Mohammed Yasser Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa and Gershon Baskin

Arafat is badly missed

Gershon Baskin shares his memories of the lunch he had with Yasser Arafat two and a half months before he died insights as to the reasons behind Arafat’s death and feels that the current situation is not sustainable.
Click here to listen to Gershon Baskin: Arafat is badly missed

There’s been an investigation going on for quite some time into the causes of President Arafat’s death. There are people in the Palestinian authority, in the PLO, especially his nephew Dr Nasser Al Kidwa who used to be the PLO Ambassador to the UN who believes very firmly that Yasser Arafat was poisoned, he was murdered. Dr. Al Kidwa believes it was done by Israel. There is no evidence yet been produced in the Aljazeera report of who is responsible for the poisoning of Yasser Arafat if in fact he was poisoned. There were traces of a radioactive substance in clothing that his wife Suha Arafat brought to the people to conduct the investigation on the basis of the remnants of the radioactive substance and they concluded that he was poisoned. This is inconclusive, in order to have the final conclusion they would have to exhume his body and conduct a test on his remains after years of being buried to determine if in fact this was the cause of death.

But what could be the implications of that whole story?

Well, if they had absolute proof that he was in fact poisoned and if they knew who did it, it could have repercussions of great consequence. If for instance he was killed by someone within the PLO organization, another senior leader within the PLO, that could have repercussions on power struggles within Palestine. If it was proven that he was killed by Israel this would have international repercussions on the Government of Israel and Israel’s position in the international community. And of course the Palestinians demand for ending the Israeli occupation and relieving it of Israeli control. So, I’m not sure if this can actually be proven. As I said the report is inconclusive because without testing the remains of the Arafat’s body you can’t really know from what is detected on clothing that has been on the bad for eight years with regards to the radioactive substance and to conclude that it was done by Israel. It is also a long, long accusation to make without hard proof.

Have you met him?

Yes. I have seen him last time about two and a half months before he died. He at that point in my mind was not clearly coherent, he bubbled about different subjects, he couldn’t focus on the discussion that we were having, we had a lunch together afterwards and I found it very difficult to hold the conversation with him.

Was he still an icon?

He is definitely an icon, the father of the Palestinian national movement, he is the symbol of the Palestinian unity, of Palestinian power, he is definitely an icon of the Palestinian people. And with all his faulting and many people were critical of his leadership he is a symbol definitely for the Palestinian people.

How actual his ideas are now?

I hear from the Palestinians all the time that if Arafat have not died, if he was still around the situation would be very different. This is not a kind of wishful thinking, I think it is very common amongst people who look back at a leader that they admired, a leader who they thought was great and who is badly missed. People believe that the split between Hamas and Fatah would not have happened if Arafat were alive, Arafat would have maintained control, Arafat is a person who could have delivered on a peace agreement with Israel. There are lots of political mythology that is developed around the Arafat personality. So, I know it is very difficult to do this kind of conversation of what if. He is the symbol, he is the man who brought Palestine to the attention of the world, he is also the man who brought the Palestinians to the peace table. Unfortunately he is also the leader who brought them into the second intifada, and he was largely responsible for all the deaths and destruction that took place in that second intifada.

Do you see a figure of his scale in the current political landscape in the region?

Unfortunately no. I think that his successor, President Abbas, is a great man. He lacks charisma and he lacks the connection to the common Palestinian in the street. Arafat was a man of the street, Arafat was viewed all over as someone who was connected to the reality of Palestine. And President Abbas is considered very aloof, very disconnected sitting in the northeast and traveling around the world. So, I think that he is a great leader in terms of what he wants for his people, he is unable to deliver and I don’t see anyone else at this point of time on the Palestinian political horizon who has that kind of stature that almost all the Palestinians could stand up and be a new leader.

Even among the Hamas leadership?

Even among the Hamas leadership because if you are a secular Palestinian or a non religious Palestinian, you don’t believe in the political Islam, no one amongst the Hamas leadership stands up to bear a demand for a leader on the ground scale, on the international presence. Even someone like Khaled Mashaal and Ismail Haniya are the two most prominent Hamas leaders that are first and foremost thought of as voices of political Islam and the majority of the Palestinians are Muslim and who are considering themselves religious do not want the political movement to be a religious Islamic movement.

But this kind of stagnation cannot last for long and I’ve heard several expert opinions saying that perhaps Palestine is going to see new and – shall we say – strong developments in Palestine, I don’t know whether it is going to be violent but definitely there would be some fundamental change in the situation in Palestine.

I agree that the current situation is not sustainable. At this moment in time I don’t see where it is going and I don’t see where the answers are. Certainly not from the point of view of the Government of Israel, there is no initiative in Israel, there is no translation of the Prime Minister’s speech from three years ago about advancing a two states solution into any kind of reality. I think there are countless opportunities to do that and the Government of Israel doesn’t seem motivated in any way to go beyond the current situation we are in. While we say that the current situation is not sustainable, for the moment it is and it is sustainable because there is no violence, there is relative economic calm, the Palestinian authority is not facing the financial crisis that could trickle down to have an impact on the wider economy but the level of suffering at this moment of Israelis and Palestinians is lower that it’s been any time in the past years. And that does not signal a recipe for change.

Ekaterina Kudashkina

Ekaterina Kudashkina

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