Is Yasir Arafat Dead?

November 4, 2004 | 33 comments
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Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper that love thee. (Psalms 122:6)

News reports are rampant with rumors that Yasir Arafat is either dead, in a coma or on life support. What seems certain is that Arafat’s end is nigh.

In my opinion Yasir Arafat has been a miserable failure as a leader. He held on too tightly to the reins of power and surrounded himself with corrupt officials. Too often he appeared to be speaking in two tongues, promising peace on one hand and giving the green-light for terrorism on another. It is my hope that when confirmation of Yasir Arafat’s death arrives (however long that may take) that the Palestinian people will inherit a better and wiser leadership.

Yasir Arafat certainly cannot be blamed for everything that has gone wrong in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ariel Sharon has systematically taken many steps that enraged the Palestinians and destroyed their hopes for a viable Palestinian state. Where there is no hope there is only misery and danger. Israel’s ultimate long-term security will depend on goodwill with its neighbors (particularly the Palestinians) as much as its surpassing military superiority.

33 Responses to Is Yasir Arafat Dead?

  1. Erica on November 4, 2004 at 3:29 pm

    I just hope that the death of Arafat, whenever it is, does not make the Palestinians’ situation even worse. It is definitely time for a change, and has been for many years. I hope they can effect that change without too many problems.

    Dan, do you think there are any Palestinians now who could effectively take over as leader without a lot of difficulty? I am only familiar with Abu Mazen and Ahmed Qorei right now. I have to admit that I quit following Palestinian and Israeli politcs very closely after Sharon was elected, since he makes me *way* to angry. I guess I’m one of those biased intensive Arabic students. :)

    And while we’re on Palesintian politics, do you fall in with the generally-held opinion that Arafat missed a major opportunity with Barak and Clinton in 2000?

  2. Last_lemming on November 4, 2004 at 3:45 pm

    Arafat definitely missed a major opportunity in 2000, but it was an opportunity to boost his standing in the eyes of the world, not an opportunity to achieve peace or any of the many Palestinian goals. Had Arafat signed on, Barak still would have lost his election, Sharon would have backed out of the agreement and Arafat would have been hailed as the true peacemaker.

  3. danithew on November 4, 2004 at 3:52 pm

    I just hope that the death of Arafat, whenever it is, does not make the Palestinians’ situation even worse.

    I am concerned about that as well. Arafat has not been in the habit of grooming capable successors, but rather has done what he can to protect his own position. My feeling is that the Palestinians have many well-educated, intelligent and capable people who could do a lot of good. The question is whether one of those people will end up in a position of influence or not. There’s also the concern that Arafat’s death could lead to infighting and chaos. And Hamas is always waiting in the wings, ready to exercise whatever influence it can.

    And of course there is the concern that if there is infighting and chaos, Ariel Sharon would somehow take advantage and wreak even more havoc and destruction. Sharon is the kind of adversary who knows how to create and exploit pretexts. By my estimate he is a very capable enforcer but not a peacemaker (despite what he says in his political campaigns).

    I do not feel that the offer Ehud Barak made to Arafat was generous enough. The ultimate diplomatic and courageous and symbolic move would have been to offer to share Jerusalem as the capitol of both Israel and a new fledgling Palestinian state. The Israelis could have worked from West Jerusalem and the Palestinians from East Jerusalem, with the sacred areas being shared. What a great symbol of peacemaking that could have been!

    Looking back at what the Palestinians were being offered, and seeing the current widespread devastation and bifurcation of Palestinian communities by Ariel Sharon, I wonder if Arafat might have made more progress towards Palestinian goals if he had accepted Barak’s offer. If Arafat had to choose between that offer and what the Palestinians have now … but again, Arafat’s constituency might not have allowed him to entirely concede Jerusalem to the Israelis. His hands may have been tied as well.

    My feeling is that Sharon personally made it his goal to obliterate the Oslo peace agreements and all the good that had been accomplished. In fact, Sharon made it his purpose to make sure that a viable Palestinian state with contiguous territory could never emerge. He has been succeeding at this ever since the day that he took those controversial steps onto the Temple Mount. He has had more power than Arafat and despite Arafat’s corruption and two-facedness, I think Sharon in many ways is more responsible for what has happened than Arafat. Yes, Israel is more secure from suicide-bombers than it was before the barrier/wall/fence was placed … but the animosity and rage between the two peoples is unprecedented … an animosity and rage that is also felt by the larger Arab world.

