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Reflections on President Arafat Under Occupation

Reflections on President Arafat and Palestine under Occupation

1. Not in his name: Palestinian Jew speaks out against `apartheid state' 2. The vitality of the source - eyewitness report from the funeral By Uri Avnery 3. A letter from Palestine to my fellow Americans Ryan Borgen writing from Ramallah, occupied West Bank 4. Safieh on President Arafat in GuardianFrom: Palestinian General Delegation


Dressed in a formal shirt and suspenders ‹ his front pocket brimming with scribbledcues ‹ Dr. Uri Davis looks very much an academic. He sports a silver goatee and thinning hair, speaking with sparse, sardonic jibes. The Jewish scholar stands poised before a roused group of undergraduates, behind a podium draped in a Palestinian banner. Organized by the National Council on Canada-Arab Relations and Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights, his keynote address at Toronto¹s York University is no sober oration, though. His is a heartfelt plea.

³The flag of the State of Israel does not represent for me any signifier of prideor contentment. The flag of my country, the flag of Palestine, is the flag I¹m happy to speak behind,² he says with scorn.

³I identify my country as the country of Palestine. I identify the state in which I¹m a citizen as the state of a Israel, a member state of the United Nations organization. It has a flag I personally would not wish to speak. The flag is raised upon detention and torture centers, police stations and prisons, where political detainees are incinerated.²

Davis is a Jewish citizen of Israel, but staunchly identifies himself as a ³Palestinian Jew.² Born in an undivided Jerusalem in 1943 ‹ raised by his British and Czechoslovakian parents ‹ he is an unlikely booster of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO). For 30 years, the anthropologist and philosopher excavated Israel¹s democracy, trying to expose what he calls the ³pervasive system of legal and social discrimination² against the Palestinian people. Davis is the founding member and chairperson of the Movement against Israeli Apartheid in Palestine (MAIAP) and an observer-member with the Palestinian National Council. He is involved with the advocacy groups, MIFTAH (the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy) and Al-Beit (the Association for the Defense of Human Rights in Israel). An expert on Middle Eastern affairs and Islamic history, he continues as a fellow at the University of Durham and the University of Exeter in the U.K.

The human rights defender has written and edited 15 books and numerous articles on politics, legal systems and human rights in Israel and Palestine. In his first book, Israel An Apartheid State, originally published in 1987, he claimed Israeli legislation guarantees the rights of only a ³subset of its citizenry.² He followed its success with his autobiography, Crossing the Border, and his most recent release, Apartheid Israel: Possibilities for the Struggle Within.

Davis resides in the Arab city of Sakhnin in northern Israel, although as a Jew, he may live anywhere in the state ‹ a right denied to his Arab neighbours. Formerly a resident of South-Western UK near Plymouth, he arrived in Sakhnin as director of external relations with the Arab Institute for Vocational Completion. But after his service there, he saw no reason to change his address.

In his article, Just an Ordinary Sakhnin Day, published in 2001, he writes: ³After I get up in my flat, brush my teeth, shave, comb my balding scalp, dress and go out to the veranda to greet my neighbours, I see my city of Sakhnin surrounded by a circle of rather lovely leafy rural suburban communal residential localities ‹ mostly perched on the mountain tops. This is what I see from my veranda when I get up in the morning.²

His adopted home is not a collegiate town, nor a trendy tourist locale. It¹s sort of an industrial park with no industrial plants of which to speak. However, as the only Jew, he does not face life imprisonment for membership in an illegal organization. He does not have tanks outside his window threatening his children. He says he has yet to be denied access to hospital treatment, or delayed ³indefinitely² at a military checkpoint ‹the reported indignities endured by Palestinians. Here, Davis¹ choice of residence reflects his commitment to a future in which all Jews and Palestinians enjoy equal rights.

Standing up as a Jew:

His consciousness comes from the Holocaust. His Jewish mother's family was killed in World War II following the Nazi-invasion of Czechoslovakia. "Her values underpinned my moral development and are universally relevant for all concerned including myself," he remarked in an article in the Irish Times.

In it, he also accused Israel of exploiting the extermination of Jews in Europe, describing it as "a direct assault² on his ancestors. He says: " The publishing of any criticism of Israel to be anti- Semitic has been an instrument of intimidating critical debate on Israel for decades. It¹s therefore essential to base or anchor our narrative in fundamental separation between Zionism and Judaism. It¹s the most difficult obstacle that faces us.²

Political Zionism, he says, is as a ³wholly, negative proposition.²

³Zionist is not my identity. I operate on the basis of a clear distinction between Zionism and Judaism. I have nothing against the Jewish collective, tribal identity or theological identity. But Zionism is separate. It¹s a political program and has nothing to do with professional identity.

