Friday, November 19, 2004

ARAFAT WASTED his last thirty years, and how, writes Christopher Hitchens:
So much ink: so many clichés. Arafat—terrorist or statesman? When asked on screen, I tried to give the shortest answer I could. Yasser Arafat will be a figure in history, all right. He qualifies not because he changed any geography or any regime, but because he altered our cosmology. At least until the 1967 war, and probably even until the 1973 "Yom Kippur" or "Ramadan" war, the outside world had been inclined to look upon the original 1947/1948 war, and its outcome, as a battle between "the Jews" and "the Arabs." This mental mapping, with a small Zionist island amid a vast sea of swirling Arab regimes, semiautomatically enlisted the latent sympathy for the underdog that was the least one could expect after the Jewish experience in Eastern and Central Europe. Israel was a state of the stateless, created by an early United Nations resolution, and entitled to the usual presumptions concerning self-defense. You've heard it.

This approximate narrative was rendered increasingly hollow and increasingly debatable once the terms were shifted. Make it Israel versus "the Palestinians" and immediately the sentimental picture is altered. We suddenly saw two peoples, of roughly equivalent population, contesting for one land. Tragedy, as Hegel said, is a conflict between two rights. By the time Arafat had left the podium of the United Nations (holster at his side, olive branch in his hand) in 1974, it was widely understood that everything since the Balfour Declaration had implicitly called for a two-state solution. And that was a historical achievement, however crudely it was called (or recalled) to our attention.

I don't normally agree with Michael Oren, whose history of the origins of the 1967 conflict is typically evasive when it comes to the expulsion and dispossession of the Palestinian Arabs 20 years previously. But he was correct in saying, in last Sunday's Washington Post, that there is something lame in crediting a man who dies in 2004 for "symbolizing" a moral and diplomatic accomplishment achieved in 1974. In other words—by all means we got the point about the two peoples. But what then?
Read the rest.