  4. Erica on November 4, 2004 at 4:35 pm

    I have always been surprised at some of the criticism (like from people who had a better sense of the Palestinian point of view) that Arafat got for not accepting that deal. If there’s one thing I learned from talking to Palestinians, it was that they are willing to remain refugees forever if they don’t get what they want. Maybe a new generation would be more willing to give up some things, like the right of return, but I sure didn’t see much evidence of that, even in the mid and late 90s.

    I read Sharon’s autobiography about a year before he was elected and it was the first time that I felt like I somewhat understood the man. I had never really understand how deeply held his beliefs are. Sharon is not the one who should be in a position to negotiate with the Palestinians. Of course, he’s managed to take Israel out of the position of negotiating or even having the appearance of working with the Palestinians.

    Neither David nor I have been in the Middle East since Sharon was elected, and I would love to go back to talk to Palestinians we knew there since the political situation has changed so much. I was there during a much more hopeful time.

  5. danithew on November 4, 2004 at 4:56 pm

    I was there during a much more hopeful time.

    So was I. And I wish circumstances were such that I could go back and live there again. Jerusalem will probably always be my favorite city. I love the Palestinians. I love the Israelis. I wish they would work things out so that both groups could be safe, secure and live in dignity.

  6. Erica on November 4, 2004 at 5:02 pm

    Amen.

  7. The Only True and Living Nathan on November 4, 2004 at 7:07 pm

    I suppose that singing, “Ding, dong, the witch is dead” wouldn’t be terrible Christian of me, would it?

  8. danithew on November 4, 2004 at 8:01 pm

    LoL Nate. Point taken. :)

  9. Ethesis (Stephen M) on November 4, 2004 at 9:41 pm

    Reports are that he is “merely” brain dead, but not dead.

    But, given the translations, that is somewhere between coma, persistent vegitative state and truly without higher brain activity. (vs. “really” brain dead where the body can’t regulate itself well enough for life support to keep it going which is what happens when you lose lower brain functions — e.g. my daughter Courtney whose brain stem ruptured as they brought her blood suger down from under 200 to 100 a little too aggressively).

  10. Mark B on November 5, 2004 at 2:56 am

    Will Arafat be the Francisco Franco of the first decade of the 21st century? No, I’m not suggesting that he’s a Fascist, but that his death will be the news story for a few months, with each story reporting his death followed by another reporting that the former story had it wrong, that the dear leader was not dead after all–every action provoking an equal and opposite reaction. If nothing else, that would provide fodder for the SNL writers and give homeschooling parents an opportunity to spice up basic Newtonian physics for their precocious 6 year olds.

  11. Ronan J. Head on November 5, 2004 at 9:22 am

    When I was in Israel this summer everyone was convinced that Arafat was going to die soon. I didn’t believe them, and was depressed that the refusal to deal with him would last years. Did Israelis know something I didn’t?

  12. danithew on November 5, 2004 at 9:50 am

    Aha! Yesterday I thought something was up but I couldn’t intuit what was going on behind the scenes.

    This morning on the news two little facts arose that suddenly clarified everything for me.

    First, the Muslim tradition (as well as the Jewish tradition) is to bury the dead very very quickly after they have died. I should have known this as I had observed it before.

    Second, there are negotiations going on as to where Arafat will be buried. Israel has (at least at one point) said that there is no way Arafat’s burial will happen in Jerusalem.

    There are two possibilities here. Arafat died and it is being kept a secret. Or (and I think this is more likely) the machines are doing all the breathing for him — they are keeping him alive until they have a political solution to this problem.

    Now we will see just how stubborn and determined Ariel Sharon is to prevent this funeral from becoming a symbolic political event. Or perhaps his heart will be softened and he will relent. Perhaps even other forces in Israeli society will assert themselves and some kind of deal will be made so that this can all be handled expeditiously in a way that serves the interests of all parties.

    The point … in the Middle East — whenever there are many rumors and numerous denials being issued or whenever a series of events are happening that don’t seem to entirely make sense, we have to try to disceren what’s going on because there is a logic and sensible reasoning to it all.

  13. danithew on November 5, 2004 at 9:53 am

    Interesting, by the way, how modern technology is helping the Palestinians to honor their traditions and their symbols. Technology doesn’t always have to upset the traditional order.

  14. Elizabeth on November 5, 2004 at 11:50 am

    I think one of the more interesting twists that I have read in the “where is he going to be buried?” saga is that Arafat has indicated a preference for Haram as-Sharif area (Al Aqsa Mosque aka Dome of the Rock).

