Boris Johnston was in Israel/Palestine last week. He was already contemplating the legacy of Yasser Arafat, in the wake of the bomb in Carmel market in Tel Aviv set off by one of the youngest suicide bombers in the history of the conflict, Amar al-Far.
After visiting the site of the bomb, he went to see the now demolished house of the bomber (a routine to discourage others), and then to Arafat’s compound:
“For a final verdict on the motives of Amar al-Far, the teenage suicide from Nablus, I went to Arafats compound in Nablus. I think he must do that, said a guard who showed me round. They killed his father, they destroy his home. What else can he do? The Israelis destroy everything. They kill old men, women, children. What can we do? We can only stay and wait. Look at this, he kept saying, pointing to a kind of sculpture park of vehicles, flattened by Israeli tanks in 2002, look at this. What would you do? What can a man do? he said, smacking his brow with his palm; and after a while Im afraid I grew impatient, and wanted to suggest to him that since the damage had been done more than two years ago, it was time to clear it up”.
“But that would be to miss the essence of Arafats approach, which is always to be a martyr. It is meant to be a sad but necessary fact of life that terrorists graduate to the role of statesman: Kenyatta, Begin, McGuinness, and so on all have made the transition. The most glaring and pathetic global exception has been Yasser Arafat”.
An echo perhaps of Harris’ thesis of good and bad authority?
“It was his tragedy that as he revealed in 2000 he had no ambition to make that transition from terrorist martyr to grown-up politician. It was the Palestinians tragedy that he represented their aspirations for so long. His death comes too late for thousands who have died in the intifada, most of them Palestinians. But his imminent departure brings hope: that Israel will be demographically obliged to renew the Barak offer, and that the Palestinians will find a statesman with the wisdom and authority to accept it”.