A Digest of debkafile Round-the-Clock Exclusives in Week Ending November 12, 2004:
Bush’s Re-elected, Iraq and Israel
3 November: George W. Bush just couldn’t seem to get a break overseas. Never have so many foreign voices been raised so systematically against an American president, from the insurgents in Iraq, down to the left-wing British newspaper, The Guardian.
Bush, described by prime minister Ariel Sharon as the best friend Israel ever had in the White House, had his share of Israeli opponents too. Israel’s left-wing peaceniks, thrown into opposition for being blindsided by the Palestinian war that began more than four years ago, embraced Kerry with almost the same starry-eyed affection they once showered on Yasser Arafat.
By contrast, America’s largely conservative voters lined up solidly behind Bush’s global war on Muslim fundamentalist terror and the war in Iraq.
The world will see a different George W. Bush in his second term. It will be his chance to finish the missions he began. The top item on the president’s agenda Thursday morning will be to don his commander-in-chief’s hat and order US marines to go ahead with their pivotal assault on the Sunni insurgent hotbed town of Fallujah. US forces have borrowed for their Fallujah campaign tactics used in Israeli military counter-terror operations in the Palestinian terrorist strongholds in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Bush’s Israeli critics were quick to trot out the conventional wisdom that a second-term US president will follow precedent in getting tough with the Sharon government and crack the whip for a quick deal with the Palestinians under the revived roadmap. They may be right. It is true that the Bush administration never bought into the Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon’s perception of his disengagement plan as a one-time pullout for the sake or preserving the large settlement blocs on the West Bank. In fact, the White House always regarded the projected Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and the northern West Bank as a first step in a more general withdrawal. A second-term US president, combined with the removal of Yasser Arafat as dominant Palestinian leader by ill health, presents Israel with the unique opportunity of a fresh start on a solution for the dragging conflict. The slate can be cleaned – both of the unwieldy disengagement plan which sorely divides Israel and is anathema to the Palestinians – and the road map which never progressed beyond its first clause which stipulates that terrorism must be abandoned before advancing towards negotiations and concessions.
Thus far, Sharon has clung tightly to his disengagement plan.
Funeral Arrangements Begin before Arafat’s Death Is Announced
5 November: Jihad Islami, Hamas, Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades and the other Palestinian organizations with a vested interest in continuing their campaign of terror against Israel planted a concocted rumor in the Palestinian street and mosques that Israel had slowly poisoned Arafat. This stratagem was intended to fan the flames of anti-Israeli violence and discredit moderate Palestinian leaders with thoughts of dialogue or peace – or even a ceasefire. It was meant to make the Palestinians angry enough to refuse any accommodation with the Jewish state and insist on stepping up its war. This would tilt the succession struggle against the moderates and for the champions of continuing confrontation.
The failure of the Percy hospital’s physicians to publicly diagnose the ailment that brought Arafat to their institution – contrary to custom for public figures – gave wings to all kinds of vicious rumors about his illness.
It has been suggested in some capitals, including Washington, that the funeral and the presence of international figures will provide an opportunity for discreet diplomacy. Americans officials may come to show their respect for the Palestinian people and advise them that if they can consign their dead leader’s campaign of terror to the past, they will be granted a new beginning on the basis of the revived Middle East roadmap to peace.
However, Arafat structured the Palestinian terrorist machine around an operational nucleus of personnel drawn from the Palestinian Authority’s security services. These officers wear two hats and draw two paychecks. It is a tightly woven fabric that has proven impossible to unravel. Qureia and Abbas may genuinely try to institute reforms by taking charge of the security services. But there is no longer any way to separate out the security officers from the terrorist networks. They will be thwarted by opponents commanding a well-oiled machine of terror and access to funding sources independent of the Palestinian Authority – Syria, Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah. None of them will hold back funds from radical Palestinian elements fighting to step into Arafat’s shoes.
Israel is braced for a highly volatile post-Arafat period marked by accelerated terrorist assaults by the Palestinian factions struggling to fill his place and grab his fortune. They will vie for control by outdoing one another in attacks on Israel. The Israeli high command has prepared contingency plans for this period under the codename “New Page.”
