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Arafat's Ghost

History gave Yasir Arafat far more time than most leaders to achieve his mission. After all, at the time of his death he had been leader of the Palestinians for 35 years. Yet he left his people in a terrible situation, with no state, in the midst of a losing war, and with a bankrupt economy. Whether his successors can revive and complete the Palestinians' historic mission depends on how they define their goal.

Looking back at his career, Arafat never really veered from the belief that his life's mission was to destroy Israel by any means necessary and replace it with a Palestinian Arab state. An independent Palestinian state that did not include all of Israel held no appeal to him. He was equally indifferent to his people's material welfare and anything particular about the design of a viable political and economic system.

Now, in the post-Arafat era, Palestinians must choose one of several strategies. Unfortunately, most of the alternatives call for the continued use of violence and terrorism.

The moderate strategy seeks an independent Palestine state as quickly as possible, on the assumption that once there is no more Israeli presence or violence, the Palestinians can concentrate on constructive pursuits, including resettling refugees and improving living standards. But this is the view of only a small minority of leaders, notably former Prime Minister Abu Mazin and Muhammad Dahlan, who heads his own militia in the Gaza Strip.