"Did his style of working change from Beirut to Tunis to Ramallah?" I ask.
"He faced new problems here," Abdul Rahman concedes. "If he was told 'This ministry does not need people, it is filled,' he'd say, 'Okay' and then create another ministry. In this way he built the main basis for the state."
The marble-floored Palestine Media Center is by far the snazziest government ministry in Ramallah. It is run by the veteran propagandist Yasir Abd Rabbo, who looks like a ladies' man at a red-brick college in Manchester or Leeds and walks with a limp that he claims is the result of an old war wound. An inveterate "splittist," who joined and left a long list of secular leftist Palestinian parties, he is a charter member of the Arafatist bloc. He is also a habitual gossip. He knows N. well, and is happy to grant us an interview. Like many of the men I talk to, he speaks of the late Palestinian leader in the present tense.
"Arafat's great secret is patience," Abd Rabbo explains, of the man he served for more than three decades. "He does not cut even a thread to a fly. He keeps lines open with everybody. He is Arafat the progressive, Arafat the Islamist, Arafat the conservative, and Arafat the enlightened. So he was with the Saudi kings and with the kings of the Kremlin at the same time, with Fidel Castro and all kinds of imams and the pope. The one main issue he did not compromise in his life was the independence of the Palestinian movement. He believed since the beginning that if he did not preserve the independence of the Palestinian movement from the other Arab regimes, he will be doomed."
Abd Rabbo's area of particular expertise in the 1970s was the politics of the European left and the Soviet bloc. A table near his desk shows off a laughing Buddha, a crystal eagle, and a photo book titled Russia: The Country of Vast Expanses. He explains to me how Arafat patiently led the Palestinian national movement up the ladder to the inner halls of the Kremlin. His goal was the near-hallucinatory possibility of state sponsorship by one of the two reigning Cold War superpowers. After the October War of 1973, which began Egypt's migration into the American camp, Arafat's dream of Soviet sponsorship became a reality.
"We started to meet Brezhnev, we started to meet Andropov, Chernenko, and the others. Of course, Arafat is always trying to give the impression that he is—"
"A Marxist?" I wonder out loud.
"No, never, never, never," Abd Rabbo answers, appalled. "That he is so independent, that he is Arafat the Palestinian, the nationalist, the Muslim who is building relations with Moscow. I remember in one of the first visits, suddenly, I don't know why—but I understand why—he wanted to pray the noon prayers inside the Kremlin. We were begging him, 'Don't do that, postpone it, God will permit you. There is no access to God here.' He got down on his knees in the middle of the room, on the carpet, and he bowed down to Mecca and he said his prayers. This was also a message to the Saudis, you see—'I am Arafat, the Muslim, and I built these relations with the Soviet Union.'"
Arafat's defiant behavior toward the Soviets in the seventies and eighties mirrored exactly the tantrums that would puzzle and intimidate Western diplomats in the nineties. When I ask Abd Rabbo if any of the Soviet leaders had Arafat's number, he nods.
"Andropov," he answers, smiling ever so slightly at the memory of the legendary KGB spymaster who became premier of the Soviet Union for a short time in the early 1980s. When the Palestinians met with Andropov, in 1982, he seemed old and frail and appeared to doze off. "And Arafat took his time explaining everything, going from one continent to another, to the seventh sky and down, talking about everything that he had in his mind. He talked about how he had defeated the Israeli army, and how he had developed his own weapons factories, and how he made anti-tank missiles from his own secret designs. And in the middle of his—let's call them flights of fancy—Andropov raised his head up and told him, 'Chairman Arafat, let's stop it now.' So Arafat stopped talking nonsense and started talking politics."
Mamduh Nofal is the former military commander of the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the commander of the Palestinian forces during the siege of Beirut. A peculiarly Palestinian amalgam of poet, op-ed writer, and guerrilla fighter, he is an imposing hulk of a man, at once friendly and fierce, like a pirate in a storybook. At the battle of Karamah, in Jordan, in 1968, Nofal was a military leader for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). It was there that he began his relationship with Arafat, he tells me when we meet in his modern office in Ramallah. The sign outside his office identifies him as a high-ranking official of Fatah.
"With the fighters, he lived with them as they lived. He sat with them on the ground. He brought food for them and fed them. This is not propaganda."
