

Readers of the respectable Australian media would have noted an outpouring of outrage at the life of Yasser Arafat. Middle Eastern experts, most of them Israeli, have charted how Arafat has held back the peace process and impoverished his own people.

Hear Gerald Steinberg, director of the Program on Conflict Management and Negotiation (sic) at Bar Ilan University (Australian Financial Review, 3 November 2004):

“The 1991 Madrid peace conference and the Oslo framework opened a new era of negotiations, but Arafat went the other way, continuing to wage the “armed struggle”, and unable or unwilling to make the transition from revolutionary to statesman. In July 2000, his performance at the Camp David summit destroyed chances for an agreement, and led to four years of brutal violence that rolled back all of the gains achieved under the Oslo process. In this period, Arafat’s policies were responsible for the murder of more than 1000 Israelis, for even more Palestinian casualties, and for destroying hopes for a peace agreement in this generation.”

[We’ve heard from Conflict Manager Steinberg before. He gloated over the assassination of Hamas leader Ahmed Yassin (The Austalian, 23 March 2004). He opposed letting the whistleblower on Israel’s nuclear capacity, Mordechai Vanunu, leave Israel because further divulging of his knowledge would undermine Israel’s ‘democracy’ (The Age, 23 April 2004). His wisdom certainly keeps ill-informed Australians on the true path of Middle East understanding.]

Hear Barry Rubin, director of the Israeli Global Research in International Affairs Center [which “strives to produce accurate, groundbreaking research and analysis on contemporary issues using the latest approaches and technologies”] (Sydney Morning Herald, 6 November 2004):

“Arafat is the godfather of this era of global terrorism and radical Middle East movements. … Terrorism is an effective tool for mobilising people if they are willing to overlook the moral issues and rejoice in the deaths of other ethnic groups. …

“He showed how much can be achieved through intransigence, the power of saying no, and the constructive use of weakness. When Arafat refused to make peace or stop terrorism he showed how he could make his adversaries and bystanders give him more concessions. Arafat played a big role in the contemporary renewal of anti-Semitism to its high traditional level. … Perhaps the single most powerful wider political effect of Arafat was his contribution to maintaining the status quo in the Middle East.

“In short, Arafat has been catastrophic for Israel, which has lost hundreds of lives to terrorism after taking risks and making concessions for peace, and for the Palestinians, who might long have enjoyed peace and an independent state under a more moderate leadership.”

Hear Ted Lapkin, general Israeli lobby factotum and associate editor of The Review, published by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council (Australian Financial Review, 15 November 2004):

“The first route is the accustomed path of rejection and violence that will only lead the Palestinians to more self-inflicted misery. The second course is the less familiar trail that requires the moral courage finally to accept Israel’s right to exist, and the physical courage to crush Palestinian movements that remain dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish state. …

“The Palestinian narrative of their refugee problem conveniently omits that the displacement of Palestine’s Arabs took place during a war the Arabs started. … These events reflect an enduring Arab proclivity for avoiding unpleasant truths by blaming external conspiracies for their ills.

“Delusion and denial have sown social and economic stagnation throughout the Arab world. … a recent United Nations human development report found 90 per cent of Arabs suffer severe “deficits of freedom, knowledge and gender”.

“For Palestinians, this fundamental unwillingness to admit reality and accept compromise has yielded disaster, defeat and dispossession. … Arafat worked overtime to sabotage every serious negotiating proposal that ever came to him.”

There was more or the same in the Letters pages from the usual suspects. The letters page of Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian outdid the others in the purity of its coverage of Arafat’s perfidy.

The deaths, the lack of an independent state – it’s all Arafat’s fault.

But hang on. Didn’t Arafat concede to Israel at the 1993 Oslo Accords the 1967 boundaries, 78% of pre-Palestine territory? Apparently not.

And what ‘potential agreement’ at Camp David was destroyed by the recalcitrant Arafat? A visit to the gush-shalom website ( gives a ready insight into the generous offer by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

The Israeli academic Tanya Reinhart (in the 2002 Israel/Palestine) offers a more elaborate version. Here are some ‘bytes’ from Reinhart:

“But the debates surrounding these issues only mask the real problem: that in concrete matters of land and resources, Barak offered nothing at Camp David, except the preservation of the existing state of affairs.

