March 14, 2005

THE RHODES MAP:

The Interregnum (JAMES BENNET, 3/13/05, NY Times Magazine)

Yasir Arafat was wrong about a lot of things. He was wrong to believe, as two of his closest associates told me he did, that Israel would never elect Ariel Sharon to be prime minister, that after rejecting Ehud Barak's offer at Camp David in the summer of 2000 the Palestinian leader could exploit the second intifada, which began that fall, to continue negotiating concessions from a re-elected Barak. He was wrong to believe after the Sept. 11 attacks that the Bush administration would tilt to him and away from Israel, to court the Muslim world. He was wrong to believe the following spring that Sharon would never risk international criticism by launching a giant offensive into the West Bank, and he ignored the pleas of aides who begged him to pre-empt Sharon by cracking down on militants. The invasion came, and the governing Palestinian Authority, created by the Oslo accords, lost control of the major Palestinian cities. Israel began forbidding even the Palestinian Police to function, saying they included terrorists.

One night in Arafat's office in Ramallah, after Israel had trapped him there, I asked if he still expected to see a Palestinian state in his lifetime. ''No doubt,'' he replied without hesitation. ''No doubt.'' Well, he was wrong about a lot of things.

But he was right about at least one big thing. Arafat's core insight, derived in the 1960's from Frantz Fanon, was to reject the ascendant pan-Arabism of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser and to posit instead a Palestinian exceptionalism. He believed that a distinct Palestinian nationalism would take shape through armed struggle with Israel. After Israel humiliated Nasser and the Arab armies in the Six-Day War in 1967, Arafat and his vision emerged as the heroic alternative. The Palestinians are divided by class, religion and geography, yet, drawn together by opposition to Israel, they have attained a national coherence that other recovering wards of British colonialism -- like the Iraqis -- lack.

As the struggle for nationhood took shape, a yearning grew not just for any state but for a democratic one. In their diaspora, Palestinians worked or studied under dictatorships and democracies and appreciated the difference. Those living under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza after the Six-Day War came to resent authority. Liberated in a way by their very statelessness -- lacking a glass house -- Palestinians developed what the political scientist Khalil Shikaki has called a ''culture of criticism,'' freely ridiculing Arab autocrats and declaring they could do better. Hardest for some Palestinians to admit is the influence of Israel, of the parliamentary debates and acerbic press they followed on television and in the newspapers. To be Palestinian is to be intimately, painfully acquainted with paradox. It is to know that, in part, you owe your national character and your democratic dream to the very people who occupied your land and compromised your rights.


Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't this the essential retrospective case for British imperialism, that--whether that was the colonizers intent or not--they left behind them peoples whose understanding of what it is to be decent modern nation is to be like England? Mr. Bennett sounds like Niall Ferguson or Max Boot.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 14, 2005 12:00 AM
Comments

Deed he do. And a nice intuitive leap from Ferguson to Colossos to Rhodes. When yer hot...

Posted by: ghostcat at March 14, 2005 12:35 AM

Arafat may have been wrong about a lot of things; but James Bennett, like so many journos, caught like deer in the bright headlights of Arafat's careening---though somehow charismatic--- destructiveness couched as glorious liberation, hasn't a clue about what has already hit him.

Where does one even begin with a piece like this? (A piece to remember, which should be trotted out annually, and held up for scrutiny.)

In praise of nihilism? O glorious Armageddon? Let us count the ways? A paean to disaster? To a kleptomanic killer? The symbol of his people? Who was right about "one big thing"?

(The only thing worse, it seems, than intellectuals are journalists who are trying to pose as them.)

Bennett been covering the region for the past four odd years. Supposedly an expert (like all of them). And so, Arafat is dead; but long live Arafat. Keep on promoting that "one big thing" about which Arafat was right. Keep on propping it up. Give it the life support it requires. Like Lenin in his tomb, deify it; make it live forever. Repeat it often enough, and it will be real. In perpetuity.

Given the realities on the ground, there's more than a touch of morbidity here.

As far as "lovers of paradox," tell it to all those Palestinian collaborators who have been strung up, paradoxically no doubt, over the past several years. Or if these prove less than receptive, tell it to all the Palestinians whose lives have been reduced as a result of the latest eructation of Arafat's grand fantasy---that one big thing about which he's been O so right.

The only thing Arafat was right about---the one big thing---is that by spouting perennial revolution, liberation, victimhood, you can fleece all kinds of disparate countries and peoples. The key is it has to be "perennial" (but this, of course, seems to have escaped Bennett and so many others).

The lying, it seems, continues, big time.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 14, 2005 2:14 AM

Arafat may have been wrong about a lot of things; but James Bennett, like so many journos, caught like deer in the bright headlights of Arafat's careening---though somehow charismatic--- destructiveness couched as glorious liberation, hasn't a clue about what has already hit him.

Where does one even begin with a piece like this? (A piece to remember, which should be trotted out annually, and held up for scrutiny.)

In praise of nihilism? O glorious Armageddon? Let us count the ways? A paean to disaster? To a kleptomanic killer? The symbol of his people? Who was right about "one big thing"?

(The only thing worse, it seems, than intellectuals are journalists who are trying to pose as them.)

Bennett been covering the region for the past four odd years. Supposedly an expert (like all of them). And so, Arafat is dead; but long live Arafat. Keep on promoting that "one big thing" about which Arafat was right. Keep on propping it up. Give it the life support it requires. Like Lenin in his tomb, deify it; make it live forever. Repeat it often enough, and it will be real. In perpetuity.

Given the realities on the ground, there's more than a touch of morbidity here.

As far as "lovers of paradox," tell it to all those Palestinian collaborators who have been strung up, paradoxically no doubt, over the past several years. Or if these prove less than receptive, tell it to all the Palestinians whose lives have been reduced as a result of the latest eructation of Arafat's grand fantasy---that one big thing about which he's been O so right.

The only thing Arafat was right about---the one big thing---is that by spouting perennial revolution, liberation, victimhood, you can fleece all kinds of disparate countries and peoples. The key is it has to be "perennial" (but this, of course, seems to have escaped Bennett and so many others).

The lying, it seems, continues, big time

Posted by: Barry Meislin at March 14, 2005 2:16 AM

Generations into a democratic national regime the Irish are still struggling to rid themselves of the scourge of terrorism. This will prove to have been Arafat's legacy. Like so many at the NYT and the BBC, Bennett is a terror groupie.

Posted by: ZF at March 14, 2005 7:51 AM

"Arafat's core insight, derived in the 1960's from Frantz Fanon"

Bennet no doubt read Fannon in college. How much do you want to bet that Arafat never heard of the dude.

Fact is that Arafat was a stooge and a Soviet Agent. Sent to to do his dirty deeds by Soviet and Egyptian secret services. It was they who invented the BS, not Arafat.

But I like ZF's line Terror Groupie.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at March 14, 2005 2:33 PM
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