Nofal tells me that Arafat's strategic use of violence after Oslo began with permitting Hamas and Islamic Jihad to launch terror attacks. Arafat would then crack down on those same organizations to show that he was in control. Nofal first heard Arafat give orders that led directly to violence, he says, before the riots that erupted over the excavation of the Hasmonean tunnel, near the Haram al-Sharif, in 1996. Nofal says that the impetus for the violence was the statement by the newly elected Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, that he would not speak to Arafat directly. Arafat was furious at the slight.
"I was with him in his office," Nofal recalls. "He got up and walked around the desk. He was very, very angry. Finally he calmed down a bit and he pointed to the phone on his desk. He said, 'I will make Netanyahu call me on this phone.'"
Arafat ordered demonstrators into the streets, and told them to provoke the Israelis. When violence erupted, the Israelis were blamed. "I was sitting with him again when the phone on his desk rang, and he looked at me and said, 'It's Netanyahu.' And it was him."
The second intifada also began with the intention of provoking the Israelis and subjecting them to diplomatic pressure. Only this time Arafat went for broke. As a member of the High Security Council of Fatah, the key decision-making and organizational body that dealt with military questions at the beginning of the intifada, Nofal has firsthand knowledge of Arafat's intentions and decisions during the months before and after Camp David. "He told us, 'Now we are going to the fight, so we must be ready,'" Nofal remembers. Nofal says that when Barak did not prevent Ariel Sharon from making his controversial visit to the plaza in front of al-Aqsa, the mosque that was built on the site of the ancient Jewish temples, Arafat said, "Okay, it's time to work."
When it became clear that Ariel Sharon, then the Israeli opposition leader, would win the Israeli elections in February of 2001, Nofal went to Arafat and urged him to call off the intifada. "There were a lot of people sitting around, including Saeb Erekat and Yasir Abd Rabbo," Nofal remembers.
"I told him, 'Abu Ammar, I need the security to speak openly.' The Bedouin say, 'Give me the security to speak freely.' He said to me, 'Speak.'
"I said to him, 'Abu Ammar, Barak will lose, Sharon is coming, the military work is not our field. It is Sharon's field. He needs it. So please, Abu Ammar, let us go out from this field, and leave Sharon as the hayawan muftaris [the flesh-eating animal]to play alone.'"
"Those who were sitting around Arafat, they said, 'Ah, you are afraid of Sharon!'" Nofal recalls, shaking his head. "'Sharon will not stay in power. Barak stayed eighteen months. Sharon will stay nine. And if we conquer him, this is the last bullet in the Israeli gun!' They said, 'So, khalas [enough already]—why are you afraid?' I said, 'I am afraid that he will destroy us in these nine months, and I doubt that he will fail.' At that time Arafat kept silent. He was listening. But most of those around opposed what I said."
"And I think Saudi Arabia also played a role in Arafat's decision to keep the intifada going," Nofal says, agreeing with a similar analysis presented to me by Abd Rabbo. "Clinton put his initiative on the table on the eighteenth of December, after three months of intifada. Arafat visited Saudi Arabia. At that time the Saudi Arabian leadership told him, 'Wait, don't give this card to Clinton. Clinton is going, Bush is coming. Bush is the son of our friend. We will get more for you from him.' Then we discovered that Saudi Arabia couldn't do anything, that it is not a matter of personal issues or friendship. And Sharon succeeded very well, and put us in a corner."
Later that evening I meet Nasser al-Kidwa, Arafat's nephew and the new Palestinian foreign minister, in the lobby of the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah, a regular hangout for the new Palestinian elite. Men sit on pastel-suede lounge furniture and smoke cigarettes beneath a fresco of smirking putti holding a swagged cloth. Al-Kidwa has little time for frivolities. With his round face and small features, short arms, and tiny fingers, there is something disconcertingly fetal and half-formed about his physicality. Family was never important to him or to his uncle, he tells me. All that mattered was the success of the cause. He invites me up to his bare hotel room, where he informs me about the contents of his uncle's medical files.
"The funny thing is, I brought them to New York, and then brought them back to Gaza, and then from Gaza to Ramallah," al-Kidwa remembers of the large binder—500-plus pages, with tabs of several colors, containing x-rays and medical charts—that he was given by the French authorities. "No one believed they are in my damn suitcase, including the Israelis. I just passed through the checkpoint without telling anybody anything."
When I ask him whether he read the files, he shakes his head. "I didn't look at them because I knew that we wouldn't find a single word that was inconsistent with what we were told," he says. "I personally think that it is probably an unnatural cause."
