Charles Krauthammer

WASHINGTON -- The outpouring of tributes to Yasser Arafat is marked by two themes: (1) his greatness as creator, sustainer and leader of the Palestinian cause, and (2) the abrupt opening of an opportunity for its success now that he is gone.

     The fawning world leaders saying this seem oblivious to the obvious paradox. If he was such a great leader, how is it that he left his people so destitute, desperate, wounded and bereft that only his passing gives them a hope for a fulfillment of their deepest aspirations?

     Arafat's apologists explain this by saying that is because he had one weakness: indecisiveness. In the end, he just could not pull the trigger. When offered the deal of the century by Bill Clinton and Ehud Barak at Camp David 2000, he was somehow too conflicted, too ambivalent to say yes.

     Ambivalent? Nonsense. Yasser Arafat was supremely decisive and single-minded. He was not complex and, regarding Israel's fate, never conflicted. Indeed the reason for his success, such as it was -- creating the Palestinian movement from which he derived fortune, fame, and reverence -- was precisely his single-mindedness. Not about Palestinian statehood -- if that was his objective, he could have had his state years ago -- but about the elimination of Jewish statehood.

     That was the theme of his entire life. Yes, he signed interim deals in order to get a foothold in Palestine. But that was always with the objective of continuing the fight from a better strategic position. It was never to conclude a lasting compromise or real peace with Israel.

     That is why he died so far from his promised land. This promised land was never the West Bank and Gaza. Arafat founded Fatah in 1959 -- eight years before Israel even acquired these territories. His objective then, and until the day he died, was a Palestinian state built on the ruins of an eradicated Israel.

     Bill Clinton was astonished when Arafat rejected the offer of a West Bank and Gaza state, turning down the opportunity to be its George Washington. Americans never understood that Arafat saw himself completely differently, as an anti-imperialist revolutionary in the mold of Ho Chi Minh, Mao and Castro. Like them, his motto was ``revolution unto victory.'' Total victory. No half loaf. And given Israel's stubborn refusal to die, Arafat's cause became sustaining the struggle -- the revolution -- indefinitely, almost as an end in itself.

Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is a 1987 Pulitzer Prize winner, 1984 National Magazine Award winner, and a columnist for The Washington Post since 1985.

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