As Yasser Arafat lay insensible in the Percy military hospital’s intensive care unit on the night of Thursday, November 4, the question preying most insistently on minds in Paris, Ramallah, Washington, Amman and Jerusalem was:
Did the Palestinian leader leave a will? And if he did, where is it?
According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources, most intelligence experts postulate that he left not one but two or three wills and deposited them in different hands. Until they surface, no one can tell if they are identical or diverse. And it is anyone’s guess as to when the holder or holders of Arafat’s last will and testament will produce it – after the announcement of his death or some time later.
These questions are of prime importance – most immediately for Israel and Jordan, as neighbors of the Palestinian Authority, but they also bear heavily on the next turn of events in the Middle East and the global war on terror.
Although Saddam Hussein is safely behind bars in an American jail in Baghdad and Osama bin Laden‘s videotape missed its mark with the American voter, the last wish of the Palestinian leader enshrined in such a document would oblige the Palestinian people to persist in its “armed resistance” – namely war of terror.
This command could throw a spanner in many works:
George W. Bush‘s second-term plan to proceed with the Iraq war until its goals are attained, together with progress towards creating a free and democratic Palestinian state.
It will set back British premier Tony Blair‘s efforts to persuade Bush to turn the Israel-Palestinian conflict back to the road map. It would also confound Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon‘s plan to disengage unilaterally from the Palestinian Gaza Strip and northern West Bank.
Finally, such a will would extinguish any hope the Palestinian people might have entertained of finally being ruled by a moderate leadership capable of negotiating a better future.
Arafat was already clinically dead by the time French president Jacques Chirac visited him at the Percy military hospital Thursday, November 4. But Chirac could not afford to let this guest spend six days in Paris and die without the French president ever having paid his respects. The lively account of their conversation and handshake issued later could hardly have taken place with a comatose patient on an artificial respirator.
Farcical French verbal contortions
The sudden sharp deterioration started Wednesday night, November 3 at 15:12 a.m with a massive cerebral stroke. The French EEG brain scan performed by the doctors registered almost flat. At that point, a French intelligence official phoned an Israeli intelligence address in Tel Aviv with the news that Arafat was clinically dead and beyond recovery.
From that moment until the writing of these words, Arafat was kept on life support machines including a respirator, with the medical staff pumping blood to his heart and kidneys. The minute it is all switched off, he will die.
On Thursday, November 4, at 18.00 p.m., the Proche Orient Info, a reputable publication with solid contacts in French intelligence, reported: Arafat died a few minutes ago. Monte Carlo Radio followed shortly after with an announcement that Arafat is “clinically dead.” Then Luxembourg prime minister Jean Claude Juncker weighed in with the disclosure at a summit of European leaders in Belgium that “Arafat died 15 minutes ago.”
Clearly, someone in French intelligence had jumped the gun before the French government and Palestinian officials were ready. Paris leapt into action to try and turn the clock back a few hours by activating an efficient prevarication mechanism.
“Mr. Arafat is not dead,” said Christian Estripeau, the head of communications for French military health services. “The clinical situation of the first few days following his admission has become more complex.”
However economical the solemn official was with his words, they sufficed to belie the colorful accounts of the Palestinian leader’s miraculous recovery which Palestinian officials have been disseminating all week.
The French official’s statement did not say he was dead; but neither did it confirm he was alive. Since no responsible physician, including the Percy medical staff, has ever offered a diagnosis of Arafat’s mysterious ailment, all the statements issuing in the last 24 hours have no medical value and were clearly politically motivated.
Over to Ramallah, where the two ruling Palestinian organs – government and Fatah Central Committee – began a joint marathon conference starting early Thursday and lasting well into the night. The assembled Palestinian officials and faction chiefs appeared heading for consensus to provisionally assign prime minister Ahmed Qureia responsibility for security and finances in the Palestinian Authority, and former prime minister Mahmoud Abbas the chair of the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee.
Missing: $70m for Palestinian payroll
They face an urgent problem: On November 4, 110,000 PA employees and officers of the security and intelligence services had not yet received their paychecks. The two new leaders must raise $70 million by Sunday, November 7, or admit they are powerless to take over. DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources report that Qureia and Abbas have turned everywhere to stump up the funds. But the Arab banks of the Middle East and Persian Gulf refused to let the Palestinians have a single dollar. An urgent SOS went out to the Europeans and the World Bank, which would require Washington’s permission to release funds. Neither has so far replied.
In another corner of Palestinian headquarters in Ramallah, the heads of Palestinian security and intelligence services foregathered for the first time in years. Usually they are busy plotting against each other. Now, they attempted to pull together for joint action.
The uncertainty is expected by our Palestinian sources to persist until after Arafat is buried. The funeral date depends on the decision to disconnect the life support machines. But then, the real succession battle will erupt in full and violent spate, accompanied by a fresh wave of terror against Israel. The two veteran leaders will claim they are doing their best to stem the bloodshed and pursue the path of peace diplomacy – but neither commands the military strength to be of any use.
In contrast, the forces dedicated to continuing Arafat’s path of terror – Fatah-Tanzim, al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, Hamas, Jihad Islami, the Popular Front-PFLP, the Popular Resistance Committees which rule the southern part of the Gaza Strip – command a horde of many thousands of terrorists. Arafat constructed the Palestinian terrorist machine around operational networks made up of personnel drawn from the Palestinian Authority’s security services. These officers wear two hats and draw two paychecks. The method has proven unbeatable. Even if Qureia and Abbas do in fact take charge of the security services and carry out this key reform of the Palestinian Authority’s institutions, they have no way of separating out the security officers from the terrorist networks.
They will also find that the violent opposition to their rule has access to funding sources independent of the Palestinian Authority – Syria, Iran and the Lebanese Hizballah. None of them will hold back the funds required for these Palestinian elements to press their claim to step into Arafat’s shoes.
It is therefore more than likely that Qureia and Abbas will decide not to risk their necks by standing up to the men of violence or even try to bring the Palestinians to the negotiating table. They will prefer to survive by turning a blind eye to the campaign of terror. This eventuality will bring the Israel-Palestinian conflict back to the situation that prevailed after US President George W. Bush endorsed the Middle East road map to peace at the June 2003 Aqaba summit. One it was over, Abbas at the head of the Palestinian government, did not lift a finger to bring the road map to life by subduing the rising wave of terror and the plan was devalued to less than the worth of the paper it was written on.