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Julia Irwin’s Arafatous hagiography

02 December, 2004, Hansard, Irwin, Julia, MP (Fowler, ALP, Opposition)

Mrs IRWIN (Fowler) (4.33 p.m.) —It is three weeks since the death of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, and world leaders have expressed their condolences and tributes for the Palestinian leader. Among them, Nelson Mandela described Arafat as:

  • ... one of the outstanding freedom fighters of this generation, one who gave his entire life to the cause of the Palestinian people.

French President Jacques Chirac described Arafat as a man of courage and conviction who embodied the Palestinian struggle for a state. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that Arafat:

... led his people to an historic acceptance and the need for a two-state solution ...

The Vatican praised Arafat as `a leader who struggled to win independence for his people′ and repeated its support of a sovereign Palestinian state alongside Israel. Former US President Jimmy Carter called Arafat:

... the father of the modern Palestinian nationalist movement. A powerful human symbol and forceful advocate ...

But the Prime Minister of Australia′s comments were less charitable. Barely mentioning his name, the Prime Minister could only say:

I think history will judge him very harshly for not having seized the opportunity in the year 2000 to embrace the offer that was very courageously made by the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, which involved the Israelis agreeing to about 90 per cent of what the Palestinians had wanted ...

The Prime Minister went on to add that many people saw Arafat as a terrorist, before concluding:

I find it very hard to believe that he couldn′t have taken more action to restrain the activities of terrorist organisations.

This same line was followed in the parliament this week. The member for Wentworth, using the occasion of his first speech, said:

The death of Arafat has now opened up new opportunities for peace based on the roadmap—two states within secure, internationally recognised boundaries.

On the same day, the member for Melbourne Ports said:

I make no secret of my belief that over the past four years the greatest obstacle to achieving a peace settlement in the Middle East was the obstructionism of the late Yasser Arafat ...

But the history of Middle East peace agreements did not begin at Camp David in 2000. From Oslo in 1993, Taba in 1995, Wye River in 1998 and Sharm El Sheikh in 1999, not a single one of the withdrawal agreements was honoured by the Israeli government, and now we again hear world leaders declaring Arafat as an obstacle to peace. The same demands are made. As the veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk wrote:

Palestinians, the victims of 39 years of occupation, must prove themselves worthy of peace with their occupiers. The death of their leader was therefore billed as a glorious occasion that provides hope. ... The reality is that the outlook in the Middle East is bleaker than ever.

An Israeli peace activist, Uri Avnery, was moved to quote a warning from the Book of Proverbs:

Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth:

Lest the LORD see it, and it displease him ...

Yasser Arafat was a remarkable man. He represented more than anyone the national hopes of the Palestinian people. He is the father of Palestine. His struggle for a Palestinian state began before the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza in 1967. His original struggle was against the Arab nations occupying Palestine. By force of his personality he was able to secure the agreements recognising Israel, but Arafat knew only too well that the Camp David offer would not be accepted by his people. A worthy recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, Arafat was never under any illusions that peace without justice was acceptable. Thirty years ago Arafat addressed the United Nations General Assembly, saying, and I quote proudly:

Today I have come bearing an olive branch and a freedom fighter′s gun. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand.

Our hope should be that Arafat′s successor takes up that olive branch. Julia Irwin′s hagiography

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