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Where Is Yasser Arafat When You Need Him?

Everyone claims to be surprised by Hamas’ victory in Palestine. What happened? One thing is that Yasser Arafat is gone from the scene. If Yasser Arafat had still been around he may well have been able to orchestrate the politics to produce a Fatah victory. Arafat was a cagy political operator, both on the international and domestic stages. The Israelis couldn’t wait to get rid of Arafat, but it may be another case of be careful what you wish for. Is Israel going to be happier with the Palestinians under the rule of Hamas rather than Arafat?

All indications are that Mahmoud Abbas was selected by the US and Israel to succeed Arafat, because he was a moderate who allowed himself to be influenced by Washington and Tel Aviv (or Jerusalem). But that was certainly part of Fatah’s problem; Abbas’ appeal to the US and Israel was anathema to Palestinians. So now, what will his relationship be with Hamas? Nobody seems to know. It seems likely that things will get worse before they get better, in part at least because of Sharon’s departure from the scene, in part because of the way Washington and Israel have played their hands. The Europeans, who have been more balanced between Israel and the Palestinians, may be able to play a more constructive role now that American Middle Eastern policy has failed.

Israel, of course, is one of the main problems in dealing with the Iranian nuclear problem. Israel’s nuclear arsenal of hundreds of nuclear weapons is a driving force behind Iran’s (and earlier, Pakistan’s) desire for its own nukes. If things continue to deteriorate, maybe Israel will finally get to use some of them. The good news is that Israel will not use its nukes without strong provocation, because it sees them as the ace in the hole to protect the entire Jewish race if it is ever again threatened by something like the Holocaust. The question is: how closely does Israel see its future linked to the future of the entire Jewish race?

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