³I don¹t have a problem with Jewish identity; I have problem with the claim that it is justified, that in the name of the national liberation of the Jewish people, to perpetuate crimes against humanity and war crimes,² he says solemnly.

Apartheid State:

According to Davis, more than 950,000 indigenous Palestinians owned 94 percent of the region prior to 1948. Following the establishment of the State of Israel, 530 of their villages and localities were decimated, he says. More than 800, 000 Palestinians fled or were expelled from the territory ‹ the Diaspora refugees. Today, the one million Palestinians living within ŒGreen Line¹ borders represent 20 per of Israel's citizens.

Some 250, 000 are still internally displaced, denied the right of return to their homes.

Last month was the fourth anniversary of the second intifada, the uprising against Israeli forces that has cost an estimated 3,000 Palestinian and nearly 1,000 Israeli lives. The carnage continues. A recent rocket attack killing two Israeli children in a border town, prompted Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to expand his army's offensive in the territory. More Israeli raids and air strikes are expected before a unilateral withdrawal of its troops and settlers from the occupied Gaza Strip. Sharon told the Yediot Ahronot Daily, an Israeli newspaper, that Israel would "continue its war on terrorism, and will remain in the West Bank after disengagement from Gaza.

"It is very possible that, after the evacuation, there will be a long period when nothing else happens," Sharon said

The internationally backed ŒRoad Map¹ to peace, which would see a Palestinian state by 2005, has been abandoned, according Israel¹s critics. The worsening situation in the Middle East was addressed during the UN¹s 59th Annual General Assembly in September. Taking center stage was Israel¹s so-called Œsecurity barrier¹ ‹ the would- be 687 kilometer-structure characterized by razor wire, military patrol roads, sand paths and surveillance cameras.

Although Israel claims the wall¹s construction is an anti-terrorism measure, critics like Davis call it the de facto annexation of Palestinian lands ‹ both present and future. Its route snakes across the West Bank, enclosing the illegal settlements and isolating East Jerusalem.

If Palestinians wish to travel to school, work or religious sites, they will need the Israeli military¹s permission. Plans for the barrier are subject to change. However, the state¹s restriction on movement, coupled with its seizure of natural resources, have already battered the Palestinian economy, according to the press.

³This political Zionist state is essential an apartheid state with some democratic declarations. Israel is an apartheid state in the same sense that South Africa was one for many decades. It regulates racial choices and structures through acts of parliament and law enforcement,² Davis alleges.

³You need to have a democratic constitution in order to be able to have protection. In the apartheid states, such constitutions do not exist ‹ not in former Apartheid South Africa and not in present-day Israel.²

The acclaimed scholar admits Palestinians are represented in Parliament. They have equal access to courts of law. Nonetheless, 20 per cent of these citizens remain ghettoized in 2.5 per cent of the state. Davis has repeatedly seen Arab cemeteries trespassed ‹ their sanctity violated along with the razing of urban and rural homes. Land and sub-soil are vital in Israel. About 93 per cent of the territory is reserved for settlement, cultivation and development.

³(Apartheid) should be rejected not for double standards and inconsistencies, but for the injury it perpetrates against the indigenous peoples of Palestine.²

International laws broken:

According to Davis, this ³classic apartheid construction² contravenes the UN General Assembly resolution 181, which recommends the partitioning of Palestine into Jewish and Arab. Israeli¹s claim to Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel is simply ³null and void, illegal and preposterous.²

The resolution, he asserts, does not license any party, including Israel army, to ³ethnically cleanse the territories allocated by the UN General Assembly for the Jewish state.²

Davis is not alone; thousands of Israeli Jews furtively subscribe to his views, he says. In the future, however, he predicts it will become progressively more difficult to label anti-Zionism activists as anti-Jewish. In his article, The Movement against Israeli Apartheid in Palestine, Davis writes that political awareness spread through the country¹s academic circles following the Oslo Accord collapse. In 2000, he was a part of a tenuous coalition of activists in Jerusalem and Haifa launching a ³No Apartheid.² campaign. However, their work was curtailed during the intifada.