“The only undisputed fact about Barak’s offers at Camp David is that he proposed that the big settlement blocs – in which 150,000 of the settlers are concentrated – be annexed to Israel in the final agreement. … The annexation proposed at Camp David also includes the areas between the settlements, containing approximately 120,000 Palestinian residents. Barak’s solution to the “citizenship problem” was not Israeli citizenship, since “they will vote for the Palestinian state”. This enables annexing of the land without giving any rights to the annexed Palestinian residents.

“East Jerusalem has always been the centre of Palestinian society, not least because of its religious and symbolic status, which is so emphasized, but also because it sits at the juncture connecting the different regions of the West Bank. … However, it is not East Jerusalem that Israel offered as the Palestinian capital. …

“It is in fact this neighboring village of Abu-Dis that is designed in the Beilin-Abu Mazen plan [the predecessor to the Barak ‘offer’] to serve as the capital of the Palestinian state. The verbal trick was that Abu-Dis would be named Al-Quds – the Arab name of Jerusalem, meaning “the holy city”. … Behind the smoke screen of declarations regarding the liberation of Jerusalem, Arafat had already expressed his agreement with the Israeli position. … The Palestinians were authorized to build their future parliament house and government offices there, and these buildings were essentially competed long before Camp David. … On the eve of Camp David, Barak announced that he was willing to transfer Abu-Dis and two neighboring villages “as a gesture before the summit,” but still he reneged.

“It is hard to understand how so many have swallowed the story about Barak’s willingness to divide Jerusalem. The facts about Israeli proposal were amply available in the Israeli press. … But they were packaged with huge headlines about Barak’s unprecedented new vision, and apparently this is sufficient to shape people’s perception of reality.

“The biggest fraud of Barak’s plan, which did not receive any attention in the public debate, was the fate of the Gaza Strip and of the rest of the West Bank – the 90% of the “Palestinian state” after Israel annexed the big settlement blocs. The real question here is the fate of the settlements in these areas.

“(Recall that the “generous Camp David offer” were not accompanied by maps or any other documentation.) First, the map [the only map that Barak actually presented to the Palestinians, in May 2000] reflects the fact that the West Bank is already divided into four completely isolated cantons, with no direct links to each other, or to Jordan. … it is the brown areas that were presumably proposed for immediate Palestinian sovereignty. They consist of approximately 60% of the West Bank, not even close to the 90% claimed by the Israelis. … But the crucial point is to examine the situation inside the brown areas of supposed Palestinian sovereignty’ … There are still approximately forty isolated Israeli settlements there …

“The policy since Oslo has been to refuse all requests of settlers to relocate with compensation for the property they leave behind. … And if the settlements stay, of course the Israeli army will stay as well to protect them, and thus the situation will remain as it is now – namely, the Palestinian “state” will consist of 42% of the West Bank.

“The myth of generous Israeli offers at Camp David, then, is nothing but a fraud perpetuated by propaganda. ”

So what is Arafat’s crime at Camp David? Yossi Beilin claimed (Forward Online, 10 November) that Arafat told Clinton, “If I accept the proposals that have been made here, then you will have to come to my funeral.” Melbourne’s Sol Salbe translates this for the Australian vernacular, “If I accept this I would be dead meat.” And for good reason.

No one has mentioned the occupation. Does it exist, or are the residents of the West Bank and Gaza imagining it? Those missiles and sniper bullets are mythical. The bulldozer that is presumed to have crushed Rachel Corrie is a fiction.

Let’s hear from Mark LeVine at ():

“In the weeks leading up to Palestinian President Yassir Arafat’s death American politicians and pundits have repeatedly called on the Palestinian people to use the opportunity of his passing to transform the intifada from a violent uprising into a non-violent, democratic and pragmatic program for achieving independence. This is very good advice, needless to say, except for one small problem: Palestinians have been trying to build such a movement for the last two decades, and the Israeli Government, IDF and American policy-makers have done everything possible to make sure they did not succeed.

