Arafat’s pursuit of the politics of expediency led him to support the killing of students in Tiananmen Square and the suppression of the democracy movement. He expressed “extreme gratification that you were able to restore normal order after the recent incidents in People’s China”. He was also sympathetic to the coup in the USSR to overthrow Gorbachev in 1991. He was silent on the gassing of Kurds by Saddam.Following Arafat’s return to Palestine, the human rights organisation B’Tselem had to deal with human rights violations by the Palestinian Authority as well as by Israelis. Arafat’s inability to stand still ideologically, led to a deep suspicion of him and accusations of duplicity in Israel during the years of the peace process. This, in turn, undermined the Israeli left, which implicitly attempted to defend him through supporting the Oslo accords. His effective rejection of the Clinton proposals in December 2000 helped in the election of Sharon and the final betrayal of the peace camps in both Israel and Palestine.
In an age of decolonisation, the British left equates national struggles with progressive politics. In the 1950s, Bevan condemned Nasser’s nationalism, but the deification of Arafat suggests many today are less discerning.
Dr Colin Shindler
Soas, University of London