A Civil Society is a state in which Davis would be happy to live. Nonetheless, Davis is unsure of a non-violent Palestinian movement in the face of Israel¹s military superiority. He¹s been radicalized by his experience as a Palestinian Jew. No longer an ideological pacifist or anti-militarist, he offers only a single vision of justice ‹ the removal of institutions of apartheid, colonization, dispossession and occupation of Palestinian Arabs. He wants a more ³just social and political order, one based on equality of individual and collective, economic, social, cultural, civil, political and national rights for all.²

His duty, he says, is the same of all persons¹ worldwide ‹ to mobilize against war crimes perpetrated by governments in citizen¹s own names.

³Not in my name,² Davis cries out ‹ a closed hand gesticulating his affront. ³Not in my name as an individual and citizen.² He raises his voice as loud as he is able to shout. ³Not in my name as a Jew.²


2. The vitality of the source - eyewitness report from the funeral By Uri Avnery

Going to Ramallah through the Bitunya Checkpoint gives the clear feeling of entering a prison. We had to go by foot through a complicated system of high walls, barriers and security checks. At least this day we were not refused entry altogether, as we had become used to in the past years.

The soldiers looked at us with a kind of grudging respect as we lined up to sign the legal waiver. ("Knowing the dangers I declare that from my own free will I take all risks upon myself, and give up any claims whatsoever towards the state of Israel, the Ministry of Defence and their employees and soldiers in connection with any bodily damage or death, caused by my presence in the closed area.") Activist Edith Ohri took the soldiers by surprise by adding "except if I am shot at by the Israeli army" in a handwritten reservation.

We were through but without means of transport - the Gush Shalom bus from Tel-Aviv and the bus with Jerusalem activists had to be left behind at the military parking lot. But a phonecall to our Palestinian contacts soon brought a convoy of vans, bearing posters of Arafat and the inscription "official delegation" taking us and a group of Arab dignitaries from the Galilee to Ramallah's city center. Nearly every passing car sported an Arafat poster, and the small children at the street corners were selling them: Arafat smiling, Arafat saluting, Arafat and the Jerusalem mosques, Arafat with president Chirac and the crossed flags of Palestine and France...

On the radio, we heard reports from Cairo, where diplomats and world leaders were paying hommage to Arafat in a rather sterile ceremony. At the gates of the Muqata - a place well-known to us from our visits to the beleaguered Arafat - there had already gathered a considerable crowd, though it was still hours before the helicopter could be expected. Our identity as Israelis was manifest from the round two-flag stickers we all wore, and which were very much sought after by the Palestinian youths; we were prepared for that and distributed quite a lot.

We were treated as VIPs, and the Palestinian police made valiant efforts to let us in, through the narrowly opened gate, while keeping the rest of the crowd out. The youths around us would have none of that, and that the fact that so many of them wore our stickers made it difficult for the police to distinguish. The crowding became unbearable; some of us had gotten in, others decided to give up the privilege and stay outside. The youngsters however were relentless. Some started climbing over the gate itself, others made risky acrobatic feats of clambering via the half-ruined buildings (reminders of Israeli bulldozers). It became a wild melee between police on the one side and the ever increasing number of Palestinian youngsters trying to get in. Outnumbered and not using other means than their bare hands the police were eventually unable to prevent the gate from being forced open.

"With our blood and souls we'll redeem you Abu Ammar!" chanted the crowd pouring in. Palestinian national flags were waved in enormous profusion, among them a French and a Canadian flag of international volunteers and the banner of an Italian trade-union. Women in traditional clothes, who were there too, were seen crying. Forward we marched through past the multi-storey Arafat banners covering all buildings. The grave had been dug at the far end of an open space within the compound - all buildings which had been there having been razed to the ground by the IDF in 2002.

Now this space, the size of several stadiums, was filled to the absolute limit. People were clinging to the tops of trees, and every building all around was covered with swarms of onlookers. Suddenly, fingers were pointing into the blue sky, where some had already discerned approaching black dots: "He is coming! He is coming!" It was a surrealistic moment, the helicopters bringing Arafat's coffin down from heaven. "Yasser, Yasser", came the cry from tens of thousands of throats. A lot of shooting in the air, and the smell of cordite. Though not fond of this ritual, we realized its meaning after two years in which the Israeli army adopted the habit of shooting to death any Palestinian seen with a gun.

The people who saw it on live broadcast saw it better than we: the crowds surging to the opening helicopter doors, straining to touch the coffin. But the emotional spontaneity did not become chaos, and some time later a car with the coffin and green-uniform exultant police sitting on top passed near where we stood.

