‘Brother’ Arafat

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat has often been an object of resentment for the Western political elite, dating from the time when the various Palestinian or Arab groups began resorting to extreme violence (often outside Palestinian or Israeli territory) so as to put the Middle East dispute on the international agenda. On the other hand, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Arafat share a common past of bitter confrontation which began with the «Peace in Galilee» operation in 1982, when Sharon, then in charge of Israeli troops, invaded southern Lebanon and reached Beirut to smash the military wing of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). Over the next two decades, Arafat was gradually recognized by the West and Israel as the leader of the Palestinians, as the man who would negotiate their fate and future. Now US President George W. Bush has decided that Arafat constitutes an obstacle to Mideast peacemaking efforts and is stepping up the pressure for his removal. Not surprisingly, Sharon endorses Bush’s course of action: The Israelis and the Palestinians are in a state of war and he has every right to seek the elimination of his enemy. Arafat is no exception. The Greek paradox is that ever since the Palestinian insurrection and, especially since 1974, Arafat has had a steadfast ally and supporter in Greece, that is the late Prime Minister Andreas Papandreou and his PASOK socialists. The Palestinian leader paid regular visits to Athens, and each time he was in a state of siege he would warmly embrace Greece’s Socialist leaders. The reformist Prime Minister Costas Simitis also appeared with Arafat before the enthusiastic Socialist party congress last October. Now that the US questions Arafat’s leadership, Simitis and his government remain silent while «brother» Arafat has been dumped.