Arafat was nothing like the steely leader journalists have made him into. He was a completely worthless clown embraced by various powers for that very quality. His wing of Fatah was a late entrant to the terrorist scene, and conducted terrorist attacks in the 1960s and 70s only rarely, mostly to keep up its image, which had paled compared to the daring terrorism of other factions.

Fatah’s legendary battle of Karama was actually fought by Jordanian forces—and by any measure, lost. Later, the PLO consistently lost in Lebanon to local guerrilla factions. When Israel invaded Lebanon, it took the IDF some time to hole up the PLO only because the government avoided bombing civilian areas when the Palestinians hid.

In Tunisia, Arafat was a true nobody. Arab governments forgot him, certain than he would never be able to return even to Jordan, let alone to the West Bank. The Russians toyed with Arafat a bit because of their general interest in subversive movements, but tellingly did not arm or finance him. The Europeans maintained low-level contacts with the PLO just to maintain the illusion of involvement in the foreign policy of the Levant where Israel, the only real player at the time, was America’s client.

Peres brought Arafat from Tunisia specifically because he was powerless and presumed controllable. True, Peres initially viewed Arafat as the only person capable of stopping the Intifada, but Abu Mazen dispelled that belief immediately when the subject came up in the Oslo negotiations, and Peres is not the kind of man to harbor illusions. The Intifada started as grassroots violence and died out by itself. Neither Sharon nor Arafat contributed materially to its demise; the uprising followed the elusive logic of social ruptures, which start and end unpredictably.

In the years following the first Intifada, Fatah’s mainstream was largely removed from terrorism, which was mostly conducted by Hamas (another Israeli creature), the young militants of Tanzim, the independent terrorists of PFLP, and the Iranian proxy PRC.

Arafat sat in his bunker in old sportswear, degraded, ever foul-smelling, surrounded by a handful of loyalists who continually reassured him of his greatness. He did not steal billions of dollars of foreign aid, as many claim. A significant amount, yes, but nothing like billions. To maintain the image of a ruler, he gave handsome amounts to his acolytes and paid bribes (dubbed “salaries”) to some 90,000 “security personnel” whose only security role was to refrain from rioting against Arafat. He did not sign a peace agreement with Israel simply because he would not have been able to enforce it and was deeply afraid he would be assassinated for trying.

Anyone who saw the way Barak patted Arafat in Camp David understood that that was a provincial Arab with no real power or role in geopolitics.