What made Yasir Arafat’s final days appalling was not the farcical prevarications about whether he were dead or alive, nor the soap-opera quarrel between his wife and his political cronies; it was that so evil a man commanded so much respect.
Since his airlift to a Paris hospital, as the welcomed guest of the French government and with throngs of journalists on the scene, Arafat’s death has been presented as the heartbreaking end of a noble man. Reacting to a premature report of Arafat’s death, President Bush wished that “God bless his soul.” Upon Arafat’s death, Jacques Chirac lauded him as “a man of courage and conviction.” The French gave him a military salute as Arafat’s coffin was sent to his funeral in Egypt, which many heads of state are expected to attend.
Why do the West’s politicians hold in such high esteem a man who unleashed a ferocious campaign of international terrorism that, across a span of forty years, has claimed the lives of thousands of Israeli, Lebanese, Jordanian, Palestinian, and American civilians?
Arafat specialized in high-profile attacks targeting civilians, in order to inflict the severest psychological devastation. The slaughter of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics; the assassination of American diplomats in Sudan; the massacre of school children in Maalot, Israel (a model for the recent mass murder at a high school in Beslan, Russia); the hijacking of the cruise ship Achille Lauro, in which wheelchair-bound American Leon Klinghoffer was tossed overboard — Arafat was responsible for these and hundreds of other kidnappings, car-bombings, hijackings, and brutal murders. Also, during the 1970s he fomented bloody civil wars in Jordan and Lebanon.
But did he not renounce his terrorist ways later in life (as though this would be enough to earn forgiveness)?
Certainly in the 1990s European and American politicians embraced Arafat as a peacemaker, granting him recognition as a statesman. President Clinton met with him more often than with any other international leader (24 times in eight years). And in 1994 Arafat co-won the Nobel Peace Prize. But his willingness to make peace with Israel was a transparent lie. Though he publicly renounced terrorism in words addressed to Western audiences, he never did so in action (nor even in words, when speaking to the Arab world).
From the outset Arafat flouted practically every provision of a 1993 peace accord — most notably the provision to quell terrorism against Israel. The vast armed “police force” he created actually conspired with and often actively supported terrorists. And, calling for “martyrs by the millions,” Arafat fostered the deployment of suicide bombers. In 2001 he told the family of one bomber: “The heroic martyrdom operation [of the man] who turned his body into a bomb [is] the model of manhood and sacrifice for the sake of Allah and the homeland.”
None of this dissuaded Western leaders (including President Bush, who sought to marginalize Arafat somewhat) from supporting the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in areas governed by Arafat’s provisional Palestinian Authority. And this was so even though the evidence was abundant that such a state would become a sponsor of terrorism. In 2002, for example, Arafat’s forces were caught trying to smuggle into the Gaza Strip 50 tons of weapons and ammunitions, including one ton of C-4 explosives, and more than 60 Katyusha rockets, capable of hitting most cities in Israel.
Politicians eager to regard Arafat as a heroic “liberator” of Palestinians were also undaunted by his dictatorial rule over the Palestinian Authority. That governing body systematically violates the rights of its citizens. Arafat’s “police” force — eight or so competing gangs of thugs — arbitrarily arrests citizens, confiscates property, and murders his political opponents. (The victims were denounced under the catch-all charge of “collaborating” with Israel.) The PA’s chaotic judiciary made a mockery of the rule of law; its judges served not justice, but Arafat.
But far from condemning Arafat’s vicious rule, the European Union and America supported it with hundreds of millions of dollars in aid.
This extravagant tolerance of Arafat, given his blood-soaked record, is not due to ignorance on the part of our politicians. It comes from the precept that moral judgment is an obstacle to action. This is the view that moral principles are an impediment to achieving practical aims, such as peace. One should, on this view, remain morally neutral — even though one side may be clearly in the right — and try to engage both sides in gentlemanly negotiation — even though one side may be a murderous thug.
Because moral neutrality is such an obviously immoral policy, its perpetrators must blacken the good while whitewashing the evil. Hence, world leaders condemn Israel, the innocent victim who refuses to submit, and lionize Arafat, the ruthless killer.
Arafat’s elevation to the dignity of a peace-seeking statesman is due to our politicians’ moral corruption. Were he judged properly, Arafat would long ago have been dealt the punishment he deserved. By sustaining him and perpetuating the delusion that Arafat was really a well-meaning statesman, politicians committed treason to his innocent victims.