"So the Israelis poisoned him?" I ask.
"I can't say that, because, again, this is too serious to just be said like that," al-Kidwa answers.
He understood his uncle as a great actor who took pleasure in his performances. "He succeeded in turning the cause of the refugees into the cause of the century, while his enemy is probably the strongest actor in the world, in modern history if not beyond," al-Kidwa explains, his voice falling almost to a whisper.
"That enemy being the United States?" I ask.
"No," he says. "Israel. And its supporters. The Jewish community around the world."
Even here, in Ramallah, he is careful to whisper. When I ask him to explain the achievements of his uncle's rule in the context of the Palestinian national movement, his voice returns to normal.
"He set some rules—noble, I think," al-Kidwa says. "For instance, no one will be deprived of his salary, even traitors. If you shoot at him, still your family will get your salary, and your kids will still go to school."
One Big Prison
My trips to Gaza, a teeming seaside strip of land with a distinctly Egyptian flavor, provide the most striking evidence of the economic consequences of Arafat's misrule. The Erez checkpoint, where I enter, is like a wound that has been opened and reopened. Twenty-five-foot-high sections of concrete barrier of the type that are being used for the wall in Jerusalem stand next to a sandbagged pillbox that has been reinforced with steel. A decade ago, after the first intifada, the guard post here was a white-painted wooden shack on the road. Now, past the elaborate security barriers on the Israeli side, a long, dank, tin-roofed corridor stretches toward Gaza like a passageway for cattle. At the end of the corridor is a ramshackle guard post. The Palestinian soldier at the post wears green army fatigues and a knit wool hat embroidered with the words "Top Gun." Aided by the light of a single bulb, he laboriously inscribes the passport numbers of entering visitors with a worn pencil in a spiral-bound notebook. On the wall behind him is a framed photograph of the Old Man.
To the right of the checkpoint is the Erez industrial area. One of the few tangible results of hundreds of meetings to figure out a way to help Israeli and foreign manufacturers tap the Palestinian labor market, the industrial area is nearly abandoned after a series of suicide bombings. A wet, acrid haze from untreated sewage and burning plastic hangs over Gaza during the daylight hours, and gets worse at night. The sewage-treatment plant in Beit Lahia is working at three times its normal capacity.
It takes me only two hours to travel the entire length of Gaza. My destination is the city of Rafah, which lies half on the Israeli side and half on the Egyptian side of the border. Rafah is a tropical place with famous hothouses that grow flowers for export and excellent vegetables. Egyptian flags fly above the high wall that marks the border, which is a magnet for smugglers. Israeli raids to stop the contraband have turned the neighborhoods of Rafah nearest the border into a moonscape of shattered concrete. It is easy to see why Rafah has become a byword for the misery of the Palestinian people since the beginning of the intifada.
Said Zourub, the mayor of Rafah, is a middle-aged man with a handsome black moustache, who is wearing a black turtleneck in the 90Ë heat. Riding in his Ford Explorer, we stop frequently as groups of men warn of an incursion by an Israeli armored unit. Rounding the corner, we find two armored Israeli bulldozers knocking down a building that was used as cover for a smuggling tunnel.
The Rafah school is pockmarked by heavy-caliber bullets, many of which date from a memorable firefight in which the armed men of the refugee camps established positions there.
"Here was a tunnel," the mayor says, pointing to a flattened pile of rubble. On a wall nearby is English-language graffiti memorializing "Rachel who came to Rafah to protect our camp," a reference to Rachel Corrie, an American volunteer who was run over by an Israeli bulldozer in March of 2003 when she attempted to prevent a house from being demolished. Next to the graffiti about Corrie is the word "Fuck."
Zourub remembers the day when Abu Ammar made his triumphant entry into Gaza, in 1994.
"My son asks me on that day, 'Baba, why did Abu Ammar come back here?'" Zourub tells me, as we drive through the ruined streets of his city. "I tell him, 'Abu Ammar came to make things better for the people.' Now, when Abu Ammar dies, he tells me, 'Baba, you are a big liar. Abu Ammar failed to achieve anything.'"
The mayor eases his 4x4 around a corner, as if the machine can delicately sense danger. We stop, and a large group of men gather around the mayor's vehicle to complain that a tank has destroyed a manhole. A man in a tan sweater and a black jacket rides his bicycle past, followed by a man in a donkey cart.
