Yasser Arafat and the unfinished revolution

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After 46 years of struggle in the cause of Palestinian self-determination, Yasser Arafat is dead.

Arafat was brave and dedicated. Palestinians loved and revered him for putting their struggle on the political map when it was ignored by the world. Terrorized and forcibly removed from their land since 1948, many Palestinians recognized that the armed resistance for which their enemies revile Arafat was, and is, necessary.

But his people also criticized him severely as a failed leader. He signed onto the fraud of the 1993 Oslo accords, which enshrined Israel as an apartheid state and set up the fiction of the West Bank and Gaza strip as “semi-autonomous” regions standing in for a real nation. He gave up the right of return for Palestinians, while Jews of any nationality can settle in Israel at will. The Palestinian National Authority he headed was set up to police the populace, not to bring sovereignty.

Arafat’s organization was also corrupt, diverting funds intended for the people to political patronage.

His death has tremendous symbolic meaning, which is why his burial in Rahmallah was so gut-wrenching for Palestinians. But his passing will not make a difference in the fight to win their long overdue right to nationhood.

Bush and Sharon claim that Arafat was the obstacle to peace and make much of the question of his successor. But the real roadblock to peace is the Zionist strategy of occupation to insure a Jewish homeland — backed by the imperialist U.S., which will continue to use Israel to buttress its position in the Middle East for as long as it suits.

For Palestinians, the occupation means half the adults are unemployed and half the children are undernourished. It means that violence against Israelis is called terrorism, while Israel’s slaughter of Palestinians is called self-defense.

Right now, Israel and its puppet master, the U.S., hold all the cards. By itself, a shift in Palestinian leadership can do nothing to change this. The thing that can is for the antiwar, progressive and labor movements, internationally and especially in the U.S., to seriously take up the Palestinian cause and put it on the front burner.

Arafat’s unrewarding compromises with Zionism show the futility of pursuing a two-state solution. The historical demand of the Marxist movement for a secular, socialist, bilateral state, home to both Arabs and Jews, shines out more and more as the only realistic solution.

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