Originally Published 2004-10-16 05:02:03 Published on Oct 16, 2004
One runs the risk of stepping on many corns by attempting an objective assessment of the place of the late Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), in history.
After Arafat: Bin Laden?
One runs the risk of stepping on many corns by attempting an objective assessment of the place of the late Yasser Arafat, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), in history.&nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> No one can dispute the fact that he personified the cause of an independent Palestine State and that his defiant struggle till the end of his life against Israel epitomised the struggle of his people for independence and to set right the historic wrongs committed against them by Israel and the international community.&nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> He was a good and warm friend of India and millions of people in India mourned his death. Fate was unjust to him. He died prematurely without having accomplished his mission, despite the bravery and self-sacrifice of innumerable Palestinians under his inspiring leadership. He was a man of vision, courage and steadfastness and commanded the loyalty and devotion of his people. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> If despite all these qualities he failed to make an independent Palestine a reality in his life-time, one cannot blame his failure only on the intransigence of Israel and its present Prime Minister, Ariel Sharon. The failure was equally due to his inability to come to terms with the reality that the Jewish people, who had suffered as much as the Palestinian people, if not more, cannot be expected to compromise their security just for the sake of a peaceful settlement and that getting back East Jerusalem from Israel was a dream, which was unlikely to materialise however much the Palestinians deserved to have it as their capital. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> If one were objective, one's admiration for him will have to be tempered by the admission that he legitimised the conscious and systematic use of terrorism for the achievement of a political objective and blurred the distinction between terrorism and a freedom struggle. The struggle for Palestinian freedom, as waged under his leadership, targeted not only the state of Israel and its perceived instruments of suppression, but also hundreds of innocent civilians, who had nothing to do with the State of Israel--Jewish as well as non-Jewish, Israelis as well as non-Israelis, men as well as defenceless women and children. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The PLO under his leadership as well as other organisations, which joined the struggle for an independent Palestine State, waged their struggle with no holds barred. Spectacular hijackings of aircraft many of whose passengers had nothing to do with Israel, hostage-taking and other forms of criminal intimidation of innocent civilians, indiscriminate and targeted killings of civilians in the name of the struggle for an independent Palestine State became the stock in trade of the PLO and other organisations allied to it. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> I joined the intelligence profession shortly after the fateful day in June1967, when Israel launched its pre-emptive war against Egypt, Syria and Jordan and occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem, after routing the Arab armies. Bombast in words and unwise in action--those were the defining characteristics of the Arab States in those days and these led to their humiliating defeat in a short and swift war. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> These characteristics are still embedded in the psyche of many of them as one saw from the experience of President Saddam Hussein of Iraq in 1991 and again in 2003. Whenever any Arab State had been humiliated--whether it was Egypt, Syria and Jordan in 1967, Libya in 1986 or Iraq in 1991 and 2003--they could not escape a major share of the blame for their plight. They brought the humiliation upon themselves. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> When the PLO and its allies launched their spectacular retaliatory attacks in the months and years thereafter in the form of hijackings of civilian aircraft, hostage-taking, the Munich Olympics massacre etc, how we all applauded and watched in admiration! It serves them (the Israelis) right we told ourselves, despite the fact that many of the intimidated or killed victims had nothing to do with Israel and its occupation of Palestinian territory. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> How excited my colleagues in the intelligence profession and I were each time the Palestinians under Arafat's leadership carried out one spectacular terrorist strike after another. We had no sympathy for the civilians intimidated or killed. Arafat and his followers projected the mayhem they created as a freedom struggle. We had no hesitation in agreeing with them.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Our excitement at the spectacular terrorist strikes of the PLO and its allies was short-lived. The Jammu &amp; Kashmir Liberation Front (JKLF) hijacked an aircraft of the Indian Airlines to Lahore in Pakistan in 1971 and blew it up in the presence of Zulfiquar Ali Bhutto, the then Pakistani Foreign Minister, and the international media after having made the passengers leave the aircraft. Terrorism, we shouted. Freedom struggle, the JKLF claimed. After having applauded the hijackings of the PLO and its allies as freedom struggle, how could we denounce that of the JKLF as terrorism and expect the world to believe it? &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> 1970s saw a myriad terrorist organisations and terrorists appear on the scene all over West Europe. The Baader-Meinhof and the Red Army Faction in the then West Germany, the Red Brigade in Italy, the Action Directe in France, Carlos and his boys everywhere after he had fled from France in 1975 after having killed two officers of the French counter-terrorism agency etc etc. They claimed to be the brothers-in-arms of the wronged Palestinian people and the benefactors of the poor people of Western Europe. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> What havoc they wrought across West Europe! Hijackings, kidnappings, extortions and murder, placing of explosive devices in public places. All in emulation of the PLO. All in the name of the Palestinian people. How we squirmed in our seats as our words of admiration and support for Arafat and his boys and girls and our deafening applause for their "brave" freedom struggle came back to haunt us. But we did not have the courage to admit our folly. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Came 1981. A Sikh called Gajendra Singh, an office-bearer of an organisation called the Dal Khalsa, gave an interview to the then "New York Times" correspondent in New Delhi on the perceived grievances of the Sikhs against the Govt. of India. He praised the PLO and Arafat and called upon the Sikhs to wage a freedom struggle against the Government of India. "The time has come to emulate the PLO and Arafat," he said. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> We did not take him seriously till a few days later when he and some other members of the Dal Khalsa hijacked an Indian Airlines aircraft to Lahore. Hijackings followed one after the other. The Kanishka aircraft of Air India was blown up off the Irish coast in 1985, killing about 300 innocent civilians. Another aircraft was almost blown up in the Narita airport of Tokyo. Innocent Hindu men, women and children were lined up and shot in Punjab. Hundreds of innocent civilians, who had nothing do with the Government of India, were killed by improvised explosive devices in Punjab and Delhi. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> All in the name of a so-called Sikh freedom struggle. All in emulation of Arafat and the PLO. We had nothing else to do but to continue squirming in our seats. We did not have the courage to admit that we had committed a monumental folly in supporting Arafat and his PLO despite their ruthless use of terrorism. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> 1989 and the years thereafter saw jihadi terrorism appear in a big way in J&amp;K and other parts of India. Nearly 20,000 innocent Indian men, women and children have been killed by the jihadi terrorists since then. Cross-border terrorism, we said. Freedom struggle, claimed Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf. Jihadi organisations claiming to emulate the Palestinian people mushroomed all over J&amp;K and other parts of India, many of them imported from Pakistan. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> We still lack the courage to call a spade a spade and let ourselves stew in our own contradictions. We do not have the courage to make a distinction between the justness of the Palestine cause and the brutality of the methods adopted by them to achieve their objective. By turning a blind eye to the methods adopted by Arafat and his followers, we are lifting and throwing a stone on our own feet. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> Terrorism is terrorism. It is an absolute evil, whatever be the cause. That was the hard-learned lesson of 9/11. And yet, we are unwilling to apply it in the case of the terrorism of the most brutal kind resorted to by organisations such as Al Fatah, Al Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, the Hamas, the Hizbollah etc. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> After Arafat, what? Will an independent Palestine State, which could not come into being because of his style of leadership and because of his inability or unwillingness to stop the acts of terrorism of his minions, become a reality? Will his successors, whoever they are, be able to rise to the occasion, abandon the path of terrorism and make the dream of the Palestinians a reality? One wishes they would, one doubts they will. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The Frankenstein's monsters spawned by Arafat and his methods would, most probably, continue to haunt West Asia for years to come till they are vanquished. There is at least one thing to be said in praise of Arafat and his leadership, He was a secularist to the core and kept religious fundamentalism out of his organisation. He kept Osama bin Laden and his jihadi brutalities fathoms away. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> There is a big question mark as to whether his successors would be able to assert themselves and put an end to these monsters. There was considerable anger among the Palestinians because of the policies of reprisals followed by Sharon. This anger is likely to be aggravated because of the shock surrounding the death of Arafat and the suspicious circumstances around it. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> One does not as yet see on the horizon a Palestinian leader capable of controlling this anger and turning the Palestinian people away from the path of terrorism they have followed for nearly four decades. &nbsp;&nbsp; <br /> <br /> If no such leader emerges, there is a real danger of the al Qaedisation of the Palestinian struggle. Coming closely on the heels of the al Qaedisation of Iraq consequent upon the overthrow of Saddam Hussein, it would make victory in the so-called war against terrorism even more difficult to achieve than it is today.&nbsp; <br /> <br /> The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute for Topical Studies, Chennai, and Distinguished Fellow and Convenor, Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Chennai Chapter.E-mail: [email protected] <br /> <br /> Courtesy: South Asia Analysis Group, New Delhi, Paper No. 1167, November 16, 2004. <br /> <br /> <em>* Views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Observer Research Foundation.</em>
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