    I know some people have wondered how the Jerusalem Temple Mount would be cleared for rebuilding–this may prove to be what starts that process.

    (Maybe I should have taken my sister’s wager–her theory was the re-election of George W. would create more unrest in the area)

  15. Erica on November 5, 2004 at 12:28 pm

    Does the Haram necessarily need to be cleared for us to build a temple in Jerusalem? Of course, since the Jewish temples were up there, it seems that the new temple would also be there, but I’ve never read anything in the scriptures that says anything more specific than a temple in Jerusalem.

    I would hate to see the Dome of the Rock go, or any of the other buildings on the Haram. Maybe we could just share the space- there’s plenty of room. :)

    I wonder how many Palestinians, and specifically the Waqf, even want Arafat buried on the Haram. Of course, Israel’s opposition will make everyone want him buried there.

  16. danithew on November 5, 2004 at 1:34 pm

    The Dome of the Rock is a beautiful historic building and the destruction of it would be a tragedy. My feeling is that the golden dome itself is a priceless and irreplaceable part of the landscape and should not be messed with.

    I’ve heard some rather odd speculations about what would happen with the Dome of the Rock and I’m not about to repeat them. I’m not sure whether the building, as it is, could be part of a temple complex. If I understand correctly, much of the Arabic script on the face of the edifice is anti-Christian polemic.

  17. Erica on November 5, 2004 at 2:30 pm

    I’ve heard plenty of interesting speculation too, from both Jews and Mormons.

    The Arabic script, according to Said Nuseibeh, from the Dome of the Rock emphasizes the oneness of God, which I don’t see as necessarily being anti-Christian, more illustrating the differences between the two religions, and why the Christians couldn’t possibly be right. It also has Qu’ranic verses about Jesus, which are positive, except for the begetting and begotten parts. But I agree, changes would need to be made. But didn’t you know the Jeruslem Center was designed to be the temple in Jerusalem? :)

    I have always found the Dome of the Rock to be an interesting building. It is practically the only major building in Jerusalem that has not undergone major rebuilding, and we don’t know if it was built over the site of the Solomonic Temple. We don’t even know why it was built.

  18. danithew on November 5, 2004 at 2:51 pm

    By the way Erica, I went looking over at http://www.haaretz.com to see if there were any editorials about Yasir Arafat and his burial. I didn’t find any. What I did see that was of note is that Ehud Barak is coming back out of retirement and will be competing to lead the Labor party. I’m not sure how much Ehud Barak could undo all that has happened under Sharon but maybe there’s a glimmer of hope in that direction.

    Besides that open question we also have to look and see what leaders succeed Arafat. It’s going to be very tricky to come up with two partners at the same time who are willing to negotiate. But who knows?

  19. Keith on November 5, 2004 at 5:54 pm

    “I have always found the Dome of the Rock to be an interesting building. It is practically the only major building in Jerusalem that has not undergone major rebuilding, and we don’t know if it was built over the site of the Solomonic Temple. We don’t even know why it was built.”

    Many will hold that the place over which the Dome of the Rock lies was the Holy of Holies of Solomon’s temple. (The Dome of the Rock, by the way, is a separate building from Al Aqsa Mosque.) The rock in the middle is believed to be the rock from which Muhammad (after meeting and praying with several ancient prophets–Abraham, Moses, Jesus, etc.) ascended through the heavens into God’s presence.

    I think it’s important, as President Hunter said, not to give the impression that Latter-day Saints take sides in the conflict of Jews and Arabs in Jerusalem. In other words, without diminishing any of the prophecies for Jerusalem, we don’t have to hold or hope that Muslims will be driven off the mount so the Temple can be built. (Nobody on this thread has said that, but it’s a common attitude. I look forward to the day when the temple is built, but I agree with Erica and Danithew in wishing that the Dome could stay. Wouldn’t be Jerusalem without it.)

    One can only hope (and it’s painful to hope here) that there might be a reconfiguration in Palestinian leadership with Arafat gone, as well as some change in Israeli leadership, that could lead to a more peaceful Jerusalem. I recall a scholar/analyst/commentator say that the size and intensity of terrorism would shrink considerably if the Israeli-Palestinian issue could be resolved. I think that’s right. There are many issues to be resolved, and many ‘reasons’ for terrorism, but this is a key one.

