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Israel After Arafat

Yoni Mishal Dec 1, 2004

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL—Returning to my country in late October after being away 12 months, I found a bitterly divided nation exhausted by a poor economy and ongoing fighting with the Palestinians. The death of Yasser Arafat was widely hailed as a turning point. “This time it’s for real. Sharon will bring the peace he promised,” said my father, talking about the grand opportunity offered by Arafat’s demise.

The headlines were optimistic. Optimistic? Sarcastic would be more appropriate. Jokes about Arafat, the way he looked, talked and especially died were and still are, a common sight on television. Another statement was that with Arafat’s death and Bush (“our man in Washington” said a popular leftist figure) winning the U.S. elections, Israel is looking at good times.

“Look and see – they will turn away all the attention from the chance to change the situation” Elad, a friend of mine warned me. I tried to be optimistic – A group of activists just came back from the West Bank, where they helped out in olive picking. “No settlers hit us – that’s a lot,” said one to me. All this lasted two days. It took me by surprise. The talk of the town was about Suha Arafat, the late chairman’s wife. All over the radio, papers and TV she was suddenly the issue. How much money she had, and why, in the name of god, didn’t she come back to Palestine when her people were in need? Sharon’s promises and the chance for peace faded away into the inside pages of the paper.

The days that followed left me deeply depressed.  Apathy runs deep. It has become the normal state of mind. But there is also a subtle undercurrent that can be felt. The death of Arafat in some way flared a public discussion about decreasing moral values. Still in the background, I feel the Left is waking up. The public is polarizing.  Right-wing fundamentalists are threatening to shoot soldiers if they come to evacuate them. People feel they have to choose sides.

“This is our cue to say goodbye to them,” said my father finally this week, speaking about the settlers. He was a hard-core right-winger for years. Maybe it’s a sign.