Indeed, some of the planned ceremony did not take place, but we have witnessed something much more meaningful: the vitality of the source upon which Arafat's leadership drew, the love of an oppressed people for the symbol of their struggle to be free. Without grassroots struggle there would never have been the Palestinian Authority, and the people now in charge know that for a new mandate, that is where they have to turn.

Adam Keller & Beate Zilversmidt

photos ???é?/ Hebrew ________________________________________________

Missing Arafat, Avnery interviewed by Ari Shavit

Uri Avnery is unshaken in his belief that Yasser Arafat was a giant, and a partner for Israel - its only opportunity, in fact, which Israel missed. The angry young men in Jenin don't care about Abu Ala or Abu Mazen. In effect, Sharon and Bush have left the field to bin Laden. [Opening caption by Ha'aretz].

Read the full text in Hebrew


3. A letter from Palestine to my fellow Americans Ryan Borgen writing from Ramallah, occupied West Bank, Live From Palestine, 10 November 2004

The view from a taxi in the Ramallah district Catching a taxi to my apartment near Arafat's compound in Ramallah the other night,the Palestinian driver's immediate question concerned my nationality. "Germany?"he asked. No. "France?" No. "Switzerland?" No. "Italy?"No ...

Before he covered the rest of Europe, I somewhat sheepishly admitted, "America."

He cut to the chase: "Do you support Bush?"

With an almost desperate note of pain in his voice, different from that of the jaded drivers I usually have, he asked me about occupied Palestine, about occupied Iraq."Why does your country do this to us?" he asked me. "Are we bad?" "Am I no good?"

If you're unsure about what exactly it is that we do to them, you might consider looking into why most of the world views our proclamations on democracy, freedom and human rights to be hypocritical at best, and self-serving at worst.

How do I respond, when the driver asks why Bush is so close to Sharon? (as in former Republican National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft's recent comment that Sharon has Bush "wrapped around his little finger"). [1] Merely answering that I don't support the President does not strike me as good enough.

How do I explain why Bush's policy toward the Palestinians is so rotten? If I answer, do I then have to explain why Kerry's policy would have been equally rotten (if not worse), and why Clinton's was rotten? In fact, would I have to explain why the picture has been rather bleak through a long line of US administrations all the way back to Truman's recognition of the Israeli state -- "the most difficult decision [he] ever faced as president" -- with little regard for the indigenous Palestinian population that had been living there for generations? [2]

Can I simply answer that most Americans don't really know what's going on here, but that if they did things would change? Somehow that doesn't seem sufficient either as I sit next to this man, who's just poured out enough emotion in our five minute ride to leave me afterward with a heavy heart.

I wonder from where his desperateness came.

Was this man detained by the Israeli army or thrown in prison at some point in his life? (Quite possibly, since roughly 40 percent of the total male Palestinian population in the Occupied Palestinian Territories -- more than 650,00 -- have spent time in Israeli jails since 1967. In the last four years, 40,000 Palestinians have been imprisoned. There are currently 8,000 Palestinian prisoners and almost 1,250 "administrative detainees" -- meaning prisoners not even charged with a crime). [3]

Was he tortured? (Until 1999, Israel's law sanctioned torture -- the only "democratic" country in the world to do so. Despite the much- publicized Israeli Supreme Court ruling -- that did not ban torture absolutely, as required by international law -- several human rights organizations reported in 2001 that Israel had "resumed systematic torture of Palestinian detainees.") [4]

Was he made homeless after an Israeli soldier drove an (American) armored Caterpillar D9 bulldozer through his family's house? (As were 16,000 Palestinians in the last four years in the occupied Gaza Strip city of Rafah alone, comprising 10 percent of the city's population, when 1600-1700 homes were destroyed). [5]

Was his mother denied access to Israel or Jordan for necessary medical care? (As were countless Palestinians in the past four years who don't have the "profile" of Yasser Arafat -- including clients of the legal aid center where I volunteer -- in violation of International Human Rights Law.) [6]

Was his father beaten with rifle butts by Israeli settlers on his own land while harvesting the olive trees belonging to his family for generations? (As have been Palestinian farmers for years, and recently even some international peace activists.) [7]

Was his brother deemed "collateral damage" after an Israeli missile struck a crowded market? (82 percent of the 3,334 Palestinians killed in the first four years of the Intifada were civilians. 621 of these were children below the age of 17, of whom 411 were shot with live ammunition and 200 were shot in the head, face or neck. As a member of the Israeli Parliament said on the floor of the Knesset recently: "It is no longer possible to claim that all these children were killed by mistake.") [8]

