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A decade after dying, Arafat still divides Israelis
by Staff Writers
Jerusalem (AFP) Nov 09, 2014

Jerusalem unrest 'wounds' Jordan-Israel peace: Amman
Amman (AFP) Nov 09, 2014 - The ongoing tension over Jerusalem's flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound is inflicting a "stab wound" on the peace treaty between Jordan and Israel, Prime Minister Abdullah Nsur said on Sunday.

"Israel and Jordan are committed to peace and to respect the peace treaty, but this commitment is not just applicable to one side, it is a commitment by both," Nsur told reporters in Amman.

Last week, heavy clashes raged at the mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City as Israeli police faced off with Palestinian stone-throwers, prompting Jordan to recall its ambassador in protest.

"What is happening is a stab wound to the idea of peace," Nsur said in remarks just two weeks after the 10th anniversary of the peace treaty.

Nsur said Israel's actions at the site were the result of a "clear" policy aimed at changing the decades-long status quo at the site, which is holy to both Muslims and Jews.

"The Jordanian government condemns in the strongest possible terms the events of recent weeks in Jerusalem which are not the result of administrative errors or acts by a few extremists but rather a clear government plan to change the realities at the holy places," he said.

Months of unrest in and around the plaza have been triggered by Palestinian fears that Israel was preparing to change the status quo to allow Jews to pray there -- a suggestion that has been repeatedly rejected by Israel.

Although Jews are allowed to visit the compound, they are not permitted to pray there for fear it could shatter the fragile status quo at the site, one of the most sensitive places in the Middle East.

During talks with European Union's new foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini earlier on Sunday, Jordan's King Abdullah II reiterated his opposition to Israeli "attacks" on Jerusalem's holy places.

He also called for a resumption of international efforts to revive the collapsed peace talks, a palace statement said.

Under terms of the 1994 peace treaty, Jordan is recognised as custodian of the Muslim holy sites in east Jerusalem which was occupied by Israel during the 1967 Six-Day War and later annexed in a move never recognised by the international community.

For most Israelis, the late Yasser Arafat and his trademark black-and-white keffiyeh represents the embodiment of the "arch-terrorist".

But a minority in Israel look back fondly on the former Palestinian leader -- who died 10 years ago this week -- as the man who dared to sign an peace accord with the Jewish state.

For decades, any Israeli making contact with the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) that Arafat led could be thrown in prison. In 1993, however, all that changed with the Oslo peace accords which transformed the PLO into a legitimate political force.

But if the rapprochement brokered by the Oslo treaty was a welcome development for two peoples wearied by decades of war, the second Palestinian intifada, which began in 2000, reminded Israelis that Arafat remained a formidable adversary, experts said.

"A large majority of Israelis think of Yasser Arafat as the main culprit behind the violence and he undermined the confidence they had in the Palestinians' desire for peace," said Anat Kurz, research director at the Institute for National Security Studies at Tel Aviv University.

Uzi Dayan, a former national security advisor during the Arafat era, is more forthright, calling the Palestinian icon a "terrorist" and a "crook".

"He was never ready to conclude a deal that would put a final end to the conflict," Dayan said.

"He only wanted an arrangement on the borders (of a Palestinian state) before moving on to the real subjects close to his heart: the right of return for Palestinian refugees and east Jerusalem," the military reservist added.

"Israel would have no more ammunition after the borders (were set)."

The idea that Arafat was not serious about peace is not universal among Israelis, however.

"Contrary to what most Israelis think, I consider Arafat as a great leader, a real revolutionary who managed to put the Palestinian issue on the Middle East map and make it important globally," Kurz told AFP.

"He had no viable successor capable of making peace," she added.

- 'Icon of the revolution' -

Uri Savir, co-founder of the Shimon Peres Centre for Peace - named after Israel's former president who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Arafat for the Oslo accords - met the Palestinian leader on several occasions.

"I'm one of those rare Israelis who doesn't have a negative image of Arafat," he says. "It doesn't make me popular, but I don't care.

"Arafat is an icon of the revolution, he had no taboos," Savir adds.

Arafat's strength lay in "surrounding himself with good people," he says.

"He chose the best negotiator for the Oslo Accords, in the form of Abu Alaa," he says referring to Ahmed Qorei, who later served as Palestinian prime minister.

"He was better as a leader and negotiator than as a builder of modern state institutions. He was not the Palestinian Ben Gurion," he said, referring to David Ben Gurion, who played a major role in Israel's establishment and became the Jewish state's first prime minister.

Savir is also critical of Arafat's relaxed stance towards the Islamist Hamas movement.

"He didn't understand the strategic danger posed by Hamas. I had long discussions with him on the subject and each time he told me: 'Don't worry.' He was wrong, as events have proved," says Savir, referring to events of 2007 when Hamas forcibly ousted Arafat's Fatah movement from Gaza.

- Abbas is no Arafat -

In spite of Arafat's perceived shortcomings, he was the one who "really made the breakthrough in relations with Israel" and opened the way for a two-state solution to become reality, Savir adds.

Like Dayan, Savir sees clear differences between Arafat and his successor, Mahmud Abbas.

"Abbas doesn't have the unifying character that Arafat did," he says.

"He's a more moderate, Western-style figure, but he lacks the ability to make decisions."

For Dayan, Abbas is "too weak" to make the tough decisions necessary to broker peace with Israel.

"It is precisely this fear of Hamas that leaves him even less flexible than Arafat on borders, the right of return (for Palestinian refugees), and Jerusalem," he concluded.

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