Ariel Sharon’s many attempts to assassinate Yasser Arafat

The Washington Post reports: On the evening of Oct. 12, 2004, Yasser Arafat, the flamboyant, autocratic and inscrutable chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, sat down for dinner at his besieged compound in Ramallah in the West Bank. And so began one of the great medical mysteries in the modern Middle East.

A month later, Arafat was dead in a French hospital.

By natural causes? Or was it a murder most foul? Theories have swirled in the past nine years that Arafat was assassinated, perhaps poisoned — by rivals, by his inner circle, by Israeli agents.

On Wednesday, a final 108-page report by a team of Swiss experts revealed that tests on Arafat’s exhumed remains and possessions — a shaft of his hair, a urine stain on his underwear, a woolen cap — “moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-­210,” a highly radioactive substance 250,000 times as toxic as cyanide.

“This has confirmed all our doubts,” Arafat’s widow, Suha, told the Reuters news agency. “It is scientifically proved that he didn’t die a natural death, and we have scientific proof that this man was killed.”

Suha Arafat, speaking in Paris, called her husband’s death “a real crime, a political assassination.”

She did not name any suspects, but if her husband truly was killed, there would be many. He had myriad enemies — not least the Israeli government.

Jeffrey Goldberg, responding to Israel’s swift denial that it was responsible for Arafat’s death, writes: [T]he Israeli government should remember that it was the official policy of several past Israeli leaders to try to kill Arafat, who was the head of a terrorist organization that had murdered many Israeli civilians. I had several conversations on the subject of assassinating Arafat with his principal Israeli nemesis, Ariel Sharon, and today’s report sent me back to a profile I wrote of Sharon that appeared 12 years ago in the New Yorker. The profile was published just as Sharon was running, successfully, for prime minister. Here’s what I wrote directly on the subject of assassination:

Sharon was blunt on the subject of Arafat. “He’s a murderer and a liar,” he said. “He’s an enemy. He’s a bitter enemy.” Sharon has devoted a great deal of time and energy to Arafat. By Arafat’s own count, Sharon has tried to have him killed thirteen times. Sharon wouldn’t fix on a number, but he said the opportunity had arisen repeatedly. “All the governments of Israel for many years, Labor, Likud, all of them, made an effort — and I want to use a subtle word for the American reader — to remove him from our society. We never succeeded.”

In other conversations with me in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Sharon, who has been in a stroke-induced coma for more than seven years, did not resort to euphemism. Once, he described to me how Israel would have been better off had Arafat been killed by the Israeli army in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, an invasion that Sharon led. It was, he said, “a missed opportunity.”

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Who represents the Palestinian people?

Osamah Khalil writes: At its height, the PLO was successful in keeping the Palestinian struggle alive and in the world’s view. In 1974, both the United Nations and the Arab League recognized the organization as the “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” However, as Palestinians prepare to observe the 65th anniversary of the Nakba and the 20th anniversary of the Oslo Accords, the failure of the Palestinian national movement to achieve its goals has never been clearer. Which raises the question: who represents the Palestinian people today?

The question of representation is particularly pressing due to several recent trends and initiatives. First, are the Arab revolutions and counterrevolutions, which have led to the overthrow of several of the region’s long-standing dictatorships. Meanwhile, Palestinians have largely been on the sidelines of the “Arab Spring.” Second, is the recent vote by the United Nations to accept Palestine as a non-member observer state. This decision has uncertain implications for the standing of the PLO and Palestinians living outside the borders of the “State of Palestine.” Third, are the continuing negotiations between Fatah and Hamas and the elusive promise of national unity. Fourth, is a recent initiative calling for direct elections to the Palestinian National Council (PNC), following implementation of a unity agreement. Finally, the terminal state of the “peace process,” which will be further highlighted by President Barack Obama’s planned visit to the region this month without a proposal to restart negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Since 1974, the PLO’s leadership has fiercely defended the organization’s designation as the “sole, legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.” Indeed, the phrase was used as a shield and a cudgel against internal and external foes and competitors (real and perceived). As a national liberation movement, the PLO claimed that it was essential to speak with one voice. Following the 1993 Oslo Accords and creation of the PA, this was transformed into the imperative that there could only be “one authority” in the West Bank and Gaza.

