In This Review

The Mystery of Arafat
The Mystery of Arafat
By Danny Rubinstein
Steerforth Press, 1995, 132 pp

If you have spent long hours wondering why Yasir Arafat always seems to have a three-day growth of beard, why he never wears a tie, why he married so late in life, why he used to spend most of his time on airplanes, or where he was born, this book will enlighten you. It will not be as satisfying when it comes to what makes the PLO chairman behave as he does; nor does it fully account for his remarkable relationship with the Palestinian people.

Rubinstein's is the most recent in a series of books that has tried to unravel the enigma of Yasir Arafat, and his readable account avoids the extremes of vilification or adoration. His basic theme is that Arafat has succeeded to date because he has reflected the distress and needs of the Palestinians after their traumatic defeat and exile in 1948. In a general sense, Rubinstein is probably correct, but he does not provide much in the way of new information to substantiate his opinion. His is the first book, however, to chart the transition of Arafat from leader of a war of liberation to politician trying to pay the bills. True, Arafat's image is not what it used to be. Balancing the budget in bankrupt Gaza would be tough on anyone's charisma, and Arafat looks more and more like a ward boss and less like the leader of a revolution. Still, he is more popular than any other Palestinian leader, according to recent public opinion polls, and he may have a few more moves to make in the uneven game of negotiations he has been carrying on, in one way or another, with his Israeli adversary-neighbor-partner. But the myth of Arafat is clearly fading, and Rubinstein shows many of the reasons.