It’s thirty years since, on the White House lawn, the historic American-brokered Palestinian-Israeli deal called the Oslo Accords was signed (September 13 1993. It came into force one month later.) We recall the angry, insightful last interview given by the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat as the deal was collapsing.6 September 2023
RAMALLAH, West Bank — When Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat gave his final interview to a Western newspaper, the first question — sent over in advance — was supposed to be: “Mr. Arafat, where were you born and where did you grow up?”
“No,” an aide told two reporters me and a fellow-reporter, “not allowed.”
Even birthplaces are political here.
So was the parking lot at Mr. Arafat’s battered compound in Ramallah — maintained to portray an image of brave survival against overwhelming odds.
The pockmarks and the rubble from Israeli attacks had been carefully preserved, down to the last wrecked car.
A bridge linking Mr. Arafat’s main offices and bedroom with much more spacious accommodation on the other side of a narrow lane was part of extensive rebuilding since clashes with Israeli troops in 2002.
But Mr. Arafat steadfastly refused to use any of the new rooms — preferring to sleep in a small, damaged bedroom.
During the exclusive interview in July 2004, it became evident that it was being granted with strings attached.
Nabil Abu Rdeineh, the media handler for the Palestinian leader, first ruled out the proposed question on Mr. Arafat’s birthplace.
Mr. Arafat for decades contended that he had been born in Jerusalem, but his birth certificate shows that he was born in Cairo — not de rigueur as credentials for a Palestinian revolutionary leader.
“Ask nothing that happened before Oslo,” said Mr. Abu Rdeineh, referring to the peace deal accepted by Mr. Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on the White House lawn in 1993.
Dinner with Mr. Arafat was not on the schedule, but he insisted that we join him at his table.
Over a meal with a small assortment of Cabinet ministers, advisers, a couple of middle-aged women and a couple of security men, Mr. Arafat was charm itself.
He would leap from his chair every now and then, remove a lump of chicken or some other delicacy from his own plate and dump a portion on one of the reporters’ plate.
No photographs were allowed in the dining room — apparently for security reasons. It also doubled as a conference chamber for the Palestinian Cabinet, which would meet with him weekly around the huge, shiny wooden table.
His aides had ensured that even as he ate, Mr. Arafat would remain surrounded by carefully arranged little plaques and carved statuettes — gifts and tributes that he had been given by his visitors.
These items seemed to bring him a form of comfort — as if to reassure him that he was still paid homage to and revered worldwide.
After dinner, the interview began — in an adjacent room in front of a carefully placed backdrop of a photograph showing the golden Dome of the Rock, an early Islamic building in Jerusalem. It reflected Mr. Arafat’s favourite slogan: “To Jerusalem we march, martyrs by the millions.”
His bottom lip quivered, but his hands remained mostly steady. It was to be a bizarre and bruising encounter, reflecting the leader’s cunning, but also his sudden and often irrational changes of mood and tone, his mouth swinging within seconds from smiles to snarles.
Paul Martin: “The intifada, which has killed thousands on both sides, has gone on for four years. What chances are there this will now end?”
Mr. Arafat: “[The Israelis] are declaring, this government, that Oslo had died — not me. [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon himself had mentioned this, insisting to say what had been signed between me and my partner Rabin — the Oslo agreement in the White House under the supervision of President Clinton and with the participation of the whole world — they are saying now there is no Oslo agreement.
“The road map which had been offered to us by the Quartet committee [comprising the United States, Russia, European Union and the United Nations] we had accepted it, openly, clearly, not only we Arab Palestinians, but it had been accepted by the Arab summit conference and also in the [U.N.] Security Council.
“The peace groups in Israel also were accepting it, but this government, who killed, who are representing the fanatic groups who killed my partner Rabin with who I had signed the peace of the brave, are putting me in this closed prison.”
• • •
Bitterness at the perceived lack of international support for the Palestinian cause became a recurring theme of the interview — as did his accusation that the Sharon government was linked to the “fanatic groups” that assassinated Mr. Rabin in 1995.