Attempts to critique the leadership of the PLO or the PA invariably led to the accusatory question: “Who are you?” Who are you, the leadership would declare, to speak, to question, to criticize? The purpose was clear: To silence, intimidate, and limit the parameters of permissible discussion and dissent. By defining and shaping who and what represented the Palestinians, the PLO’s leadership deliberately limited their accountability to their people. The leadership’s autocratic behavior reflected the PLO’s origins and would be reproduced in its institutional structures. [Continue reading...]

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Hamas forces ordered to cease attacks on Israeli targets, Palestinian sources say

Haaretz reports: Hamas leader Khaled Meshal has instructed the group’s military wing to cease attacks on Israeli targets, senior sources in Fatah say.

The sources say Meshal issued the order based on understandings between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Meshal during their recent talks in Cairo.

Israeli defense sources say they are unaware of such an order.

According to the sources in Fatah, the largest faction in the Palestine Liberation Organization, Meshal ordered a de facto cease-fire with Israel not only in the Gaza Strip, but also in the West Bank. Hamas had already refrained from launching rockets from Gaza.

The sources say Meshal issued the order in late November, after the first round of reconciliation talks in Cairo between Hamas and Fatah.

After that meeting, it emerged that the two organizations agreed also to focus on a popular struggle along the lines of the Arab Spring.

Israeli defense sources say they were unaware that Meshal had issued a direct instruction to activists in the West Bank and Gaza. They add that there has been no strategic or ideological change in Hamas’ policy.

Rather, Hamas realizes that this is a bad time for terror attacks, both because of Palestinian public opinion and a fear of an Israeli reprisal that would compromise Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip.

But if the group’s terror networks in the West Bank spot an opportunity to carry out a significant attack, they are expected to take advantage of the chance, as they have done in the past.

Hamas’ leadership in Gaza said it was surprised by Meshal’s statement and that “the only way to liberate the occupied lands is through the armed struggle.” The Hamas interior minister in Gaza, Fathi Hamad, added that the group’s “internal leadership” does not necessarily intend to abide by Meshal’s policy.

Meshal reiterated late last week that popular protest had “the power of a tsunami” and has already proved itself in the Arab world. But he added that the organization would not give up the use of violence against Israel.

“We and Fatah now have a common basis that we can work on, and that is popular protest, which expresses the power of the people,” Meshal said.

The Hamas leader also expressed his support for a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. “Fatah and we have political differences, but the common ground is agreement on a state within the 1967 borders,” he said.

Meshal said the decision to focus on the popular struggle was made by the Hamas advisory body, the Shura Council. This means all senior members of the organization were on board.

The Fatah sources said Hamas does not intend to officially recognize Israel or accept peace agreements with it. Rather, the focus is simply popular protest and consent to a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. The sources say Hamas does not plan to stop arming itself, and will respond if attacked by Israel.

The Fatah sources say the statements by the Hamas officials in Gaza show that some leaders in the enclave might seek to undermine the move by Meshal, and that they might also launch attacks on Israel, mainly to prove their political power in the internal struggle in Hamas.

But the sources added that Meshal clearly seems interested in unity and in bringing Hamas into the PLO.

Militants from other factions in the Gaza Strip are still launching attacks, like the group that was hit Tuesday by the Israel Air Force. Islamic Jihad, one of these factions, is not expected to join Meshal’s move.

The Palestinian chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, said the Palestinians had not proposed to renew negotiations based on a prisoner release.

Erekat said that stopping the settlements, negotiations based on the 1967 borders, and the release of prisoners are not preconditions but rather Israeli obligations. Without them, the Palestinians don’t see a renewal of talks with Israel, he said.

Meanwhile, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament, Aziz Duwaik, a Hamas member, said yesterday that parliament would convene a joint session in both Gaza and the West Bank as early as the beginning of February.

