Yasser Arafat is reported to be very ill; descriptions of his condition vary, but it seems possible that his condition is terminal.
It strikes me that Arafat’s demise could only be a good thing. Not because his successor, or successors, couldn’t possibly be worse; in some ways, they probably could. Rather, because Arafat’s political persona–his receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, his being feted by liberals on several continents, his status as Bill Clinton’s most frequent house guest, his popularity in France, where his stylish wife resides–tends to mask the reality of his uninterrupted career as a terrorist, and to cast a certain confusion over the whole Arab-Israeli conflict.
Here is the Associated Press’s take on Arafat’s potential demise:
No leader of Arafat’s stature and popularity is waiting in the wings, said Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi. “It’s only natural to expect that there would be either a power struggle or there would be a loss of cohesion,” she said.
Analysts said it could take years for a leader to emerge, hurting prospects for an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal. [Ed.: We can only hope so.] However, Israel and the United States hold out hope that a post-Arafat Middle East will be more conducive to peace because of what they say is Arafat’s blind eye to terror and opposition to reform.
Polls show the second most popular Palestinian after Arafat is Marwan Barghouti, a leader of Fatah’s young guard. But Barghouti is serving five consecutive life terms in an Israeli prison for involvement in deadly shooting attacks.
In most countries, the fact that a political leader is serving consecutive life terms for murder would be considered a disqualifying factor. Not, of course, among our friends the Palestinians, where mass murder is a badge of honor.
If nothing else, Arafat’s passing from the scene will bring some clarity to a conflict where, on one side, being a mass murderer is considered a prime qualification for leadership.
UPDATE: Roger Simon, drawing an analogy to Stalin, thinks Arafat may already be dead.