First, a goodbye to John Ashcroft, who resigned his post as Attorney General this week. Not a minute too soon, I might add. Ashcroft was a darling of the far right - and few else. I think he sensed that. His penchant for ignoring the principles of justice in the pursuit of terrorists, and his innate need to question the patriotism of any dissenters, did him in.
He is replaced by Alberto Gonzalez, someone about whom I only know bits and pieces. I had expected him to be nominated to the Court some time later, but Bush pulled a fast one on me here. I am reassured by his soft-spokenness - finally, an attorney general who won't insult me. But I, and I think a lot of other civil libertarians are with me here, am troubled by his stances on terrorism, most notably on the use of torture. He pushed for ignoring Geneva Convention standards for our prisoners, and is often credited (blamed?) for having a hand in the policies that led to Abu Ghraib. Whether he was acting as a lawyer serving his client, or as an independent policy mind, remains to be seen. I hope Democrats aren't so spineless now as to give Gonzalez the nod without asking him some tough questions on these issues. (Also, I wonder if he'll take that silly robe off the statue in the Justice Dept. buliding.)
We also said goodbye to Yasser Arafat, who died early this morning. I can't bring myself to rejoice over Arafat's passing - I'm not the kind to dance on peoples' graves - yet I can't say I'm particularly saddened, either. Arafat was a dreamer without a sense of practicality, an idealist who refused to compromise. His ideals won him a Nobel Peace Prize - his intransigence earned him the scorn of the non-Palestinian world. It appeared briefly that Arafat had learned the lessons of twentieth-century diplomacy - that you can get a lot more done with favorable media coverage than with a gun. He had even slowed terrorism down to a crawl during the 1990s, and as a result Palestinians got something they never had before - international sympathy for their cause, even from the Jewish diaspora. But then, when peace seemed within grasp, he forgot it again. He launched, or at least did nothing to stop, a new terrorist offensive, putting a torch to all the hard work at Oslo and Camp David.
Still, I think because of Arafat we have a more two-sided view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Before the 1990s, we thought of the Palestinians as the bullies and the Israelis as the innocent victims. Now, we know that neither can be held blameless for the violence.
Arafat leaves this world just as the best chance for peace since Camp David has come along. Sharon pounded his disengagement plan through the Knesset, letting the world know that Israel is serious about letting the Palestinians run their own affairs. Israel (however quietly) is bringing an army commander to justice for killing Palestinian civilians. During the past month, Israel has shown that it is serious about peace.
Now it's the Palestinians' turn. If Arafat were still here, we could rest assured that the Palestinian Authority would completely ignore any Israeli overture of this magnitude. But we are rid finally of Arafat's intransigence. If they are serious about peace, Palestinians must hold elections as soon as possible, and the newly elected leader must demonstrate a willingness to bargain. Arafat showed Palestinians the path to autonomy and peace, but he refused to follow it. He was a master at talking the talk - it is up to his successor to finally walk the walk.