The drive back to Gaza City takes four and a half hours. I spend the night in a luxury hotel by the beach, a short walk from the four-story multimillion-dollar villa constructed by Arafat's successor, Mahmoud Abbas, on land that was designated for use as a public park. The next morning I meet with Iyad Sarraj, a human-rights activist and the director of the leading mental-health organization in Gaza. In the 1980s, during the first intifada, many of his patients were prisoners who had been tortured by the Israelis. In the 1990s the prisoners he treated were victims of torture by the Palestinian Authority's principal militia, the Preventive Security Service. When Sarraj complained about the poor state of civil liberties under President Arafat, he was jailed three times, beaten, and tortured. A handsome secularist in his forties, he wears a black-leather motorcycle jacket and smokes constantly during our interview, which is held in his office overlooking the Mediterranean. His eyes are tired.
"Palestinians have lost the battle because of their lack of organization and because they have been captives of rhetoric and sloganeering rather than actual work," he says. "I believe that the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians in one way or the other is between development and underdevelopment, civilization and backwardness. Israel was established on the rule of law, on democratization, and certain principles that would advance Israel, while the Arabs and the Palestinians were waiting always for the prophet, for the rescuer, for the savior, the mahdi. Arafat came, and everyone hung their hats on him without realizing that there is a big gap between the rescuer and the actual work that needs to be done. This is where the Palestinians lost again the battle. They lost it in '48 because of their backwardness, ignorance, and lack of organization in how to confront the Zionist enemy. They lost it when they had the chance to build a state, because the PA was absolutely corrupt and disorganized."
Documents captured by the Israelis give a very detailed picture of the vast protection racket set up by Arafat and his henchmen to govern Gaza. At the top of the pyramid were Arafat and his inner circle. Below them were the Gaza security chief, Muhammad Dahlan, and the Gaza intelligence chief, Amin al-Hindi. Dahlan's deputy, Rashid Abu Shabak, who was responsible for terror attacks on Israelis as well as for the murder of Palestinians, controlled the Karni checkpoint, demanding exorbitant bribes for allowing goods to pass in and out of the Gaza Strip. Dahlan, Shabak, and the other heads of the Preventive Security Service apparatus profited from their joint investments with a businessman named Ihab al-Ashqar. Together they controlled the Great Arab Company for Investment and Development, which imported gravel through the Karni checkpoint; the al-Motawaset Company, which bought gravel from the Great Arab Company and made cement; and the al-Sheik Zayid construction project. Large sums of money regularly changed hands among the partners. Additional sums came directly from Arafat himself.
"To the brother the Rais, may Allah protect him," wrote Muhammad Dahlan on January 1, 2001. "Please instruct the payment of $200,000." Arafat's reply, "Ministry of Finance: pay $150,000," is duly noted.
The results of this system of payoffs and theft are written in the rubble fields of Rafah and on the walls and utility poles of the Jabalya refugee camp, near the Erez crossing. The flags that flutter over the camp represent the different Palestinian factions. Green is for Hamas, black for Islamic Jihad, yellow for Fatah, and red for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. A wall banner reads Hamas congratulates the Islamic nation for the al-Fitr feast. Teenage martyrs are everywhere in the camp. Their solemn, unblinking eyes stare out from commemorative posters that promise the sweetness of everlasting life and the sureness of divine vengeance.
My guide, Ismail, is twenty years old, quiet and well-spoken. With his jean jacket, gelled brown hair, sideburns, sharp nose, and olive skin, he looks like a singer in a Latin pop band. He works in a bakery, though he once dreamed of joining the Preventive Security Service. His family refused their permission. "The reputation of the Preventive Security has been destroyed by the Death Group," Ismail explains sadly, referring to the notorious unit headed by an officer named Nabil Tammuz.
As we wait by the Erez checkpoint, three kids pass us on a donkey cart, laughing and having a wonderful time as they circumvent the roadblock by going off into the fields, where cars cannot follow. "The Jeep is nothing compared to the donkey cart now!" they call out. Since the beginning of the intifada the price of a donkey-cart ride in Gaza has more than tripled.