“One of the first exponents of Palestinian non-violence, the Palestinian-American doctor Mubarak Awad, founded the Palestinian Centre for the Study of Nonviolence in 1985. His innovative ideas and training of Palestinians in the tactics of non-violent resistance to the occupation was considered dangerous enough by Israel that it expelled him from the land of his birth in 1988. During the same period, the government supported the rise to power of militant religious groups such as Hamas as a counterweight to the PLO (which that year recognized Israel’s right to exist).

“By the time the first intifada wound down in the early 1990s Jewish/Israeli-Palestinian “dialog” or “people-to-people” groups had become all the rage, most of whom had as an important goal building relationships of trust and solidarity that could help Palestinians build a viable political future. Unfortunately, while liberal Israelis were busy sharing hummus with their new Palestinian friends successive Likud and Labor governments accelerated the pace of land confiscation, settlement construction and economic closure of the Territories. This ultimately left many Palestinians to wonder if all the conversation wasn’t a ruse to keep them occupied while Israel permanently secured its hold on their lands. …

“The response by the Israeli military has often been brutal. Not just Palestinian activists, but foreign peace activists and even Israelis are routinely beaten, arrested, deported, or even killed by the IDF, with little fear that the Government of Israel would pay a political price for crushing non-violent resistance with violent means.

“In this environment the very act of going about one’s daily life without losing all hope and “joining Hamas” (something former Prime Minister Barak admitted he would have done if he were Palestinian) has become perhaps the supreme, if unheralded, act of non-violence against the occupation. …

“But what of the courageous Palestinians who still believe in non-violence, who are risking their lives working with Israeli peace activists to fulfill the fading Oslo dream of two states living side by side in peace? We could ask this question to Ahmed Awad, one of the leaders of the non-violent Committee for the Popular Struggle against the Separation Fence … Unfortunately, we’d have to wait at least three months for an answer, as Awad has just been jailed without charge by a military court on the accusation he constituted a “threat to security.”…

“As the Bush Administration and America’s pundocracy search for a new generation of pragmatic and non-violent Palestinian leaders, they should be heartened to know that they won’t have to look very hard to find them. But that’s because so many are either in the hospital, jail or exile. And like Arafat shriveling away in his besieged Muqata’a (which will now be his tomb), the Palestinian peace movement will continue to wither as long as Israel is more comfortable confronting Hamas than negotiating with Ahmed Awad.”

The penultimate word should go to Uri Avnery (gush-shalom online, 13 November):

“The disgusting filth poured out over Yasser Arafat during the last few days in practically all the Israeli media makes one ashamed to be an Israeli. The demonization of the Palestinian national leader, which has been the center-piece of Israeli propaganda for decades, continues even after his death. It seems that 37 years as occupiers have bestialized our society and left it bereft even of common decency. Ministers and fishmongers, TV icons and university professors, “leftists” and outright fascists tried to outdo each other in utter vulgarity.”

The quality Australian media has been, as ever, reproducing the line in the colonies.

The last word should go to local commentator, Phillip Mendes (The Australian, today, 15 November):

“Much commentary has suggested that Yasser Arafat’s death will facilitate a revival of the Middle East peace process. However, this analysis arguably underplays the close correlation between Arafat’s style and the broader political culture of the Palestinian people.

“To be sure, Arafat’s particular political views and strategies – his rejection of the offer for Palestinian statehood at Camp David in July 2000, his launching of the violent intifada in September 2000, and his continued demand for the return of 1948 Palestinian refugees to Green Line Israel rather than to a Palestinian state – directly contributed to the breakdown of peace prospects.

“But equally they symbolised the long-standing Palestinian approach of demanding absolute rather than partial justice, optimal rather than minimum aspirations, and total rejection of opposing narratives. …”

Now we know the problem with the Palestinians. Parents possess the outrageous view that their children should be able to go to school without being knocked off as target practice. As the universally despised Noam Chomsky exquisitely noted, the Palestinians have negative rights. And that’s all they appear to deserve, according to the commentariat in the respectable Australian media.

Evan Jones teaches Political Economy at Sydney University and writes a blog:

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