The death of PLO chairman Yasser Arafat will put the United States and other Western allies in an awkward position regarding his funeral.
When you think of funerals involving a larger-than-life leader from the Middle East, you may think of the majestic gathering for the late King Hussein of Jordan.
There were more than a hundred dignitaries for the funeral of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin… and who could forget the sadness the world expressed during the ceremony more than 20 years ago for Egypt’s Anwar Sadat?
On the world stage, Yasser Arafat is just as well-known, but he is not known for making peace.
In fact, for much of Arafat’s life, he encouraged Palestinians to wage war and drive Israel into the sea.
11 years ago, Arafat had a brief change of heart, shaking hands at the White House with Israel’s Rabin. But the hope from that day faded over the years, as Arafat repeatedly rejected Israeli offers for a Palestinian state. He rejected the last offer during the Clinton administration because Jerusalem would have to be shared.
In recent years, Arafat seemed to look the other way when Palestinians went back to armed struggle. Arafat said little when wave after wave of Palestinians suicide bombers targeted Israeli civilians.
So Arafat’s funeral, when the time comes, will be different. The Bush administration viewed Arafat as a hindrance who repeatedly made the wrong choices. So the White House is not planning to send any high-level dignitaries. The only officials in attendance will be lower level representatives from the state department.
Dignitaries from many Arab nations also won’t be in attendance. Many of them still have not recognized Israel’s right to exist and will therefore not be allowed to pass through Israeli airspace.
And several European leaders are under pressure to avoid making a spectacle out of Arafat’s funeral, given the opportunity his death presents in opening new negotiations for peace.
In the meantime, Israel’s military is bracing for possible riots as the emotions of the Palestinian people intensify.