Mohammed Yasser Abdel Rahman Abdel Raouf Arafat al-Qudwa, was Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) from 1969 to 2004 and President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) from 1994 to 2004.
Yasser Arafat was a complex and often problematic personality.
I deeply understand how he symbolized the Palestinian struggle for freedom and independence and his importance to almost every Palestinian I know.
I had been invited to see him many times, I didn’t go. When I tried to schedule a meeting with him on at least two occasions, the people who were in charge of his schedule blocked me when they learned what I wanted to speak to him about. They told me I was welcome at anytime, but that I could not present to him my criticism of the mistakes I believed that the PLO was making.
The picture above was taken not long before he died (Arafat passed away on November 11, 2004). I tried to have a conversation with him about the work we were doing in IPCRI – we had 12 joint Israeli Palestinian professional teams working on final status issues and I did not want someone, falsely speaking on behalf of Arafat, to claim that Arafat was against what we were doing. I also tried to have a conversation with him about the problems in Palestinian text books and the need to engage in peace education. Arafat was already too sick and it was impossible to conduct a coherent conversation – he could not focus. He insisted that I stay for lunch and had me sit next to him. He kept feeding me from the food from his own plate.
That was Arafat.
Gershon is an advisor to Israeli, Palestinian and International Prime Ministers on the Middle East Peace Process and the founder and director of IPCRI, the Israeli-Palestinian Public Policy Institute. He was the initiator and negotiator of the secret back channel between Israel and Hamas for the release of 1,027 prisoners – mainly Palestinians and Arab-Israelis of which 280 were sentenced to life in prison for planning and perpetrating various attacks against Jewish targets that resulted in the killing of 569 Israelis in exchange for one Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit. Gershon is actively involved in research and advocacy concerning topics such as social policy, environmental security, political strategy, peace education, economics, culture and in the development of affordable solar projects with the goal of providing clean electricity for 50 million people by 2020.
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