Mr. Arafat was determined to portray the Palestinians as innocent victims of U.S.-backed Israeli aggression.
Mr. Arafat: “The Americans went to Baghdad under the big umbrella of uranium. [Yet,] until now, after more than 11/2years, they did not find the uranium in Baghdad. Why? We had discovered from the beginning that these fanatic groups who are in power in Israel are using this depleted uranium.
“We asked the Quartet committee, observers and their technical missions — and here, you can have it. [See] what is written here, the depleted [uranium], for you, [here’s] the American report.”
Maria Cedrell: “Are you accusing the Israelis of using depleted uranium against Palestinians?“
Mr. Arafat: “How this can be done? Why? This is forbidden internationally, against our people. Do you know the cancer has been raised amongst our people, become similar to Nagasaki and Hiroshima? The infertility of our families has been increased.
“Who knows what more will happen against our people from this depleted uranium? We don’t know. This is what we have discovered and [yet why] this silence, not one voice?”
• • •
After the interview, I checked his assertion with doctors at Ramallah General Hospital.
There, beneath ubiquitous official portraits and posters of Mr. Arafat and local “martyrs,” doctors provided phone numbers of the two top cancer specialists in the West Bank.
One of them, who had trained in Ireland, said no increase in cancer rates had been detected in the past few years — an observation confirmed during a telephone conversation by a specialist in Bethlehem’s top hospital. The Palestinian Authority’s statistics and health departments said they had no data on the issue.
Mr. Arafat portrayed himself as having always been willing to implement the Oslo accords. Usually at the prompting, in Arabic, of Mr. Abu Rdeineh — the leader would insert the phase “peace of the brave” into his conversation, even when it was of marginal relevance.
Miss Cedrell: “What is your plan now?
Mr. Arafat: “What is the plan? We are insisting, to follow up, the implementation of what we had agreed upon: the peace of the brave. Since Oslo, it was [former Prime Minister and current Finance Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and Sharon. … Why did they not implement it?”
Miss Cedrell: “Why not?”
Mr. Arafat: “You have to ask [Mr. Sharon]. We had accepted all the steps.”
But when asked an apparently innocuous question abut efforts to sideline him, he became angry.
Miss Cedrell: “Why do you think the Americans and the Egyptians tried to eliminate you from negotiations and cut your role?”
Mr. Arafat: [Pointing his finger for emphasis] “No one can replace me; I have been elected by the Palestinian people. Are you against democracy?”
Miss Cedrell: “I’m only asking your opinion.”
Mr. Arafat: [Now visibly angry] “Why you are asking me? You are not accepting I am the only president, who has been elected under international supervision. And you are now asking me this question — you are representing these fanatic groups in Israel or who are supporting them from outside?”
Miss Cedrell: “Are you disappointed in the Americans?”
Mr. Arafat: “Not to forget that the Americans had offered to us with the Quartet committee the road map. And now we are waiting for the implementation of the road map.”
Miss Cedrell: “Do you believe they want to remove you from Ramallah to some other place?”
Mr. Arafat: “I have the right to ask my freedom, but more importantly, not only my freedom, but the freedom of my people, from the crimes of this military escalation against my people, against peace, not only here, the peace of Palestine, the peace for the whole area. Not to forget this, this is the holy land, the terra sancta.”
Mr. Martin: “You keep talking about peace and saying that if there is a full Palestinian state, there will be peace in the area. But thousands of people have died in this uprising that you launched. So do you really want peace, and if so, how are you going to show and prove this to the Israelis?”
Mr. Arafat: “Please ask Sharon about it, because they don’t want peace. They are insisting to carry on.”
NOTE: Arafat died later that year (1994).
