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In a Ruined Country: Samuels on Arafat and Palestine
David Brooks selected the above-named essay about how Arafat destroyed Palestine as one of the best of 2005. It is now briefly available here at The Atlantic online.
A couple of quotes:
"In a largely traditional society Arafat stood out because he was self-made, the symbolic incarnation of a people that owed its continued existence to him. Decades before he began to show his age in public, his lips trembling, his hands shaking, his belly distended—even then he was known as the Old Man. His speeches were laundry lists of slogans and exhortatory phrases such as "Ya jabal ma yahzak reeh" ("O mountain, the wind cannot shake you!") and "Li-l-Quds rayyihin, shuhada bi-l-malayyin" ("To Jerusalem we march, martyrs by the millions") interspersed with Koranic verses. The symbolic leader of the Palestinian nation spoke with a pronounced Egyptian accent. His lips flapped when he spoke. To some, the combination was irredeemably comic. He distinguished himself within the Palestinian national movement by his boundless energy for the cause, alqadhiya, which might also be translated as "the case," a term appropriate to a proceeding in a courtroom. One of the peculiarities of the nation that Arafat created was that it was founded on a festering grievance rather than any positive imagination of the future; the worse things were in the present, the stronger the Palestinian case became.
For the diplomats of the European Union, whose dream of creating a new kind of political organization that would rival the United States for global influence was burdened by the historical guilt of colonialism and the Holocaust, the image of the Jew as oppressor that Arafat offered the world was both novel and liberating; the State of Israel would become the Other of a utopian new world order that would be cleansed of destructive national, religious, and particularistic passions."
"The amounts of money stolen from the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people through the corrupt practices of Arafat's inner circle are so staggeringly large that they may exceed one half of the total of $7 billion in foreign aid contributed to the Palestinian Authority. The biggest thief was Arafat himself. The International Monetary Fund has conservatively estimated that from 1995 to 2000 Arafat diverted $900 million from Palestinian Authority coffers, an amount that did not include the money that he and his family siphoned off through such secondary means as no-bid contracts, kickbacks, and rake-offs. A secret report prepared by an official Palestinian Authority committee headed by Arafat's cousin concluded that in 1996 alone, $326 million, or 43 percent of the state budget, had been embezzled, and that another $94 million, or 12.5 percent of the budget, went to the president's office, where it was spent at Arafat's personal discretion."