Paris Tells Palestinians to Remove Arafat
6 November: French president Jacques Chirac’s patience with the Palestinians’ desperate maneuvers to cover up Yasser Arafat’s death has run out. November 5, a week after Arafat was admitted to the Percy military hospital near Paris, the French president put in a call to the White House and informed President George W. Bush that it was all over.
French efforts to unload Arafat by mid-week are stymied by the lack of any accredited authority willing and able to organize the funeral or even determine the Palestinian leader’s final burial place.
In Ramallah, Prime minister Ahmed Qureia and his predecessor Mahmoud Abbas are losing ground in their attempts to assume the interim reins of government, challenged by more radical pretenders to fill Arafat’s shoes.
The Gaza-based Palestinian Authority secretary Tayeb Abu Rahim humiliated Qureia at Saturday’s session of the Palestinian national security council by declaring angrily that nothing in the Palestinian constitution provided for the prime minister to step in as acting PA Chairman in Arafat’s absence. Then, Palestinian Liberation Organization’s politburo chief, Farouk Kaddumi, who turned up in Paris Thursday, questioned Abbas’s constitutional credentials to stand in for Arafat as chairman of the PLO central committee. Kaddumi claimed that he was the rightful chairman.
Chirac’s Polarizing Intervention in Palestinian Crisis
November 8, 2004: French president Jacques Chirac on Monday, November 8, saw a way of using the arrival of present and former Palestinian prime ministers, Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) and Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to pick up points for France and score a few against the US interest. After a consultation with his Middle East advisers, he decided to back Suha Arafat all the way and reach out to the radical, rejectionist wing of the Palestinian camp – PLO politburo chief Farouk Kaddoumi, Arafat’s close confidant Hanni al Hassan, Force 17 commander and senior terrorist chief Col. Feisal Abu Srakh, as well as Mohammed Jihad, an important Jordanian Palestinian general.
Abu Ala and Abu Mazen had been deeply shamed by the hysterical pre-dawn outburst of Arafat’s wife Suha against them both over al Jazeera Arabic TV, when she accused them of an “intrigue to bury Abu Amar (Arafat) alive.”
Ordinary Palestinians were furious. One asked ironically what sort of uprising had she conducted in Paris, where she has lived apart from Arafat most of their married life. She was accused of manipulatively withholding information about Arafat’s medical condition, preventing the Percy military hospital from giving out real information on his mysterious ailment and providing fertile ground for wild speculation.
Swallowing their chagrin, Abu Ala and Abu Mazen flew to the French capital to sort out the imbroglio, remove Arafat’s body and arrange a funeral to salvage the last shreds of the Palestinian leader’s dignity. To accomplish this, Suha would have to be paid off.
She was ready for them with a demand for their signatures on documents drafted by her French lawyers guaranteeing her multimillion dollar inheritance and pension – as the price for switching off life support systems. And French backing had given her sole authority to admit or deny the new arrivals access to Arafat except on her terms.
10 November: Tuesday, November 11, Suha Arafat’s French lawyers and former Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), struck a deal. It fixed the Palestinian Authority’s financial obligations to Yasser Arafat’s widow and ended the morbid tug of war between his wife and Palestinian Authority leaders.
The settlement allowed a funeral to be arranged on “Orphan Friday” of Ramadan, November 12 (as debkafile reported earlier) – unless a new crisis pops up. Our sources have seen some of the principle terms of the Palestinian accord with Suha Arafat.
1. This clause has already taken place. Before the Palestinian delegation which visited the hospital left Paris, foreign minister Nabil Shaath again assured the media that Arafat is still alive and “his brain, heart and lungs are still functioning.” This was necessary to prove Suha Arafat had not lied when she appeared that morning live on Arabic TV Al Jazeera to accuse those same officials of conspiring to bury her husband alive.
2. The widow will attend the funeral. Abu Mazen insisted on her following the Palestinian leader’s bier for the sake of appearances.
3. Last July, Arafat sent his wife $11 million to cover her living expenses and those of their daughter for six months. The new accord guarantees her the same allowance from the Palestinian Authority as a regular annual remittance, i.e. $22 million per annum, for the rest of her life. Abu Mazen and Abu Ala signed on the dotted line, although they have no notion how the penniless Palestinian Authority faced with a people in dire poverty can possibly stump up this kind of money.
