Why the next Arafat must be a Gandhi

The time is right for a Satyagraha in Ramallah

Arafat’s death marks the end of an era. Violence, especially terrorism, as a means to whatever end, stands thoroughly discredited. And the Israeli government has painted itself into a corner where it will be forced to negotiate with a Palestinian leader who eschews violence.

Arun Gandhi was a few months ahead of his time when he visited the Palestinian territories a few months ago. Persuading Arafat to change his tactics, so late in his life, was merely a symbolic enterprise. Gandhism may have a chance in the post-Arafat era, if the new Palestinian leadership can be disabused of its erroneous conclusions on the efficacy of non-violent struggle.

Eric Weiner makes a timely point in the Christian Science Monitor.

In fact, nonviolence is in many ways more difficult to practice than violence. Many Palestinians might die in the process, perhaps in greater numbers than they are dying now. On this point, Gandhi was clear-eyed. He and his followers were willing to die for their cause, just like the Hamas suicide bombers. Unlike the Hamas bombers, they were not willing to kill for it – under any circumstances.

After years of terrorism, the world would, understandably, cast a wary eye toward a new Palestinian leader espousing nonviolence. But once this nonviolent intifada, or what some Muslims are calling a “civil jihad,” took hold, it would enable the Palestinians to reclaim the moral high ground and garner international support. And surely Israel wouldn’t object to a shift away from violence.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is ripe for Gandhi-style civil disobedience. That’s a fact that Arafat was unable – or unwilling – to grasp. It is one that his successor would be wise to embrace.[CSM]