Was his daughter killed on her way to school? (As were brothers Jamil and Ahmed Abu Aziz, 13 and 6 years old, "riding their bicycles in full daylight, on their way to buy sweets, when they sustained a direct hit from a shell fired by an Israeli tank crew;" as was 13-year-old Iman al-Hasan, shot 20 times at close range by the commander of an Israeli occupation forces unit in Gaza last month; as was 6-year-old Mohamed Aaraj, shot at close range by an Israeli soldier while eating a sandwich; as was 12-year-old Kristen Saadaas, riding in her family's car when it was "sprayed" with bullets by Israeli soldiers; among many others). [9] ********************* A taxi passes by Yasser Arafat's compound, refered to in Palestine as the Muqata'a Ryan Borgen Was it the feeling of powerlessness and the sense that national aspirations may be slowly slipping away? (see the Negotiations Affairs Department's map, "Destroying the Two-State Solution," for graphical depiction of the shrinking Palestinian land due to de facto Israeli annexation over the last 57 years -- now 12 percent of Historic Palestine.) [10]

Or was it rather, and more likely, the accumulation of a lifetime of small indignities, daily humiliations and the experience of little else beyond military occupation, domination and suffocation? (60 percent of Palestinians in the West Bank live below the poverty line; 40 percent are unemployed and have given up looking for jobs -- compared to 10 percent before the Al-Aqsa Intifada.) [11]

What psychological toll is needed to know you've been betrayed by the world's "leading light," democracy's "beacon," leader of the "civilized" world, not to mention your own leaders, from whom you expected so much? Does it soften the blow to know your nation's leaders, despite their corruption and ineptitude, were facing circumstances under which other current world leaders would have fared little better?

I suspect this driver knew I could not answer his questions. Still, he was careful to point out that he distinguished between the American sitting next to him and the brutal foreign policy that followed that American to all ends of the earth. This distinction, remarkably, is made by everyone I meet in Palestine.

So how could I respond? "Sorry about your 165 brothers and sisters killed last month by Israeli occupation forces, but you'll be happy to know I'm a human rights activist ... ?!?" [12]

Of course it is not to him that I, or we, as citizens and owners of our foreign policy, must respond. This man's questions were rhetorical because he already knows the answers.

But we must respond to those who would seek to support and maintain our country's bankrupt policy that turns its back on justice, human rights, and international law, whether out of ignorance, self- aggrandizement, fanaticism, or callous indifference.

Our failure to do so will make us complicit in these crimes, and reap tragic consequences for all involved.

Ryan Borgen is an American law student currently volunteering at the Jerusalem Legal Aid and Human Rights Center in Ramallah.

Endnotes: [1] "Scowcroft lambasts Bush's unilateralism," Daniel Dombey, The Financial Times, 14 October 2004; "Bush and Kerry dance to the tune of Ariel Sharon," Simon Tisdall, The Guardian, 20 October 2004. [2] "The US & Israel," Peter Grier, The Christian Science Monitor, 26 October 2001. [3] Palestinian prisoners factsheet, from information provided by Addameer Prisoners' Support and Human Rights Organization, and the NGO Anssar Al Assra. [4] "Israeli Occupation Policies," Palestinian Academic Society for the Study of International Affairs (PASSIA), 2004. [5] "Razing Rafah: Mass Home Demolitions in the Gaza Strip," Human Rights Watch, 18 October 2004. The figure of 16,000 represents those whose homes were destroyed by Israeli tanks and bulldozers. [6] "Medicine Under Siege: Israeli Attacks Upon the Palestinian Medical Establishment During the Second Intifada," Al-Haq, 2004 (available as a PDF file;"'Jewish Settlers' Attack International Workers," BBC News, 29 September 2004; "Of settler crimes and media silence," Aljazeera, 13 October 2004; settler violence against Palestinians is also addressed in the report by the Israeli human rights organization B'Tselem, titled "Forseen But Not Prevented: The Israeli Law Enforcement Authorities Handling of Settler Attacks on Olive Harvesters" (pdf), November 2002. [8] "Four Years of Intifada: Statistical Overview," Press Release by the Health, Development, Information and Policy Institute (HDIP), 29 September 2004; "Killing Children is No Longer A Big Deal," Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz, 17 October 2004. [9] "Killing Children is No Longer A Big Deal," Gideon Levy, Ha'aretz, 17 October 2004; "Israeli commander under investigation for slaying of child," The Daily Star, 14 October 2004; "A Schoolchild Seriously Wounded by Israeli Troops in Khan Yunis While Sitting at Her Desk," Palestinian Center for Human Rights; "IDF kills girl, 13, on her way to school," Amos Harel and Arnon Regular, Ha'aretz, 8 October 2004. [10] [11] "Occupied Palestinian Territories 2004," United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). [12] "165 Palestinians, including 50 civilians, killed in October," Arnon Regular, Ha'aretz, 1 November 2004.