HERE IS A REPORT PUBLISHED IN THE USA RE THE INTERVIEW:
|Washington Times, The (DC)Arafat says bullets raising cancer rate|
July 21, 2004
Section: PAGE ONE
Paul Martin and Maria Cedrell, THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Caption: ‘Like Hiroshima’: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Israeli troops were firing bullets of depleted uranium, which caused cancer rates to surge in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. He offered no proof. [Photo by AP] Yasser Arafat yesterday accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (right) of helping orchestrate the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin (left). [2 Photos by Agence France-Presse]Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat accused Israel of polluting the West Bank and Gaza Strip with depleted-uranium bullets, causing a sharp increase in cancer rates.
|“They have caused cancer that is like Hiroshima and Nagasaki,” Mr. Arafat said in an interview. “America could not find uranium in Iraq, but we have found it here in Palestine – and the Israelis are using it to kill our people.” Mr. Arafat, his eyes bulging with anger and his lips trembling, the effect of rumored Parkinson’s disease, encouraged reporters to visit Palestinian hospitals and see the cancer patients. Cancer specialists at two hospitals, one in Ramallah and the other in Bethlehem, said they had seen no increase in cancer rates during the current uprising, which began in September 2000. The Palestinian leader was referring to dense bullets of depleted uranium that are sometimes used by U.S. forces to pierce tank armor. The Palestinians have no tanks. Mr. Arafat also accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of being linked to the 1995 assassination of then-Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Mr. Sharon is “part of that group of fanatics who killed my partner, Yitzhak Rabin, with whom I signed the peace of the brave,” said the Palestinian leader, referring to the now-defunct 1993 Oslo peace accords. Israeli government spokesman Danny Seaman described Mr. Arafat’s charges as “the product of a sick mind and a fevered imagination.” Apart from what Mr. Arafat said during the interview at his Ramallah compound, his tone and demeanor raised questions about the degree of control that the Palestinian leader has over national events and over himself. The visit lasted several hours. Palestinian officials said two previous interviewers were ordered to leave after angering Mr. Arafat with their questions. A list of questions or topics was demanded before this interview, and many questions were vetoed by Mr. Arafat’s top adviser, Nabil Abu Rdeineh. Mr. Arafat declined to discuss the recent upheavals within the Palestinian Authority. To back the charges of cancer-causing uranium bullets, Mr. Arafat waved a report that he said he had received from the so-called Quartet behind the latest Middle East peace initiative – the United States, European Union, Russia and the United Nations. “This report, an American report, proves it,” he said, handing a copy to visiting reporters. The document turned out to have been written by an obscure peace group. It contained no evidence that Israel had used uranium bullets. It did conclude that Israel probably has such weapons in its armory because it has a close military relationship with the United States. Separately, no analysis of cancer rates was available at the Palestinian Authority’s official bureau of statistics or its department of health. Mr. Arafat’s remarks mixed aggression toward his interviewers with anger at his enemies. He became upset when asked why the Israelis had recently killed the two top leaders of the rival Palestinian group Hamas but had not eliminated him. “How dare you?” he yelled, his finger pointing menacingly and lips quivering more than usual. “Are you a Mossad agent? Do you work for the killers of Rabin? Of course they want to kill me, too. “Look at my bedroom that he bombed. Remember, one of [Mr. Sharon’s] ministers said a 2-ton bomb would finish me off … he tried to kill me 13 times in Beirut.” Israeli spokesmen have said that if their army or air force wanted to kill Mr Arafat, they could have easily done so numerous times. For more than two years, he has remained at his compound in Ramallah. Mr. Arafat insisted on conducting the interview in a small room in front of a photo of the Dome of the Rock, the ubiquitous symbol of Palestinian ambition for sovereignty over the holiest site in Jerusalem. Mr. Arafat said he was convinced Mr Sharon was not serious about his plan to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. “If he’d wanted to withdraw, he need not have gone to his own [Likud Party] first – when they voted against,” he said. “He could have gone to the Knesset and got a big majority with [the opposition Labor Party] supporting him. So I think it’s just a show, just a theater to fool the world.”|
* ‘Like Hiroshima’: Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat said Israeli troops were firing bullets of depleted uranium, which caused cancer rates to surge in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. He offered no proof.
*Yasser Arafat yesterday accused Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of helping orchestrate the 1995 assassination of Yitzhak Rabin.
*Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat accused Israel of polluting the West Bank and Gaza Strip with depleted-uranium bullets, causing a sharp increase in cancer rates.