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A surreal encounter, 20 years ago, with Yasser Arafat

18 1 5

You could never quite be sure that Yasser Arafat would show up. But there he suddenly was, Palestine-shaped keffiyeh meticulously arranged upon his head, lapel pins decorating his fatigues with images of Baby Jesus, the Virgin Mary, and the requisite olive branch.

It was December 8, 2001, and I was going to interview the legendary Palestinian leader. No one knew quite what to make of him and 20 years later we still basically do not. That’s what’s so damn strange; we are, in almost every way, none the wiser around these parts.

The Second Intifada that erupted in September 2000 trashed the peace process, brought Arafat’s arch-enemy Ariel Sharon to power in Israel, and left a trail of devastation all across the land. This, even though Sharon’s predecessor Ehud Barak had offered the Nobel Peace Prize winner an independent state, fulfilling his supposed lifelong goal.

Was Arafat the one sending young crazies to blow themselves up in Israeli buses and cafes? After all, some attacks were claimed by his own Fatah movement. Sharon had no patience for any version other than the one in which an unreformed terrorist was being certainly duplicitous, and possibly an idiot.

The Palestinian narrative said violence began organically to protest Sharon’s September 2000 visit (as opposition chief) to the Temple Mount, and Israel overreacted. That infantilized the Palestinians as unable to control a tantrum, even if it cost them their national emancipation.

Something didn’t quite add up, and my colleagues and I at the Associated Press resolved to figure the whole thing out.

First, I called Col. Olivier Rafowicz, the IDF’s foreign press spokesman, to advise him of our impending trip to Arafat’s “Muqata” headquarters, known to be a possible........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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