Parliamentary activity has been suspended since June 2007, after Hamas’ coup in the Gaza Strip. According to Duwaik, a Palestinian unity government will be established at the end of January, and it will have no political tasks other than preparing for elections.

Duwaik denied reports that he would head the unity government.

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Israel shouldn’t ignore Palestinian reconciliation deal

Zvi Bar’el writes: [T]hanks to Syria’s murderousness, along with help from Egypt and support from Jordan, Hamas is reexamining the map of the region’s political topography and changing course: no more armed struggle against Israel, but a popular struggle, meaning demonstrations and civil disobedience, as well as a willingness to drop its previous preconditions for joining the Palestine Liberation Organization, an understanding that it must recognize the agreements the PLO has signed and a return to the ballot box as the accepted method of achieving political victory.

Hamas cannot be more righteous than the Muslim Brotherhood, and if the Brotherhood in Egypt is participating in the political game – and winning it – then so can Hamas.

Six years have passed since the last election in the territories, in which Hamas won a sweeping victory. That election derived its authority from the Oslo Accords, which the PLO signed with Israel, and the U.S. administration was the driving force behind it. But since then, the administration has repeatedly rued its democratic aspirations, and together with Israel, it boycotted the electoral results. Even Hamas’ willingness to cooperate with Israel, albeit only on the administrative level, was pushed away with a 10-foot pole. “Hamas or Abbas” became the diplomatic slogan – and an excellent excuse for Israel to abandon any serious diplomatic process.

The illusion that has been peddled ever since is that it is possible to sign a separate peace with the Palestinian Authority while continuing to bomb Gaza – to allow the Palestinians to open department stores and discotheques in Ramallah while strangling 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza. The split between Fatah and Hamas was seen as irreversible, something that could be relied on to perpetuate the diplomatic freeze. Fatahland and Hamastan were etched into the Israeli consciousness as two states for two peoples, the people of the West Bank and the people of Gaza, rather than as a struggle between rival political leaderships. The possibility that the Palestinians would view this split as an anomaly never even entered Israelis’ heads.

But things change. Hamas and Fatah are reconciling – not because of Israel’s beaux yeux [how it will look], but because it is in the Palestinians’ interest, and new regional circumstances laid the groundwork for this to come about. Israel can either ignore this development, wage all-out war against the reconciliation or try to correct the diplomatic error it made half a dozen years ago.

There’s no need to hold your breath. Israel has already announced its choice. But there’s no law (yet ) against playing “what if,” so it’s permissible to think about what would have happened had Israel instead announced that it welcomes Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s statements, hopes Hamas will turn into a legitimate political party and agrees to negotiate with any elected Palestinian government that is willing to negotiate with it. Such a government, established on the basis of a Palestinian consensus, would in any case be acceptable to most countries in the world, making Israel’s refusal to recognize it irrelevant.

It’s also permissible to wonder: Will Israel refuse contacts with an Egyptian government established by the Muslim Brotherhood? Will it abrogate the peace treaty with Jordan should the Hashemite king grant sanctuary to Hamas’ leadership? And if not, why should it boycott the Palestinian Authority?

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Hamas’s Haniya applauds, Israel denounces PLO unity moves

AFP reports: The Hamas premier of Gaza, Ismail Haniya, praised steps toward reconciliation taken by the Islamist group and its former rival Fatah, which were angrily denounced in Israel.

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal took steps in Cairo on Thursday towards reforming the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organisation, such that Hamas could join.

“We want to pursue positive dialogue with Fatah from this point”, Haniya told journalists.

“Practical measures must however be taken, like the liberation of political prisoners from Hamas detained by Fatah,” he said, adding that Fatah must also stop its repeated questioning of Hamas supporters during investigations.

The reconciliation moves drew an angry response from Israel, with one minister saying the Jewish state must now annex more territory to ensure the safety of its citizens in case “terrorist” Hamas gains influence in the West Bank.

“This alarming rapprochement between Abu Mazen (Abbas) and Hamas is aimed at forming a government that one can only say is aimed at bringing about a genocide,” Transport Minister Israel Katz of the right-wing Likud party said.

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