Relief is perhaps the best way to describe the private reaction of most Arab officials to the sudden and somewhat ambiguous death of Yasser Arafat, the icon of the Palestinian struggle for the past 40 years.Here is a rare time that the Arab nations were more pragmatic than the Palestinian Arabs themselves. Of course, Arafat's successors didn't seize the initiative to improve the situation and that's how we got to today, where any number of groups can effectively veto any "peace" agreement on the PalArab side.
In public, before their own constituencies, these same officials laid on what they felt obliged to provide: a red carpet funeral. Most major Arab leaders and senior representatives were on hand in Cairo to pay their last, and somewhat belated respects to a man they had largely forgotten during his nearly three-year siege in Ramallah.
But beyond the honours of a brief state funeral, Arafat received very little recognition from his fellow Arab leaders. Official statements eulogising the Palestinian leader sounded more like a simple notification of another death, rather than any genuine outpouring of grief at the loss of a revolutionary hero.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, certain Arab diplomats, in particular those from countries with direct borders with the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel, were explicit in expressing their relief at the death of Arafat. For them, his passing marks the end to the presumptuous obstacles that the Palestinian leader had thrown up on the road to a settlement with Israel, largely for the sake of his own glory. Some see his death as heralding an end to the oppressive control that he had exercised over the Palestinian resistance movements, including Hamas and Jihad. Other diplomats are breathing a sigh of relief at the demise of a leader they considered too self-centred to really care about the misfortunes of his own people.
In six interviews conducted by Al-Ahram Weekly since Arafat's death, there was not a single word of sorrow expressed by any Arab diplomatic source. Indeed, for many, Arafat's death would seem to mark not an end, but a new beginning. This sentiment was also expressed by some Palestinians, who were known for their opposition to Arafat's authoritarian style of rule.
Even so, it is instructive to look back and see past the nostalgia being shown by the Palestinian people who were so thoroughly screwed by the man they all claim was a hero.