Arafat Remembered: “It’s true but…”

On the third anniversary of Yasser Arafat’s death (was he the first victim of Israeli biological warfare?) I recalled my favourite story about him.

Shortly after the publication in 1984 of the first edition of my book Arafat, Terrorist or Peacemaker?, I was informed by one of his PLO leadership colleagues that something I had written had made him very, very angry. (Nobody liked being on the receiving end of Arafat’s terrible temper. It was the equivalent of a verbal nuclear strike, a weapon he unleashed to intimidate colleagues when he could not persuade them to see things his way by reasoned argument).

I asked the colleague to tell me what it was I had written that had made Arafat angry. He said, “I think you should hear it from the chairman himself.”

The next time I visited Arafat in TunisI was prepared for a full blast. But in one respect he was a bit like my father. The more seriously and really angry he actually was, the more quiet and calm he was. For about five minutes while I sat alone with Arafat, he said nothing. He didn’t even acknowledge my presence. He was head down signing papers. Then he looked up and wagged a finger at me. “You have made for me very big troubles,” he said in voice not much above a whisper. “Very big troubles.”

How had I done that? By quoting Arafat in my book as saying the following to me: “Being the chairman of the PLO is like being the only male customer in a brothel of 22 whores.”(The meaning being that the chairman of the PLO was constantly being screwed by each and all of the leaders of the 22 states of the Arab League).

Arafat actually made that comment to me when we were sitting alone together in the VIP departure lounge at an Arab airport.

After a respectful pause, I said to Arafat: “Abu Ammar, you didsay it and it istrue.”

He was animated now, eyes flashing.”Yes, yes, yes, I did say it. Yes, yes, yes, it is true. But you should not have quoted me as saying it. You should have said it was your understanding of my thinking, then I could have denied it. Now I can’t.”

Arafat’s real crime in the eyes of the regimes of the then and still existing Arab Order was that he caused the Palestinefile to be re-opened. Despite their rhetoric to the contrary, the regimes had wanted the file to remain shut after it had been closed by the first Zionist fait accompliin 1948/49. Why so? Because they knew that taking on the Zionist state of Israel meant taking on America. And that was a mission impossible, or so they believed.

Sadly nothing has changed. Today, generally speaking, the regimes are still more frightened of Zionism and America than they are of their own hurt, angry and humiliated people. One day, probably, the regimes will pay for their lack of principle and cowardice with their thrones and their presidential palaces.

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