Paris Tells Palestinians to Remove Arafat
French president Jacques Chirac’s patience with the Palestinians’ desperate maneuvers to cover up Yasser Arafat’s demise has run out. debkafile‘s Paris and Washington sources reveal exclusively that Friday, November 5, exactly 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.
Paris and Washington both then swung into action.
An American delegation, organized at top speed by US Middle East diplomats, called on Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia in Ramallah on Saturday, November 6,
and asked him how Washington could help expedite a fitting end to the episode. The visit was more a token of support than a practical offer of help.
In Paris meanwhile, Suhah Arafat sacked the PLO ambassador Leila Shahid, the Palestinian spokesperson who issued almost daily bulletins after Arafat arrived in Paris.
What happened next was that Christian Estripeau, spokesman of the French military health services, informed Mrs. Arafat that he would issue no more bulletins on Arafat’s condition; neither would Percy hospital. She was given to understand that the hospital had kept her husband artificially alive as long as it intended to. The conversation followed a decision by a top-level conference of French officials, attended also by the president, to disengage from the pretence that Arafat was still alive. They realized it was no longer tenable without compromising the military hospital’s ethical position and medical credibility.
They also decided to settle the Arafat problem before November 12, because that is when Ramadan ends with “Orphan’s Friday” and moves into the three-day Eid al Fitr festival, during which no business of any kind can be contracted with Muslim authorities. If the Palestinian leader can be buried by Wednesday or Thursday, the French government reckons, the days of mourning can be wound up in time for Muslims to celebrate the festival and get started on the post-Arafat era.
Howwever, French efforts to unload Arafat by mid-week have been 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. No Arab or Muslim leader will attend a funeral in Gaza or Jerusalem because it would entail transiting through an Israeli international port as well as risking his life in a Palestinian terrorist battle zone such as the Gaza Strip.
An earlier suggestion to overcome this difficulty, by Arab and European leaders attending a lying-in-state ceremony in Paris before the coffin’s transfer to Cairo, fell through. According to debkafile‘s Middle East sources, three governments – France, Egypt and Jordan – refused to allow any part of the final ceremonies on their soil. Paris then asked the Tunisian president Zeit bin Ali for permission to hold the central ceremony in his capital, so that European, Arab and Muslim leaders could pay their last respects in safety. The coffin would then be flown to Cairo and on to the Gaza Strip for burial.
The Tunisian president agreed. The Egyptian government firmly declined, as did Jordan.
In Ramallah, the power vacuum is widening.
Prime minister Ahmed Qureia and his predecessor Mahmoud Abbas are losing ground in their attempts to assume the interim reins of government.
1. Saturday, Qureia went to Gaza City to try and negotiate a temporary halt in terrorist attacks with the heads of 13 Palestinian factions – at least until after the funeral. They turned him down. Hamas demanded that first a unified Palestinian leadership be established with a place for itself.
2. The Gaza-based Palestinian Authority secretary Tayeb Abu Rahim Qureia 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. That prerogative, he said, belongs to another Gazan, the Palestinian legislature’s speaker, Fathi Rouh.
3. Then, the 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 and Abbas, who is listed as one of two deputies, must report on his every action to Kaddumi as his subordinate.