Arafat’s legacy

Yesterday, Yasser Arafat passed into history. His eventful political career had stirred up the international status quo and of course the Middle East, as did other figures in the region such as Gamal Abdel-Nasser of Egypt, Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. The United States and Israel are optimistic that the death of Arafat will improve conditions for a solution to the Palestinian problem, but the opposite could very well occur. The legacy of Arafat is partly responsible for the radicalization not only of the Palestinians but of the Islamic world, a highly destabilizing factor which brought the West, in particular the US, to a state of siege following the terrorist attack of September 11. Even American presidents were generally unable to stabilize the region. The exception was Jimmy Carter, who wrested Egypt away from Soviet influence and helped normalize relations between Cairo and Tel Aviv, dramatically changing the scene. Greece traditionally supported the Palestinians, and Arafat found his most eloquent supporter in the late Andreas Papandreou, which often put Greece in difficult situations. The rise of Costas Simitis to power gradually reined in Greece’s ambitions. This approach continues during the present government of Costas Karamanlis. From one point of view this was prudent, since following the military involvement of the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and possibly on other fronts that Washington may deem it expedient to open, any Greek initiative would most probably prove hazardous. The presence of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at Arafat’s funeral clearly indicates Ankara’s intention of being involved in regional developments. But Turkey has never concealed the fact that, quite apart from the interests of its allies, it has its own to support and promote.