When I ask Ismail if he ever thought of leaving this place, his watchful face goes slack, and a dreamy look comes into his eyes. "This is the wish of my life," he answers simply. As our driver inches forward, a disembodied voice orders in Hebrew, "Lachzor"—"Go back." Gunfire crackles over our heads and into the fields. After another forty-five minutes of waiting I decide to walk across the road, with a friend who has accompanied me here. We pass a thin gray line of workers coming out of the Erez industrial area—fewer than a hundred, in an area that was made for thousands—and then we stand and wait for an hour and a half or so at the Palestinian end of the checkpoint, where a gangster with huge gold-rimmed sunglasses balanced on his long nose is bringing in a shipment of cars from Israel. A heavy-caliber Israeli gun opens up over the road, pumping jackhammer bursts into the fields.
"Night fire," my companion explains. "They are keeping the barrels warm." As I trudge through the dark, echoing tunnel that leads back to Israel, I pass two Arab boys arguing over money. "You stole three shekels," one says. "I am not a thief!" his friend answers. The next evening a suicide squad attacks the guard post, and three attackers die. When I come back to Gaza, everything is the same, except for a ten-foot hole and a new pile of rubble.
Absent the formal police-state structure that existed in Iraq and still exists in Syria, the reality of Palestin- ian social and political life under Arafat can best be described not as totalitarian but, rather, as an extreme kind of political narcissism, in which millions of people were reduced to tokens in the fantasy life of the man they had been educated to think of as their father. Their willingness to follow the Old Man can be read as a measure of his charisma, his skill at manipulating people, the depth of Palestinian despair, or the larger sickness of Arab politics. Yet it is also a fact that Arafat would not have survived for longer than a few months if not for the men of the security services who planted and debriefed informers, conducted interrogations, and maintained the vast storehouses of information that were the foundation of his rule.
The new headquarters of Tawfiq Tirawi, Arafat's favorite spymaster, are located in a Palestinian Authority building in Ramallah; the sign outside proclaims an affiliation with the ministry that handles construction. The parking lot is guarded by men in uniform. I am quickly ushered inside the building, where a guard takes my passport before he lets me get on the elevator. I ascend in the company of a pair of guards, who lead me out to a floor of the building that appears to be empty. One of the guards opens a door and leads me down a hallway to an open room that is filled with women sitting at computer terminals, where I am offered a chair. A parrot chirps in the corner as a girl in careful makeup and bright hijab enters data into a brand-new computer. The spymaster's outer office is quiet and well run, and shows few signs of the goldbricking and placeholding that characterize the more public functions of the Palestinian Authority.
Tirawi's title during Arafat's lifetime was head of the General Intelligence Service in the West Bank. While the general secretary of Fatah in the West Bank, Marwan Barghouti, led the intifada in the field, Tirawi provided the professional planning and staff required to launch terror attacks that killed hundreds of Israeli civilians, and received detailed reports about the individuals and organizations involved through a network headed by his deputy, Haj Ismail Jabir.
After waiting for about half an hour, my translator and I are ushered down a long corridor, past a security door, and through a windowless conference room filled with brand-new imported office furniture still encapsulated in amniotic plastic sacs. We walk through a security door, into another empty office, and then through a second security door, which opens on to a quiet, light-filled office, where Tirawi sits at his desk and speaks softly into a cell phone. "La, la, la, la, la," he answers, nodding his head in assent.
His potbelly grown a bit larger after the years of his confinement in the Muqata, Tawfiq Tirawi is a calm, meditative presence who speaks in the unhurried, deliberative voice of a professional interrogator. He is well dressed, in expensive casual European clothes—a white-cashmere turtleneck under a tan jacket, and wool trousers that ride up over his stomach. His black hair is shot through with gray. He speaks with his hands clasped just below his sternum, over the buckle of his brown-leather Gucci belt. Abu Ammar, he explains, was an abqari, a genius, with a thirst for small details.
"He had a computer up here," he says, tapping his head with his index finger when I ask him what kinds of details his master particularly liked to know. "All the information," he says. "Including the most personal information. And not only regarding political rivals, but everybody—he will love to know this kind of personal information."
Our conversation is interrupted by the gentle ring of his cell phone, and Tirawi speaks for a while, issuing clear, simple orders. Arabic headlines scroll by in silence on a large TV set tuned to al-Jazeera. After a few minutes he turns back to our conversation. He was nineteen or twenty when he first met the Old Man, at a guerrilla base in Jordan. The Old Man had only two suits. "And he had two kaffiyas," Tirawi adds. "Sometimes he would wear the kaffiya around his neck instead, especially in winter when it was very cold. But he got used to it, so then he started wearing it on his head in winter and summer. He never wore cologne."
