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Local Expert Offers Insight in Wake of Arafat's Death

Local Expert Offers Insight in Wake of Arafat's Death

Estimated read time: 2-3 minutes

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John Daley ReportingThe death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat may provide an opening for Middle East peace, but only if the US gets actively involved as a neutral peace-making party. That's according to one local Middle East expert.

No doubt Yasser Arafat was an emblematic leader of our time, symbolizing its turbulence and its challenges; a man of war, to some a ruthless terrorist. But to others he was the man who kept the Palestinian national identity alive and as a man of peace who joined with President Clinton and Israel's Rabin to further that goal.

Still, the U of U's Peter Sluglett--a longtime expert on the region--sees Arafat, ultimately, as an obstacle.

Peter Sluglett, Prof. of Middle Eastern History, Univ. of Utah: “You couldn’t have Middle East peace while Arafat was still alive. Whether you can have Middle East peace after he’s dead is another matter.”

Sluglett says he thinks Arafat was at heart a revolutionary who could never bring himself to compromise on Israeli statehood because he saw it as betrayal of his own people.

Peter Sluglett, Prof. of Middle Eastern History, Univ of Utah: “Essentially Arafat, I think, whatever else may have been true about him, didn’t want to go down in history as the person who finally put his signature on the agreement that would recognize Israel once and for all. I think that’s always been the big problem.”

Slugett believes future peace efforts may depend on three things: a new, more moderate Palestinian leadership; a change in Israel after years of hard-right rule by Arafat's nemesis, leader Ariel Sharon; and a more engaged, less partisan US involvement in peace efforts.

Peter Sluglett: “I would have thought that the prospects, provided the Americans are not too partial to the Israelis, are better with Arafat gone.”

With Arafat gone he won't be easily replaced. In fact his old jobs have been divided up amongst his lieutenants, and Arafat the icon will cast a huge shadow over whoever comes next.

Sluglett says it'll take some time, perhaps five years or more, to know whether Arafat's death indeed is a genuine opening for new peace efforts or just another lost opportunity.

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