In his protracted moment of death, Yasir Arafat performed his last act of duty to the Palestinian cause to which he devoted his entire life. Everything about the man was, indeed, protracted. He carried out a protracted war of national liberation. He withstood a series of protracted sieges – in Amman (1970), Beirut (1982), and in Ramallah (2002-2004). Arafat’s leadership was the most protracted among his counterparts in the Arab World, as he outlived three Egyptian Presidents (Naguib, Nasser, Sadat and spanned all of Mubarak’s quarter of a century), five Lebanese Presidents, three Iraqis, five Algerians, three Syrians, three Saudi Monarchs, and two in Morocco, not to mention other world leaders, from Eisenhower to Bush in the US, from de Gaulle to Chirac in France, and from Maó to three successors in China. Probably no other political figure alive today met and endured as many world leaders as Arafat.
But there is much more to Arafat’s legacy than endurance. It has been correctly said over and again that Arafat was a mixed blessing for his people. Their fate and destiny have been inextricably linked, to the near demise of both at times. For several decades after the usurpation of their homeland, Palestinians were reduced to aggregates of refugees, some remaining in the newly-created state of Israel as second-class citizens, with others scattered over the Arab World and far beyond. It was Yasir Arafat, through the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) he founded, that gave them a sense of identity as a people.
Regardless of its effectiveness, the armed struggle waged by the PLO did empower the Palestinians and internalize a sense of collective dignity and self respect within them. Their cause could no longer be ignored. No other modern issue has appropriated as many UN resolutions or as much international diplomacy.
If politics is defined as the art of compromise, Arafat was a master of it at the Palestinian and Arab levels. He managed to stay at the helm for over forty years with no serious challengers.