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World Opinion Roundup by Jefferson Morley

Arafat Eulogized as Keeper of Palestinian Dream

By Jefferson Morley
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Friday, November 12, 2004; 8:17 AM

In the international online media, Yasser Arafat is receiving gentler treatment in death than he usually received in life.

Arafat was a "truly great leader," said the Jakarta Post in Indonesia.

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"He was the Palestinian people," said Le Figaro, the leading conservative daily of Paris, adding that he was also "a man of the shadows."

"He was a traveling storm," said columnist Ghassan Charbel in the Beirut-based Dar Al Hayat. In his effort to regain Palestinian lands taken over by Jewish settlers, Arafat "would not rest and let no one rest. He would knock every door and seize every opportunity. He would creep into every gathering and celebration. In the face of lack of memory, he would raise the map of a country that was crossed out of the map."

From the start, Arafat's style was both theatrical and bloody, noted the BBC. "In 1953 he sent Egypt's first post-revolution leader, General Muhammad Neguib, a three word petition: 'Don't forget Palestine.' The words were said to have been written in Arafat's own blood."

To be sure, most Israelis shed no tears over his death, noted aljazeera.net. Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon promised a campaign to identify the late Palestinian leader as "a strategist of world terror".

But other Israelis were more measured. Danny Rubenstein, the West Bank correspondent for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote an unsentimental obituary for Arafat yesterday.

"All the maneuvers that helped Arafat transform an underground terrorist movement into a recognized political body worked against him when he ... [became] the head of a near-sovereign political entity," Rubenstein wrote.

(Rubenstein is highly recommended reading for anyone interested in the ambiguities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I met him once and asked him how I should describe him in print. "Call me a WASP," he replied. "A white Ashkenazi supporting Palestinians.")

"What would we have to gain by believing Arafat was only the father of terrorism?" asked Ben Dror Yemini in Maariv, an Israeli tabloid that is not particularly sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

"Many bad Palestinians would want to adopt that perception by arguing that Arafat's legacy ordered them to commit acts of terror," he said. Yemini recalled Arafat's undeniable personal warmth and said he hoped and prayed that Arafat's departure would clear the way for what Israelis call "a Palestinian partner."

The loyalty Arafat inspired could be awe-inspiring, said Palestinian journalist Ramzy Baroud, writing for the Gulf News in the United Arab Emirates. In a Gaza refugee camp, he recalled seeing Israeli soldiers forcing young Palestinians to their knees, threatening to beat them if they did not spit upon a photo of Arafat.

"'Say Arafat is a jackass,' the soldiers would scream. No one would exchange his safety for insulting an image of Arafat," Baroud wrote.

Arafat's longtime rivals in the more radical Hamas and Islamic Jihad organizations offered effusive praise for his leadership, according to the Hezbollah TV station, Al Manar. One Palestinian leader told Al Manar that achieving Palestinian unity would be "easier" after Arafat passed, according to a video clip made available by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

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