Left Mourn Death of Arafat

11 November 2004

Left parliamentarians express sorrow over death of President Arafat

Solidarity with Palestinian people must be marked by high-level representation at funeral


The left in Europe reacted with sadness to the death of President Yasser Arafat which happened early this morning at a hospital in Paris, expressing sorrow over the loss, solidarity with his grieving people, and fears for the future of the so-called Road Map peace process.

Francis Wurtz, President of the United Left group in the European Parliament, (GUE-NGL) proposed to a meeting of the President of the European Parliament and the Presidents of all the political groups that an official delegation of Parliament go to President Arafat's funeral.

"President Arafat has always honoured Europe," said Mr Wurtz in an official statement. "He never missed an opportunity to welcome a statement of the European Council, to acknowledge a vote by European members of the Security Council, to thank the European Union for its economic aid. Yasser Arafat wanted peace with Israel, of course without disavowing the basic rights of his people. At several key moments he made strategic choices which were far from being easy to take with respect to a part of his people, or even with respect to his own supporters. For example, in 1988, when he declared 'null and void' the articles of the PLO Charter denying Israel's right to exist; or in 1993, by entering into the "Oslo process", in other words mutual Israel-PLO recognition, while at the same time the creation of a Palestinian State was put off until later; or in 2003, by giving his support to the 'Geneva Initiative' of Yasser Abed Rabbo and Yossip Beilin, intended to revive the dialogue for peace and which touched on ultra-sensitive issues, such as Jerusalem or refugees. When he evoked Yitzhak Rabin and the 'peace of the brave' concluded between the two leaders, his eyes filled with tears. He had a deep respect for Israeli peace forces. He was aware of the immense damage that the Palestinian attacks in Israel caused to its struggle, and his condemnation of such acts was only the more sincere because of it. Yasser Arafat will remain the symbol of Palestinian resistance to the occupation and of the hope of a whole people of being able finally to build its State. Let us wish that his comrades can together find the right responses to the new questions which are posed today, by combining the double symbol to which Yasser Arafat was so attached: the V of victory and the olive branch.

Luisa Morgantini, MEP, of Italy's Communist Refoundation, which is affiliated to the GUE-NGL, and Chair of the European Parliament's Development Committee, added that "President Yasser Arafat did not live to see a Palestinian State. He cannot be, for the moment, buried in East Jerusalem, and he will be interred where he was a prisoner in his last years .The instant response to his death of the Israeli Government is the closure of the occupied territories. One more time the Palestinian people have to pay for the cruelty of a military occupation that has lasted for 37 years."

In the Netherlands, which has recently seen the brutal murder of film-maker Theo van Gogh, who had made a film critical of Islam, so-called reprisal attacks on mosques and schools, and the military siege of a house allegedly used by fundamentalist terrorists and the seizure of a number of suspects, the radical left Socialist Party - Dutch section of the GUE-NGL - echoed these sentiments.

"The death of President Yasser Arafat means that this is a dark day for the Palestinians and for the peace process," said SP Member of Parliament and international affairs spokesman Harry van Bommel. "He was the only leader who could claim to speak for the whole of the Palestinian people and hold them together under the Israeli occupation. It will be a difficult task for the interim leadership to prevent the radicalisation under pressure of present circumstances of a section of the Palestinian people."

Mr van Bommel visited President Arafat at the beginning of the year at his isolated headquarters in the company of Socialist Party colleague Senator Anja Meulenbelt. The Palestinian leader issued an urgent call to the SP to use the Dutch Presidency of the European Union, which runs from July to December of this year, to persuade the EU to play a more active role in the peace process. At the same time he told his visitors that he believed that the separation wall would make the Road Map to peace unworkable.

"Arafat deserves to be honoured as a friendly head of state," added van Bommel. "He was a partner in negotiations with our government and the presence of the minister president, the head of that government, at the funeral is essential, given the fact that the Netherlands currently holds the EU Presidency and in view of the EU's involvement in the Road Map peace process. Just as importantly it would represent a gesture of respect to the grieving Palestinian population. And if you look at the situation in our own country, I think it is also important that foreign minister Bernard Bot accompany him."

The Portuguese Communist Party, two of whose members sit in the European Parliament as part of the GUE-NGL, also added its voice to the chorus of sympathy and solidarity which greeted the sad news. "Yasser Arafat dedicated his life to the struggle of his people for their inalienable national rights and was a particularly outstanding participant of the movement of the national emancipation of the Arab people and for a just and lasting peace in the Middle East," said a spokesperson for the party, adding that "his death represents a great loss. But the heroic struggle of the Palestinian people for the liberation of the territories illegally occupied by Israel and for the building of their own independent and sovereign State on Palestine land will continue, with the active solidarity of the progressive and anti-imperialist forces all around the world."

Gerry Adams, the leader of Irish GUE-NGL affiliate Sinn Fein, expressed his "deep sorrow" at the death of the Palestinian President, adding that the most fitting legacy to President Arafat will be a sovereign Palestinian state.

"Throughout a lifetime in struggle President Yasser Arafat has not only been a father of the Palestinian people he has been an inspiration to people throughout the world as he led the struggle for a sovereign Palestinian state," said Mr Adams. "There is a close affinity and affection between the Irish and Palestinian people and his death will be a cause of much sorrow. The most fitting legacy to President Arafat is for the international community to act immediately to ensure that the Israeli Government remove its troops and illegal settlements from Palestinian lands and a return to the negotiating table." He also offered his "deep condolences, on behalf of Sinn Féin, to President Arafat's wife Suha, to his family and to the Palestinian people."