- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 14, 2004

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about the remarkable Yasser Arafat is that he died a natural death at the age of 75. (The good die young.)

For 40 years, ever since he planted his first bomb in Galilee, violence had been his hallmark. More than a hallmark, it was his goal and obsession, his be-all and end-all and every breath — especially when he would talk about peace. Because by peace, he meant a pause in the hostilities long enough to gather his forces for the final battle of annihilation.

Remarkably enough, he drew his last breaths while being tenderly nursed in a clean hospital bed. Fittingly enough, he would die in Paris, world capital of political cynicism. So much for the assumption that those who live by the Kalashnikov will die by the Kalashnikov.

Around his bed, like vultures, gathered his lavishly supported wife, now a French citizen, and various representatives of the sordid little kleptocracy he nominally ruled.

His grieving widow, possible successors, critics, rivals and hangers-on are now left to squabble over the Boss’ political legacy, not to mention his hidden bank accounts. Not since Huey Long was gunned down has there been such a crowd of would-be successors. The plans for his funeral in Cairo brought to mind an old-fashioned mob summit in the Catskills.

If you seek his monument, just look around: Gaza, a hellhole since Samson’s time, remains one. Mr. Arafat himself had been confined to his ruined headquarters at Ramallah, where, between Israeli raids, he received a steady dribble of gullible visitors from the West. Now the debris around his last redoubt is being cleared away so he can be put to unrest there.

Meanwhile, those Mr. Arafat was supposed to serve and protect still struggle to survive in the divided, brutal little enclave he left them. No wonder the Israelis are trying to wall themselves off from his proto-state, as one would from a plague.

Alive, at least Mr. Arafat was immobilized and isolated, his schemes transparent. Dead, he leaves his successors free to start another round of the Peace Process that somehow always leads to war.

Now, the Roadmap to Peace will again be put on the table, and again the Israelis may take the bait, leaving themselves vulnerable to another intifada. In short, Lucy is getting ready to hold the football once more, and Israel will be urged to play the hapless Charlie Brown by the usual suspects: the United Nations’ Kofi Annan, the European Union’s Jacques Chirac (Yasser Arafat’s final host), Britain’s Tony Blair, all the fumbling old Middle East hands in the State Department, and, by the time it’s over, maybe this newly re-elected American president, too. Forgetting what it’s like to live with a Fallujah next door, George W. Bush might like to play Bill Clinton in this familiar pageant with the unhappy ending.

Even those Palestinian leaders who might be genuinely interested in a settlement will find little popular support in the political culture Mr. Arafat shaped over the decades and still shapes in death — a culture in which the contender making the most blood-curdling noises is guaranteed support of the Street.

Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, and the more violent segment of Yasser Arafat’s own party, Fatah, all stand to inherit his bloody mantle, while the nonentities with the official titles who now take office may not matter much. Because Mr. Arafat made sure his ministers stayed nonentities, lest any but himself be at the center of the tangled web of authority he left behind.

Even now, the Palestinians could decide to follow one of the innumerable roadmaps to peace, disband their terrorist organizations, cease their propaganda, abandon suicide attacks, stop teaching hatred to their young … and substitute deeds for empty promises. But to do so, they would have to turn their backs on Mr. Arafat’s whole, hateful legacy, celebrated by ululating mobs whipped into a frenzy by his passing.

There has always been a light at the end of this tunnel: a two-state solution. But there has been no tunnel. Could Mr. Arafat’s death open one? For not until his death grip on Palestinian opinion is broken can there be any realistic hope of peace. It would take a miracle for someone to emerge who could lead this long ill-led people into a peaceful state of their own.

But take hope — that part of the world is known for miracles. One millennial day, peace will come to the Mideast. One has to believe it will — as a matter of faith. Because reason has been all but exhausted. Yasser Arafat saw to that.

Paul Greenberg is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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