I ask Tirawi to describe the way that Arafat dealt with his political allies and his rivals within the Palestinian national movement.
"Many times, with the members of the executive committee, this is the impression he gave them—that he was their father, even if they were older than he was," Tirawi says. "He had those two important positions, of being the father, of embracing everybody, and gathering them around him, and then, when it came to a time of decision, he was the leader. Sometimes he would get mad at somebody, and he would say something that made them upset, and then directly, the next day, he would be coming to them, kissing them and saying that he was sorry, and giving them the impression that he was apologizing to them."
When I ask Tirawi how the second intifada started, he initially denies that Arafat was responsible. "It was a popular movement, because Israel was not respecting the agreements," Tirawi says. When I press him further, he says that there was in fact a decision to launch a war against the Israelis."After tens of Palestinians were killed by the Israeli army—that was how it started," Tirawi says, amplifying his original statement. "There was not any use of weapons at the beginning of the intifada. Only after—even after a hundred Palestinians were killed, there was not one bullet. After that, there was a decision. But only after more than a hundred Palestinians were killed."
Having established himself in bunkerlike circumstances inside the Muqata, Arafat expressed a great deal of frustration with the lack of support he received from Arab leaders who made ritual obeisance to the justice of the Palestinian cause. "Many times he would be pushing the Arab leaders to move, not to wait, especially when he was besieged," Tirawi remembers in his mellow voice, as the sun streams through the plate-glass windows, which overlook the hills around Ramallah. "He would look at those Arab leaders with great bitterness, because they were impotent, they could not do anything."
When I ask Tirawi to name Arafat's greatest failure, he is blunt. "He failed to realize his dream and the dream of his people of establishing a state."
The members of Fatah's young guard who achieved a measure of real political power in Arafat's court were the heads of the security services in the West Bank and Gaza, Jibril Rajoub and Muhammad Dahlan. Both men had become close to Arafat in Tunis after they were deported by the Israelis during the first intifada, in the eighties. Both men forged close operational ties to the CIA during the nineties. The theory then was that the United States and Israel needed to help train and strengthen Arafat's security services, so that the Palestinian leader could crack down on Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Rajoub's relationship with the CIA came to an end in 2001, when an explosive projectile damaged the bathroom of his heavily secured compound, which the Israelis claimed was being used as a hideout for terrorists. The Israelis then demolished the compound.
Muhammad Dahlan, also known as Abu Fathi, is the crown prince of Gaza. Well-built, in his mid-forties, Dahlan has an easy, powerful physical presence that exudes authority and a not inconsiderable amount of egotism and vanity. Where Rajoub looks like a colonel in civilian clothing, Dahlan is a fawn-eyed fashion plate. His hair is crimped with a wave in front, like an Egyptian pop star's. Dahlan is widely seen as the power behind Mahmoud Abbas's government and the paramount warlord in the Palestinian territories. He is the linchpin for the Bush administration's hopes for democracy in the Palestinian Authority. When I arrive at his floor in the Grand Park Hotel in Ramallah, I am greeted by a bodyguard, who escorts me past three armed men to his room. Today Dahlan is wearing alligator loafers, a silk turtleneck, a Gucci blazer, and a large Rolex watch. Beside the couch where he sits is a stack of Arabic translations of articles from the world's major newspapers. Dahlan, who was first introduced to Arafat by Abu Jihad, in Baghdad, is pleased that I recognize his mentor's name.
"When we lost Abu Jihad, we lost the political know-how," he says. "With Abu Iyad, we lost the creativity and ability to shape opinion." Dahlan takes a sip of his tea and leans forward. "I believe that the internal life of the Palestinian national movement became much more complicated when Abu Jihad and Abu Iyad died, because we had only one person in charge," he explains. "If you disagree with Abu Ammar, you become with the Jews. Whereas before, if you opposed Abu Ammar, it meant that you could be with Abu Jihad or Abu Iyad."
Like Rajoub, who was close to Arafat in Tunis, Dahlan was horrified by the Palestinian leadership's ignorance of the actual conditions in the territories and the nature of the Israeli state. "It was a horrible shock," he says. "They didn't know anything, nothing essential, the details or even the important aspects of the situation. Because I was used to Abu Jihad, who knew even the smallest details about who was who in this refugee camp, in that school, in this university, in Bir Zeit University, in Jabalya refugee camp, I assumed that the rest were like him. When I became in the forefront after Abu Jihad died, I realized that they knew nothing. I was astonished and I was saddened."