Suha Arafat owns a smart villa on Rue Fauborg St. Honore, while also maintaining a lavish private suite at the five-star Hotel Le Bristol, which after a multimillion dollar refurbishment claims to outclass the Paris Ritz, the Four Seasons and even George V. The upkeep of the Bristol suite she maintains for “business” was included in her widow’s “pension.”
After the Palestinian officials settled with Arafat’s wife, Shaath went before the media to lay the blame for his “digestive disorders” on – who else? Israel, whose army had besieged Arafat’s quarters and forced the 75-year old leader to subsist on too little oxygen and in poor sanitary conditions.
Some facts might shed some light on this point.
For three and a half years, Palestinians have been building, remodeling and refurbishing the”battered” seat of Palestinian government tirelessly and undisturbed. No one stopped Arafat from moving into any renovated part of his compound at any time, or order bathrooms made of Italian marble. He was not short of funds. No one would have prevented him taking a stroll in Ramallah, enjoying its parks or dining in its restaurants. Arafat chose to confine himself to two wretched rooms to show the world how badly Israel was treating him and win the world’s sympathy.
For the same reason, he ordered the Palestinians to leave the shell pocks in the walls of his quarters in disrepair. Arafat did emerge once for a “state” visit to the West Bank town of Jenin. His welcome there was far short of expectations and he never tried any such visits again.
Arafat’s Demise – an (Almost) Never-Ending Story
10 November: Wednesday night, November 10, Yasser Arafat’s grotesquely protracted demise had just about reached breaking point when two things happened.
The Fatah-Tanzim stirred up anti-Israeli riots in Jerusalem and West Bank under the slogan: “Arafat’s heritage is the gun” and “the Jews Poisoned Mohammed, they killed Arafat.”
Then followed an announcement by Palestinian foreign minister Nabil Shaath: Arafat’s brain is functioning only partially. All his organs but for his heart and lungs have failed.
These events capped a day which saw another twist in the drawn-out cliffhanger of Yasser Arafat’s demise which started 13 days ago. The senior Palestinian Muslim cleric Sheikh Taissir Tamimi who was dispatched to the Percy hospital in Paris to perform the last rites, took one look at Arafat in his hospital bed, and came out to tell the world media that he was alive. Shutting down life support system to which the Palestinian leader had been connected for 12 days is absolutely forbidden by Islam, he declared, and promised to stay by his side and pray for his recovery.
As he spoke, bulldozers in Ramallah began digging a grave; Palestinian leaders cobbled together a holding framework composed of a troika to bridge the transition from Arafat’s one-man authoritarian style of government to an uncertain future. An Israeli special cabinet session approved the Palestinian request to lay their leader to rest in Ramallah on Friday. They were told Gaza would have been preferable and they would be responsible for security at the funeral. Israeli forces would block access to the town from other parts of the West Bank. The cabinet also barred the passage of masses of Palestinians from the Gaza Strip to Ramallah across Israeli territory. Israeli security forces maintained the mass movement would pose an uncontrollable security threat; it would moreover provide cover for the restoration of terrorist networks in areas adjoining Israel, which Israeli military and security forces have been at pains to break up in recent years.
Israel forces are bracing for trouble from inflamed mobs before, during and after the funeral.
The Egyptians, too, were wary about permitting a mass-attendance ceremony to see Arafat off at Arab League headquarters in the center of Cairo. An Egyptian plane is standing by in Paris to collect the coffin but they may restrict the occasion to a modest sendoff at Cairo airport before the bier is flown out to Ramallah.
The uncertainties surrounding the life/death/funeral of Yasser Arafat also infused the leadership deliberations in Ramallah on Wednesday where a decision was taken to provisionally split Arafat’s powers three ways: Legislature Speaker Fathi Rouh was designated acting chairman of the Palestinian Authority, Abu Ala stayed on as prime minister and Abu Mazen, as senior executive officer of the PLO. They promise an election in 60 days. But their opponents and the radicalized Palestinian people are unlikely to grant them this grace period.