The very first time I was sent as an envoy to Yasser Arafat, what seemed most striking to me was the enormous gap between the total unreality of his conspiratorial explanations of political events transpiring around him and the extraordinary skill with which he played his weak political hand in order to advance the hard-line ideological agenda from which he never swerved: the elimination of the State of Israel.
This was the Arafat paradox; as he weaved one conspiracy theory after another and lied in the face of foreign leaders, one wondered how he wasn’t thrown out of the chancelleries of Europe, rather than being welcomed on a red carpet.
Was this a testament to the strength of his cause for the petrodollar rich portions of the Arab and Islamic worlds – or evidence of his own personal powers as a global player? Will this strength that he exhibited be passed on to those who succeed him as well?
With all his faults, Arafat combined every attribute of leadership for the Palestinians. He was at the same time a military commander, head ideologue of the Fatah component of the PLO, the chief financial officer of its terrorist war chest, and its international spokesman at the UN. It is doubtful that any single individual can retain such concentrated powers in the future. A collective leadership is almost inevitable.
Arafat’s secret was that he knew how to read historical trends and exploit them to the fullest for his movement. He began as a sympathizer of the conservative Muslim Brotherhood which opposed the monarchy of Egypt, wher