"Arafat is your friend, as long as you're not a threat to him, or a competitor, based on his perception," Dahlan says. In the last year of Arafat's life, he adds, the relationship between them cooled. "It's not you, it's not logic," he explains. "Sometimes he would get scared of you. He would get jealous of you. You don't know why. It would just start in his mind, from the people around him," Dahlan says, leaning forward and squirting a decongestant spray into his nose from a white-plastic bottle.
"Working with him in general is not easy, even for people like me," Dahlan continues. Echoing comments made to me by Tirawi and Rajoub, he paints a picture of a highly emotional man who was expert in manipulating those around him but was also susceptible to the manipulations of his court.
"Many times he would be like a kid," Dahlan remembers. "Sometimes he is shouting, or sobbing, and other times he is very calm. I remember him laughing when we were telling him jokes, especially when we were in the airplane together. I remember him when he was angry, especially during the elections, the negotiations, when he was planning. He had highly refined human emotions, very sensitive. He is very shy—maybe this is something that will shock you. Anytime someone was coming with any wish, he would want to fulfill it. This created problems for us."
In one case, early on in the Oslo process, Dahlan says, he remembers being alone with Arafat when Prime Minister Rabin called the Palestinian leader on the phone and asked to change a key point in the Oslo agreement. Arafat agreed on the spot.
"He thought it was the fish market," Dahlan adds.
My translator N. asks if he saw the recent editorial headline in the newspaper al-Ayyam that said "Arafat Makes Decisions From the Grave."
"That's shit and garbage," Dahlan says.
When I ask him for his final verdict on Arafat's mistakes, he is openly dismissive.
"He managed the relationship with the U.S. the way he manages relations with the Arab countries and the Third World countries," Dahlan begins. "Second, he didn't distinguish between a personal relationship and a political one." Dahlan pauses before he completes the list. "And the third thing, which is also important, he thought he was as powerful as the Jews in the U.S. He overestimated himself. In my view, my interest lies with the U.S. My duty is how to create an interest for the U.S. with me, so that they will serve me."
In the weeks that follow, I ditch my translators and travel to Tel Aviv for on- and off-the-record meetings with present and former high-ranking Israeli officials, including officers of various intelligence services who had dealings with Arafat. Both the Israelis and the Palestinians know their enemy well. They share other things, too, such as their taste in interior décor. During one meeting in the Kirya, the army command headquarters in the center of Tel Aviv, I notice that the view from my host's corner office is similar to the view from Tawfiq Tirawi's office. Again, the television is tuned to al-Jazeera with the sound turned off. Looking around the room, I notice a picture of the Mosque of Omar above the walls of Jerusalem. It's almost the same office, I comment to my host, who smiles apologetically. "But my view is nicer," he says. "I see the ocean."
A current high-ranking officer in the Israeli intelligence services: "Let me tell you a story. In 1997 Arafat was unhappy with Netanyahu, so in March he decided to resume what we call the green light for attacks. Since early 1996 he had the red light. So he had a meeting with the Hamas leadership, and he said something about the fact that they are always in holy war. Hamas came out of this meeting and they weren't sure if Arafat really meant for them to resume the attacks. So they asked him to give them a sign. He released from jail Ibrahim Maqadma. The story with Maqadma is that he had been in charge of the secret cell in Hamas that was in charge of getting rid of Arafat. So by releasing him, you give them a green light. On the twenty-first of March, 1997, they carried out the attack on the café in Tel Aviv. That is what we mean by the green light for terror."
A former leader of the Israeli security services who met with Arafat many times: "He accepted that in his lifetime he would not see a Palestinian state that included the land beyond the 1967 borders. 'In his lifetime' is a key phrase on our side also. We also believe that all the land is ours. If the Palestinians were weak enough, we would take Hebron and Nablus and sit there forever, because that is the biblical heartland of Israel. Arafat woke up every day and imagined what is possible today, and that is the mark of a pragmatic person. When the intifada came, he rode the horse. I used to tell my people, just because you see a man sitting on top of the horse, it doesn't mean he is telling the horse where it should go."
