Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Yasser Arafat, 1929-2004

To have seen Yasser Arafat's last days in Ramallah is to understand why dozens rather than thousands on 28 October saw off his helicopter from his compound in what turned out to be his last flight from Palestine.

December 1, 2004
4 min read

That monument, the Muqarta (“headquarters”), stood like an epitaph to their dream – an avalanche of fractured concrete where once flew the hope of a state. Arafat, too, exuded an aura of glories past. He was an icon still, wrapped in an army greatcoat and vowing to return (“God willing”), but now of exhaustion as much as fortitude.

I last spoke with him in September, three weeks before he was taken ill. It was, said his aides, a lunch, not an interview, though questions were permitted. He sat down at the head of a long table covered in paper. The room was bathed in an olive green light. There were no windows, only shadows.

How did he feel?

“Well”, he said, biting into a chicken.

He looked ill. Denied sunlight, his skin had the pallor of parchment. His lips trembled. What were alive were his eyes, magnified by glasses like the orbs of a jellyfish.

The same contrast was in his conversation. He answered questions about today and tomorrow perfunctorily, as though it was impossible to see beyond the horizon of his room. But he was stirred by the past, drawing sustenance from the vast pools behind the eyes.

“It is like a prison. I’ve been here 41 months,” he continued, spooning corn from his plate onto mine. “I hope I will be able to leave soon”.

Did he exercise?

“I can’t exercise. There are Israeli snipers on the three buildings opposite. If I were to go to Ramallah, an Israeli helicopter would assassinate me. Silvan Shalom [Israel’s Foreign Minister] said only today that Israel would like to kill me”.

Did he think Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza offered some kind of opportunity?

“It’s not a withdrawal. It’s a military redeployment. Israel will still control the borders. It won’t allow the airport and port to be reopened”.

Did he think things might move after the US elections?

“Maybe, but I doubt whether Kerry will make any difference”.

Did he think there was any hope for a peace process?

“Yes, but only if the Quartet [the US, Europe, UN and Russia] acts to ensure implementation of the roadmap [peace plan]. The roadmap is not dead,” he said, with a roll of the eyes.

For much of that world Arafat blew his chance at the Camp David summit in July 2000. There – so the argument goes – Ehud Barak offered the most generous deal any Israeli leader will make the Palestinians. Arafat said no. Worse, he made no counter offer. He dismisses the charge with a shaky hand.

“Barak never made an offer at Camp David. It was Clinton – in December – who offered me 96/97 percent of the West Bank, plus land swaps of equal quantity and quality. And we were discussing that at Taba [in January, when Barak called off negotiations]”.

So what happened at Camp David?

“Barak wanted 89 percent of the land, minus military areas Israel wanted to keep in the West Bank. He wanted Israeli control over our borders, coastline and airspace. But Barak’s most explosive mistake was to demand Israeli sovereignty under the Harem al Sharif [Temple Mount] in Jerusalem. I took the proposal to the Islamic Conference’s Jerusalem Committee. I said, ‘If you accept this offer, I will accept it’. Every single one of the 16 countries refused”.

What about the right of return?

“Israel didn’t talk about the refugees at Camp David. It was Clinton. I told him, ‘What about the 320,000 Palestinian refugees in Lebanon?’ Clinton said there were only 180,000. I said, ‘Let there be 100,000!’ They must be allowed to return. There lives are miserable”.

He uncoiled a little. He drank his soup from the lip of the bowl.

Did he make any mistakes?

“No”.

Did he make any tactical mistakes?

He peered through the steam of his soup.

“No”.

What did he achieve?

“We have made the Palestinian case the biggest problem in the world,” he said. “Look at the Hague [International Court] ruling on the [West Bank] wall. One hundred and thirty countries supported us at the General Assembly. One hundred and seven years after the [founding Zionist] Basel conference, 90 years after the Sykes-Picot agreement, Israel has failed to wipe us out. We are here, in Palestine, facing them. We are not red Indians”.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power

The Grenfell public inquiry must listen to the residents who have been ignored for so long
Councils handed housing over to obscure, unaccountable organisations, writes Anna Minton – now we must hear the voices they silenced