  20. Erica on November 8, 2004 at 12:59 am

    Keith,

    My understanding is that there is a lot of controversy over whether the Dome of the Rock is on the exact site of the Solomonic Temple. I have read many different scholars discussing this issue, and, although many do think it is over the site of at least part of the Solomonic Temple, many think it may have been in a different part of the Haram. Without archaelogical excavations, which are completely impossible right now, there really isn’t any way to know.

    Also, the connection between the Dome of the Rock and Muhammad’s Night Journey and Ascension weren’t documented until the 12th or 13th centuries. There isn’t really any evidence that Jerusalem was associated with the Aqsa Mosque from the Night Journey until after the Dome of the Rock was completed. There is *no* mention of the Night Journey or any of its associated traditions in the Arabic script on the Dome of the Rock, which would be unusual, if its purpose for being built was to commemorate the Night Journey and Ascension.

    I’m not trying to be picky, but I do think that there is more to the Dome of the Rock than the commonly accepted explanations.

  21. Keith on November 8, 2004 at 4:19 am

    Erica,

    You are right that there are questions concerning where the Temple was, when the story of the night journey to Jerusalem became associated with the Dome, and so on. Nevertheles, the account commonly given (that which I gave) about the Dome is the traditional account accepted by most Muslims. I can’t imagine they would be willing to suscribe to alternative accounts, any more than Jews would be willing to subscribe to the claim by some that there really wasn’t a Temple Mount where the Haram stands (something I actually heard Arafat say). So I’m not arguing so much whether and where something happened, but the meaning this is generally given, that’s all.

    “I’m not trying to be picky, but I do think that there is more to the Dome of the Rock than the commonly accepted explanations. ”

    I’m genuinely curious to know what sources you would point to that give differing interpretations of why the Dome was built, other than the standard explanation. I’ll be interested to read them. Similarly, I’d be interested to know what you think the ‘more’ is associated with the Dome. (Of course, I know that you must have absolutely nothing more to do than answer my questions. Thanks in advance.)

  22. Erica on November 8, 2004 at 12:40 pm

    Keith,

    When I said there is more to the Dome of the Rock, I just meant the the standard explanations are too simple. I didn’t mean to imply that there is some special significance for Mormons or anyone else to the Dome of the Rock. I should have worded that better.

    The best book I have on hand about the Dome of the Rock is _The Dome of the Rock_ by Said Nuseibeh (of the Nuseibeh family that holds the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre) and Oleg Grabar. Oleg Grabar, as you may know, has been a professor of Islamic Architecture at Harvard and is now teaching at Princeton. Nuseibeh was commissioned by the Waqf to photograph the mosaics that were being restored in the Dome of the Rock. The book contains a huge number of photographs. Grabar, as a leading Islamic scholar, writes a lenghty introduction to the photographs, and discusses some of the controversies (from a scholarly point of view) of the Haram. I’d have to see if I can find some of the other sources I’ve read about the Dome of the Rock, but it’s been a while. Mostly they have been articles in various magazines and journals. I am not aware of a lot of new research on the Dome of the Rock or the Haram, for obvious reasons.

    I know that the explanations that you gave are what Muslims accept, and that it is unlikely that that would change. We are good friends with the son of the director of the Waqf, and we know how defensive the Palestinians are of the Haram, and understandably so. I just like to read anything about Jerusalem. It gets really interesting to read about the controversy over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Garden Tomb, and plenty of Mormons get involved in that one.

  23. Keith on November 8, 2004 at 1:43 pm

    Erica,

    Thanks for the reference. Looks like another one I ought to get.

    My wife wrote her dissertation on medieval pilgrimage to the Holy Sepulcher, the rise of replicas to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher., ‘substitute’ pilgrimages and so on. With her interest in that and mine in world religions, we spent the greater part of our short time in Jerusalem in places most Latter-day Saints are not that interested in. (I have this impish hope–though not really that serious–that it’s the Church of the Holy Sepulcher that is the site of Calvary, and so on.)

    Sounds like you have connections in Jerusalem. It’s kind of interesting to experience the affinity people get for that place. We can only hope that the Center can open again to students and not just to the tours and occasionally recitals that go on now. Its opening up again would mean a certain level of peace has been established once more.

  24. Erica on November 8, 2004 at 3:50 pm

    Keith,

    I haven’t met too many Mormons that even give the Holy Sepulchre a second thought, except to criticize it. My husband and I rather like the Holy Sepulchre- he does from an architectural point of view, and I do from a historic point of view. I do like the Garden Tomb, but I would be surprised if it turns out to the the original site of the tomb. Your wife’s dissertation sounds so interesting. I’ve never been able to find much available at any library on the Holy Sepulchre, but I did write a paper at BYU about the status quo and the way the Holy Sepulchre has been divided up. Are there any books your wife would recommend getting about the Holy Sepulchre through ILL?

