The day Arafat was buried was one marked by incredible contrasts. In Ramallah, the streets were chaotic as thousands rushed to get close to Arafat’s flag-draped coffin while others fired shots into the sky. Meanwhile, back in Washington, Tony Blair joined President Bush for a press conference in which the two leaders (at Blair’s pushing) publicly rededicated themselves to peace in the Middle East.
It will be interesting to see how much throw the U.S. and Britain have at this point when it comes to moving the parties towards peace (given the state of affairs in Iraq and Bush’s mishandling of the Middle East peace process to date).
I am no fan of Arafat. But I would imagine those thousands of mourners in the West Bank would be none too encouraged when they hear the President refer to Arafat’s death as an “opportunity.” Wouldn’t it have made more sense to start talking about the opportunity, say, tomorrow?
In the black and white world of George W Bush, Arafat was a disloyal partner (he directly lied to Bush about an arms shipment to the territories from Iran) and a terror mastermind. Many would agree with that assessment. But thousands of Palestinians see Arafat in a different light. This administration needs to show it has some basic understanding that they are dealing with a people (many of whom are hungry for peace) with an entirely different world view and a different emotional perspective on the Middle East.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Arafat’s death probably does present an opportunity. I just think that the diplomatically intelligent thing to do would be to wait until tomorrow to mention that.