Arafat is not the cause of the problem

The story of Palestinian National Authority President Yasser Arafat’s potential expulsion by Israel has been dominating the bits of news we get on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Arafat has done it again; he is the culprit of the violence. Indeed, one might go as far as saying Arafat is the reason behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and his removal would signal the beginning of the conflict’s end. Since Sharon’s government has unanimously expressed this perspective, it is waving the expulsion card.

Yet the expulsion card sounds all too familiar. We saw a glimpse of it at the beginning of the second Intifada in 2001; it was waved again last summer when Israel surrounded Arafat’s compound and literally placed him under house arrest for several months, and it has been getting waved intermittently after every major suicide bombing or whenever Israel is not satisfied with its security. It almost seems like the expulsion card has become too convenient for Israel to use. More convenient is the role the U.S. government has been playing after each threat of Arafat’s expulsion. The U.S. position on this has always been against the expulsion, indicating that Arafat is worse outside than inside the territory. In return for such a position, the U.S. has classically gained leverage to pressure Arafat into increased submission to Israeli terms. Good cop, bad cop. This is one reason why Arafat is unlikely to be expelled out of the Palestinian territory.

Arafat has also been a great tool in keeping the Israeli crowds quiet and too busy to contemplate the real reasons for the violence. Sharon does not want to find himself in a situation where the Israeli population asks him to demolish the illegal settlements, for example, which are a major obstacle to peace, and happen to be one of his life-long accomplishments. Conveniently, Arafat is the perfect distraction, given his history with the Palestinian leadership and resistance movement.

Israel knows too well that Arafat is not the reason for the violence. Sharon’s government and every government that came before him, whether left- or right-wing, has understood that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza will generate resistance and disobedience. Israel believed it could crush this resistance and maximize its gains of land, whether by using force, as it did to crush the first Intifada, or by phony peace accords such as the Oslo accords, or now by the same old mechanisms that have been attempted all too redundantly throughout history to no avail – brute force and suppression.

It really does not matter where Arafat fits in this whole picture; he is merely a leader that once represented the hopes and aspirations of a silenced people. He did not impose an agenda on the Palestinian people, but vice versa. If Arafat had not existed, someone else would have taken his place, maybe Ahmed or Mohammad something. The same thing applies for the militant organizations and every symbol of “violence” that Israel has been trying to assassinate.

The truth is too overwhelming to be concealed; the Intifada is a mass rebellion against the occupation of Palestinians’ bodies, homes, farms, and ways of life. The Palestinians have never had a reason not to resist the Israeli occupation, and continuous suppression and denial of basic human rights of an entire people inspires it to adopt more extreme measures to break off the chains. For us, as outsiders, we must not get bogged down by insignificant details such as Arafat, Abbas, or Sharon; instead we should focus our energies on resolving the real injustices behind this conflict, the ones that have always existed, even before we ever heard of Arafat and Sharon.

Raed Abu-Ghazaleh is a student in the College of Pharmacy. He welcomes comments at [email protected]