Thoughts on South African and international politics and culture

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Arafat's Death: Part II
Interesting to note international leaders' responses to Arafat's passing, especially the careful way in which US and UK leaders couched their condolences.

US President George Bush says:
"The death of Yasser Arafat is a significant moment in Palestinian history. We express our condolences to the Palestinian people. For the Palestinian people, we hope that the future will bring peace and the fulfillment of their aspirations for an independent, democratic Palestine that is at peace with its neighbours."

Not much love there then...

Tony Blair was quoted saying:
"He led his people to an historic acceptance and the need for a two state solution. President Arafat came to symbolise the Palestinian national movement."
No emotives there either...

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw takes a slightly more empathetic line, saying:
“I want to express my deep sympathy and condolences to the Palestinian people on the death of Yasser Arafat. President Arafat played such a dominant role on behalf of the Palestinians over so many decades that it is hard to imagine the Middle East without him. As the leader of his people, he created an international awareness of, and concern about, the plight of the Palestinian people. He displayed unquestionable devotion to his work.

In his usual non-committal and rather cold way, Vladimir Putin said:
"It is a big loss for the Palestinian leadership and all Palestinians."

Bush's favourite mate, Australian PM John Howard was particularly robust:
"I think history will judge him very harshly for not having seized the opportunity in the year 2000 to embrace the offer that was very courageously made by the then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, that involved the Israelis agreeing to about 90 percent of what the Palestinians wanted."

Israeli Justice Minister Tommy Lapid said it was:
"good that the world is rid of him"

Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin said:
"Chairman Arafat's personified the Palestinian people's struggle" and "his influence on regional and global events has been undeniable".

On the other side of the coin, Arafat's death did find real sympathy from Western leadership. French President Chirac hailed Arafat as "a man of courage and conviction" and said "it is with emotion that I have just learnt of the death of President Yasser Arafat, the first elected president of the Palestinian Authority. I offer my very sincere condolences to his family and to people close to him."

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, long a critic of Israel's policies stated:
"The Secretary-General was deeply moved to learn of the death of President Yasser Arafat. President Arafat was one of those few leaders who could be instantly recognised by people in any walk of life all around the world. For nearly four decades, he expressed and symbolized in his person the national aspirations of the Palestinian people."

Hamas predictably stated that:
"The loss of the great leader will increase our determination and steadfastness to continue Jihad and resistance against the Zionist enemy until victory and liberation is achieved,"

Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal continued that:
"I hold Israel responsible for the crime of the death of Arafat. All reports by doctors in the last two weeks indicate he was poisoned."

OK, so they're not a global power, but Bangladeshi PM Begum Khaledi Zia stated:
"We are deeply shocked at the loss of a great leader, a symbol of struggle for freedom of the Palestinian people, and a Nobel laureate for peace. Bangladesh will continue to support the Palestinian cause... and will cooperate with the new Palestinian leadership."

Typically, New Zealand offers the most diplomatically fence-sitting response, Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff:
"His achievement was to win acknowledgement for the existence of the Palestinian nation and to advocate for the rights of a dispossessed and disadvantaged people. His failure was to not make the transformation from resistance leader to statesman. Under his leadership the Palestinian Authority was marked by incompetence, corruption and a lack of constitutional and democratic procedure."

Finally, our own Thabo Mbeki said that:
"It is indeed difficult to accept that the greatest leader of the Palestinian people Yasser Arafat, with whom we have shared so many trials and tribulations, has ceased to lead. History will record that he (Arafat) gave hope to millions of the downtrodden and despised, by instilling in them the knowledge and consciousness that despite current difficulties, they hold the gift of freedom in their hands."

No doubts where Thabo lies...