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Arafat's death: New start in Middle-East

November 18, 2004

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat's death has occasioned commentary from around the world that alternates between veneration and condemnation. 


Whatever one's viewpoint, his passing away represents an enormous opportunity not just for his people but also for a genuine attempt at solving the Arab-Israeli conflict and possibly have worldwide implications for terrorism. 


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Unfortunately, much of the attention in India offers a perspective at variance with his dismal record of terrorism and massive misappropriation of Palestinian monies. More importantly, it treads lightly over the fact that the Palestinian honcho greatly benefited from India's unstinting support in international forums such as the UN with India voting 100% of the time for him and against the object of his terror -- Israel.


Glossed over, is the fact that there was never a quid pro quo with Arafat not once having said anything in India's favour, either publicly or in private, whether it was Kashmir or the liberation of Bangladesh.


For India, the contrast with Saddam Hussein could not be more stark. While both were murderous despicable thugs, Saddam was unwavering in his support of India's stance on Kashmir.


The irony is that Abu Amar, as he liked to be known as, was tepidly welcomed across the western border. While formal Pakistani support of Palestinians extended to universal support of UN resolutions in their favour, a shift occurred in the run-up to the Gulf War of 1991. Pakistan was one of 36 countries arrayed against Iraq which had the tremulous and largely inconsequential support of Jordan and the bumbling PLO.


India, on the other hand, stayed out of the anti-Saddam combine although it voted with the UN majority that denounced the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and famously offered refuelling facilities during the early days of the war. An interesting aside is that Jordan's King Hussein used the services of then-Brigadier Zia-ul-Haq to drive Arafat out of Jordan in 1970 when he tried to take over that country.


While Arafat's isolation among fellow Arabs may have reached its apogee during the Gulf War he rebounded quickly and emerged almost unscathed with the onset of the Oslo accord. An accord that saw him gain fresh impetus and status.


With Arab and Western financial support in free flow, Arafat did what comes naturally to him. Never known to shy away from biting the hand that feeds him, he misappropriated billions from the free flow of funds both from wealthy Arab nations as well as Europe and the US.


The last ten years have seen billions of dollars flow to the Palestine Authority with much of it going unaccounted for into a sink-hole. Estimates of Arafat's personal fortune vary from $2.5 billion to $6 billion and even the French government, never wanting when it comes to providing cover for the world's richest terrorist, is actively investigating the millions of dollars that ended up in his wife's account over the past couple of years.


Despite the considerable scrutiny of his opaque finances that will very likely follow his death it is unlikely that anyone will ever get a full accounting of the stolen billions. What is worse, there is virtually no probability of a much needed war-crimes trial to account for the thousands who perished in the name of his Palestinian cause but in reality were victims of his maniacal ego.


What is worse than the lost money and even lives is the opportunity cost to millions of Palestinians and, indeed, to a host of other nationalities due to bloody conflicts that have festered thanks to him.


If there is a singular lesson to be learnt from decades of dealing with the world's second longest one-man dictatorship, it is that it represents an awful alternative to democracy. The US under George Bush has been on the money in that respect. It is too bad that Foggy Bottom does not view others including so-called allies through the same prism. Were it the case, the 'end of history' as foretold by Francis Fukuyama in 1989 may actually have come to pass.


 Vijay Dandapani is a New York-based commentator 

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