On 4 March, Richard Symons was in a West End cinema doing a soundcheck for the premiere of his documentary about Yasser Arafat, the first in a series of 12 films, entitled The Price of Kings, dealing with the challenges and realities of political leadership.
Choosing a sequence at random, he and his colleagues happened upon footage of Yasser Arafat, bareheaded and vulnerable, contemplating the implications for peace in the Middle East of the 1994 massacre of Palestinians in Hebron by a Jewish settler named Baruch Goldstein.
“[Then] we spooled back and found Yitzhak Rabin on screen," Symons wrote on his blog later, "veins throbbing at his temples, thundering at the world's press in response to the massacre. 'The present government of Israel will not allow this atrocity to stop the negotiations!' . . . You couldn't help thinking [about] the stark contrast between those times and the current state of affairs."
The first two films in the series, the one on Arafat and a second about the current Israeli president, Shimon Peres, are in a way both elegies for the "Oslo" peace process, which was derailed by Goldstein's murderous spree and then ended definitively by the assassination of Rabin
in November 1995. That event, says a PLO official in the Arafat film, was also the "assassination of the peace process".
The death of Rabin is the turning point of the narrative in both films. There's something almost heroic about the story Symons tells of Arafat's career up to 1995. But by the time the film reaches the outbreak of the second intifada, the PLO leader appears an isolated, almost pathetic figure, unable to control the corruption that by then infected all levels of the Palestinian Authority. As for Peres, his election defeat to Benjamin Netanyahu in the 1996 prime ministerial election is made to seem all but inevitable after his high-minded refusal to exploit the revulsion Israelis felt at the murder of his predecesssor. Power, Symons is telling us, is hard-won, but easily lost.
“The Price of Kings:Yasser Arafat" premieres at Cineworld, Haymarket, London SW1 on 13 March