    My husband and I also spent a lot of time in less traditional places when we were in Jerusalem. We hope to be able to go back soon, and to get back to Cairo, which is another city we love. I miss being able to look out over the Dome of the ROck during Sacrament meeting.

    Thanks for the interesting discussion.

  25. Keith on November 8, 2004 at 5:56 pm

    Erica,

    Two books to recommend about the CoftHS. Both are by Martin Biddle:
    _The Church of the Holy Sepulchre_ (This one is edited by Biddle, so it’s got lots of others writing, not just him. Wide range of approaches, mostly historical.)

    and

    _The Tomb of Christ_ (This is also a very good documentary produced by PBS or BBC–can’t remember–deals with the architecture, evidence of age, whether it’s possible burial site and so on).

    I suspect you’ll like the first one most and your husband will like the second most. Both are interesting.

    You’re right that LDS folks don’t usually have much interest in or much good to say about the place. Probably lots of reasons for that. But it’s a great place. With my wife’s work and our various visits there, we got to know it pretty well.

    One of the mornings in Jerusalem, I was up at 4:30. Couldn’t sleep. We were staying at St. Mark’s Lutheran Hospice in the old city, so I got up and went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. With the exception of a few clerics (four Armenians performing a kind of ritual–one inside the tomb, one going in and out, two outside (all chanting and singing), a Coptic and a Catholic), I had the whole building to myself for well over an hour. It’s an amazing place, both when it’s quiet and when it’s full of Christians from all over.

  26. Erica on November 8, 2004 at 6:29 pm

    I should have mentioned that we own Biddle’s _The Church of the Holy Sepulchre_. I’ll track the other one down. I also noticed today that BYU has several more books on the Holy Sepulchre than when I was there. I’ll have to request those too.

    Thanks!

  27. danithew on November 9, 2004 at 4:17 pm

    I didn’t notice until today, but Jeff Lindsay over at Mormanity has his own negative review of Arafat’s character and leadership over at Mormanity:

    http://mormanity.blogspot.com/2004/11/remembering-arafat.html

  28. danithew on November 10, 2004 at 8:35 pm

    Some reports are saying that Yasir Arafat (in a coma) has suffered liver and kidney failure. In the meantime, it appears the Israelis have agreed that Arafat can be buried in Ramallah. Here’s a pretty good article over at the International Herald Tribune:

    http://www.iht.com/articles/2004/11/10/news/pals.html

    It will be interesting (assuming the Israeli permissions will be extended) to see Suha Arafat show up in Ramallah and even more interesting to see how she is received. Many of the Palestinians have resented the fact that she has lived in European luxury even while her husband and the Palestinians have been suffering under Israeli domination.

  29. Erica on November 10, 2004 at 10:37 pm

    It has been interesting to watch how things are playing out with Sufa Arafat. After her tirade to al-Jazeera a few days ago, it’s hard to know if she’s just under a lot of pressure, or if she really is being pushed into taking him off life support too soon. It was first reported that any desicion about his being taken off life support would be hers alone, and now it is reported that it would be hers and the PA leaders.

    It seems to me that the entire situation has not been handled well from a PR point of view. The PA has managed to look like they are orchestrating the whole thing, down to the timing of his death, trying to get the most out of it that they can. They very well could be.

  30. Erica on November 10, 2004 at 10:46 pm

    Just got to the part in the article you referenced about elections. This will be an interesting 60 days after Arafat’s death, to say the least.

  31. danithew on November 11, 2004 at 2:27 am

    Ok. It’s official. The title question can now be answered in the affirmative.

  32. danithew on March 10, 2005 at 8:12 am

    Yesterday at the University of Utah I had the pleasure of hearing Dennis Ross speak. He was the formal peace envoy to the Middle East during the Clinton years and he interacted personally with both Yasir Arafat, Yitzhak Rabin and other very important Israeli/Palestinian figures constantly over a period of many years. During his talk to his he did a very brief imitation of Yitzhak Rabin and then also stated that he could do one of Yasir Arafat as well (though it didn’t happen). This ability to mimic them a bit, he said, was natural after having interacted with them for so long.

    He offered 5 reasons why there might be a window of hope for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process at this time. His first reason?: Yasir Arafat is gone. His second reason?: Yasir Arafat is gone and has been replaced by Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen).

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