Thursday, November 11, 2004

Burying Arafat

Yasir Arafat had a lot to answer for, but he did not deserve to be buried by the Times in an obituary by Judith Miller. It is as loaded with lies and distortions as her revelations about weapons of mass destruction. For a more balanced picture, check out Shimon Peres, the hawkish leader of Israel’s Labor party, in the Washington Post, or my own reporting, for the Times during the summer of 1970, which ended in what Palestinians call Black September.

In New York, by the way, the word Palestinian was not quite kosher. It implied that another ethnic group might claim a share of the land that Jehovah had awarded in perpetuity to William Safire. If you had to mention them, the preferred term was Arab -- pronounced Ay-rab in the red states. I shocked readers one day by calling Arafat a moderate in the Palestinian resistance. A blowhard, bossy, a terrible manager -- Texans might find the type familiar -- except that he was no draft dodger. As I relate, when he dithered his way into disaster in Amman, he grabbed a rocket launcher, tipped a car over and faced down a Jordanian tank. But contrary to Judith Miller, he did not target civilians, or take hostages, or hijack airliners. In fact, he expelled from the PLO the factions that committed those deeds. But he was an icon -- with that kaffiya over that Semitic cartoon of a face - so they blamed him for everything.

A myth repeated so often that it couldn’t be beaten to death with a stick is the legend that Arafat turned down an offer of nearly everything the Palestinians were asking for. He was offered nothing. Bill Clinton invited him to agree in advance to a plan that included a map that looked like fly-paper, with hundreds of settlements crisscrossed by highways and checkpoints reserved for settlers. Arafat wanted to negotiate -- like buying a rug. But all the pressure was put on his side.

So now many world leaders are in Cairo, attending the funeral of the president of a state that we and Israel have never recognized. Millions of Moslems around the world are in mourning. And tomorrow, he will be laid to rest -- for now -- in the courtyard at Ramallah ringed by Israeli armor. Ariel Sharon has chuckled at this arrangement. It is nothing to laugh at.