Death comes in the shadow of new life for peace process.
While it is not completely inappropriate to accept with alacrity the death of Yasser Arafat-for it may indeed provide a new sense of hope for both Israelis and Palestinians-dancing on his figurative grave only minimizes the gravity of his life and role in that region. Like so many obituaries pointed out last week, Mr. Arafat did embody the Palestinian cause. But his grandstanding and unrelenting facilitation of terrorism should nullify any notions that he was a great statesman.As diplomatic adversaries, Mr. Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seemed almost committed to stagnating progress toward peace. Mr. Sharon, however, has broken from his party with his plan to remove the Israeli settlers from Gaza, a position that falls in line with the U.S.-backed 'road map for peace.' With Mr. Arafat gone, it is our hope that new Palestinian leadership can successfully negotiate a similarly pragmatic plan for contested territory in the West Bank as well. The recent election of the more moderate P.L.O. chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who served as the Palestinian's first prime minister in April 2003 but resigned in a power struggle with the intransigent Arafat, only buoys such hopes.
Of the many daunting issues facing the world today, perhaps none receives more attention on this campus than the ongoing struggle for peace in Israel. One would be hard-pressed to find a Brandeisian mourning Mr. Arafat's death, but, sadly, one need not search too far to find someone celebrating.
But this is not a time for celebration.
The gunfight between Mr. Abbas' bodyguards and a rival group of Arafat's Fatah movement Monday illustrates this point. There are Palestinian factions that wish to martyr Mr. Arafat in spite of his tepid passing. For them, his legacy of failing to compromise is not a failure but a validation of their cause.
A new Palestinian leadership now has the opportunity to prove its political mettle and make difficult decisions without Mr. Arafat's presence looming overhead. In considering the popular support for Ariel Sharon's plan of a complete Israeli withdrawal from Gaza coupled with a partial settlement removal from the West Bank by September of next year, Sharon is leading the Jewish state down a difficult yet necessary track, appearing to present the renewed Palestinian leadership with an unlikely yet plausible partner for peace.
Mr. Arafat's passing signals the removal of what the White House considered the conflict's 'greatest obstacle to peace,' and in his absence from the micromanagement of Palestinian affairs, the Bush administration is preparing to play an active role in a post-Arafat Middle East. For a region whose most significant peace plans have been negotiated and signed in the presence of an actively involved U.S. premier, we look forward with cautious optimism to what appears to be the best chance for Arab-Israeli peace in over a decade.
It is a shame that yesterday Secretary of State Colin Powell, an adept diplomat, submitted his resignation to President Bush. However, Mr. Bush is now presented with a historic opportunity to rise above partisan foreign policy and achieve the lasting peace that the Middle East and the world need.
The passing of Mr. Arafat will be the subject of much discussion in lecture halls and club meetings in the weeks to come. As a center for Jewish thought and politics, it would be wonderful to see a civil and forward-thinking discussion here about the future of the holy land.