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Thursday, July 17, 2003

Guess Who’s Not Coming to Dinner

by Fawaz Turki, disinherited@yahoo.com
The White House decided last week to provide the Palestinian Authority with $20 million for “social service projects.” With that chump change the administration hopes to “counter Hamas” and “bolster the standing” of the new Palestinian prime minister — about whom more later.

And where, pray tell, is Yasser Arafat, the PLO chairman? Like a dinner guest who abruptly left before dessert, the man is missed.

To those Palestinians of my generation who grew up knowing no other leader, Arafat’s persona — his visage, his name, his style — evokes intimate memories, much as would private jokes and old photo albums shared among activists who had lived a common cause.

He had been with us for close to four decades as we went about acquiring a past of our own, anchored in national struggle.

Today, this individual, driven all his life by a peripatetic bent, is confined to his compound in Ramallah, prevented from traveling anywhere in his homeland, let alone abroad, and rendered not just “irrelevant” but mute. And once this was a revolutionary leader who had considered himself a man of history, a man who had been around the block a few times and knew how to fight on with a few arrows still in his back.

On those occasions these days when you see him on a television screen, you see an elderly fellow unsteady of gait, with grizzled features and a strangely sad face, as if it were a craggy map of Palestine.

Happy now, George?

Well, we’re not.

We resent the idea that an American president, colluding with our foreign occupiers, would come to our crushed part of the world, throw stink bombs at our leaders and then depose them in favor of ones he prefers. Lest we forget, this is the year 2003, not 1903, when colonial overlords could pick and choose indigenous rulers responsive to their geopolitical whims.

To be sure, I’m not here holding a brief for Yasser Arafat, a simple man who had not read half a dozen decent books in his life nor grown with his job, and who, as a national leader, had chalked up a dismal record over the years, leading his people from one diplomatic disaster to another, one military defeat to another, and one act of social grief to another, without it once occurring to him to fold his tent and head into the sunset, leaving new blood to lead.

The long and short of it is that Arafat’s style of leadership, part Caesarian, part avuncular, part off-the-cuff, and part vaudevillian, was never really up to the challenges that his movement faced, first in exile then in the occupied territories, where, beginning in 1994, his functionaries proceeded to live high on the hog, in parvenu ostentation, in the midst of unspeakable poverty, creating an era of reverse Robin Hood, where brazen graft, nepotism and theft of public funds became the norm.

All that is true, but who the heck is George Bush to choose our leaders for us?

The new Palestinian prime minister is an honorable man, with an understated, dignified modus operandi that is in marked contrast to the inertia, ineptitude and hackneyed political habits of the old guard. Moreover, the news that he is a “voracious reader” has endeared him among his compatriots who care about such things.

Thus, at first blush, he may seem hard to dislike, but alas, given who sponsored his appointment, Palestinians will be up to the challenge.

People choose their own leaders — no two ways about it — and for Washington to thrust them on us strikes the deconstructionist imagination of an old geezer activist like myself as predatory colonial politics.

That’s the last thing Palestinians need nowadays — yet another indignity heaped on them.

As far as Yasser Arafat is concerned, well, I personally regard his abrupt departure from the dinner table as appropriate, since he had worn out his welcome somewhere into the soup course.

As the host, however, I alone determine the propriety of my guests’ behavior. Not some pugnacious Texan.

- ArabNews.com Opinion 17 July 2003