4. Safieh on President Arafat in Guardian From: Palestinian General Delegation

Our own Palestinian De Gaulle There is now a chance for peace - but not because of Arafat's death

Afif Safieh Friday November 12, 2004 The Guardian

Throughout his political career, Yasser Arafat was the object of relentless campaigns of character assassination - not because of what he was, but because of what he represented: the Palestinian people, whose mere existence was a monumental nuisance for those who coveted Palestine. For me, Yasser Arafat was the Palestinian De Gaulle, the architect of the resurrection of our national movement in the mid-1960s, and its locomotive for almost 40 years.

He had to struggle against foes and friends to maintain the rank and status of Palestine and the Palestinians, undiminished in spite of Israeli military occupation and our dispersion. I first met Yasser Arafat at a student conference in Amman in 1970, when I was 20 and president of the Palestinian students in Belgium. I translated for him during several of his encounters. His message was: we the Palestinians are the victims of the victims of European history. We have become the Jews of the Jews. But we do not want to make them the Palestinians of the Palestinians. We are trying to break the dialectic of oppression, where the previously oppressed becomes the tormentor; hence our proposal of a democratic unitary state in Palestine that is bi-cultural, multi-confessional and multi- ethnic.

Yasser Arafat was the first to draw the strategic lessons of the October war in 1973. From then on, he believed there could be no military solution to the conflict, but only a necessary, negotiated solution: the two-state solution. After 1973, he became the leader of the pragmatic school of thought in the annual Arab summits. Throughout those years, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Palestinian people were the rejected party and Israel the rejectionist party.

During the PLO's years in Beirut, I served as a staff member in Arafat's office, in charge of UN institutions and European affairs. After the European Venice declaration of 1980, which for the first time endorsed Palestinian self-determination and the role of the PLO in any quest for peace, I attended with him meetings with successive presidents of the European council of ministers. That was the beginning of a European initiative from which he had great expectations.

Beside him, I witnessed the Israeli-Palestinian mini-war in Lebanon in August 1981, and the negotiations for a ceasefire with UN commander General Callaghan and American presidential envoy Philip Habib. Arafat respected that ceasefire scrupulously for 11 months, when General Sharon, itching for a war, violated it in June 1982 by invading Lebanon - a war that even Israeli public opinion considered not a war of necessity, but of choice. Many observers sympathetic to Israel considered that since then Israel lost its "purity of arms".

In 1980, I was asked to interview Yasser Arafat for the Catholic weekly Témoignage Chrétien. I wanted to finish with a human touch, so I asked him at the end: "Abu Ammar, which was your saddest day?"

He looked surprised, and he was known to be reluctant to answer personal questions. Then, after some meditation, he answered, "I have had many a sad day in my life." So I asked him, "and which was your happiest day?" to which he answered, "My happiest day? I haven't lived it yet."

My final meeting with Yasser Arafat was on October 20, when my wife and I were among his last visitors. He had been already sick for more than a week, but worried that we might catch his flu. Yet for 25 minutes he questioned me with great precision about domestic British politics, Prime Minister Blair and what I thought were the possibilities of a British initiative after the US elections. He instructed me to liaise closely with the government because he was extremely favourable to any serious credible attempt to revitalise the peace process.

There is now a window of opportunity to reactivate the process - and not because Yasser Arafat is now out of the picture. It is for objective reasons which are now converging and which would have had his blessing.

First, now that President Bush has secured his place in the White House for a second mandate, he might also want to secure his place in history. Second, there is European and international exasperation with the self-inflicted impotence of the American administration for the last four years, which has resulted in the irresponsible deterioration in Israel-Palestine. And finally, there is a growing awareness in Washington that what is poisoning international relations and creating a rift with the Arab and Muslim worlds is the perceived American complicity with Israeli territorial appetites and the unresolved Palestinian tragedy.

Arafat, an obstacle to peace? I believe that we need an Israeli "obstacle" of a similar kind in order to make further progress in our elusive quest.

Afif Safieh is the Palestinian General Delegate to the UK and the Holy See

Afif Safieh Palestinian General Delegate to the United Kingdom and to the Holy See

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