Amos Gilad, the chief of Israeli military intelligence's research section during the late 1990s, who authored a classified report titled "2000, the Year of Decision—The Coming Terror War Against Israel": "He loved smoke and blood and ruins. This is where he felt most comfortable. He believed that Israel was a temporary entity. To talk about him as a pragmatic person is utter nonsense. His goal was to destroy us, and he almost succeeded. He wanted to ride on his horse up to heaven."
Former prime minister Ehud Barak is a unique figure in Israeli political life, because he is hated with equal intensity by the left and the right. Israelis hate Barak because he killed their dreams. Barak killed the dream of Greater Israel by offering to give up all of Gaza and all but a single-digit percentage of the West Bank, and to divide Jerusalem. Barak killed the dream of peace by failing to reach an agreement with the Palestinians at Camp David. The most decorated combat veteran in the history of the State of Israel, Barak is the country's prodigal son, the leader to whom it turned in 1999 with high expectations, and from whom it received the bitter harvest of the al-Aqsa intifada. The popular feeling about Barak is best summed up by a joke I saw on the Israeli sketch-comedy show Eretz Nehederet (A Wonderful Country). "Following the appearance of locusts this week in southern Israel," the show's anchor intoned, "experts are warning the public to be on the lookout for creatures that appear, wreak havoc, and leave quickly." The camera then cut to a picture of Barak.
I meet Barak in a Tel Aviv coffee shop called Aroma. Barak's security man arrives early, and asks me to move to another table so that he can position Barak close to an exit, with his back against a solid stone wall, facing outward. When Barak arrives, he asks me to change seats, so that he can sit facing the wall. Not yet comfortable, he props his feet up on a chair. A fluent storyteller, Barak is also a skilled classical pianist, a gifted mathematician, and an amateur mechanic who likes to relax by taking objects apart and putting them back together. His alert, inquisitive eyes and active features are set in a round face that carries the beginnings of a double chin.
There is a school of opinion that blames Arafat's personal hatred of Barak for the intifada. When I try it out on Barak, he dismisses the idea as irrational; yet as we talk, it is not hard to see why so many people find him disconcerting. Barak has two distinct and contradictory personalities. He combines the hyperactive, engaging manner of the smartest ten-year-old boy on the planet with a cold, analytical way of describing events that suggests the personality of the computer HAL in Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. Oslo, Barak believes, was a political adventure embarked on by Rabin, who distrusted Arafat but saw a strategic need to reach a political settlement with the Palestinians.
"What we had in mind all the time was that if you keep moving toward a volcanic eruption of violence, as a result of being unable to stretch reigning over the Palestinians for another generation, we might end up with a tragedy," Barak says, tugging at the collar of his navy windbreaker. He recalls a meeting at the beginning of the first intifada, chaired by Rabin, in which the Israeli defense establishment confronted the nature of the rebellion and the range of available solutions.
"We had a closed gathering of probably thirty people—the top brass of the defense ministry—with Rabin, and he brought several academics to talk about what they believed they were seeing," Barak remembers. "The first intifada was then two weeks old. And there was a brilliant presentation made by Professor Shamir, and he talked about the fifty precedents in the last century of such events. He said that throughout history only three strategies came close to being successful. None is relevant to our case. The strategies were extermination, starvation, and mass transportation. We were targets of extermination and the Armenians also, but it didn't work. Biafra was starvation, didn't work. And he analyzed what would happen—it's a brilliant short presentation."
As chief of the IDF general staff, and later as a minister in Rabin's cabinet, Barak talked to the prime minister about the problems with the Oslo Accords very often, he says. "Many times I would ask Rabin, Why did you give up on this or that? and he would say, 'You know, Ehud, we still have wide enough margins. The moment will inevitably come when we'll have to pass our judgment.' Even at the time, we read Arafat's speeches to other audiences, in Johannesburg and other places, where he would say, 'Remember the false Hudna,'" Barak says, referring to a deceptive treaty entered into by the prophet Muhammad. By the time he became prime minister, Barak says, he found that a violent explosion was imminent and the strategic situation was not in Israel's favor.
"I felt in all my mature life that Israel from 1947 on could never materialize any operational or military achievement unless we had two preconditions fulfilled," he explains. "One, that we occupied the moral high ground in the world, the other that we kept our internal unity. It was the case in 1947 exactly because Ben-Gurion was ready to take an almost impossible international plan and agree to it, and the Palestinians rejected it. Only the fact that Ben-Gurion accepted it made it possible for Israel to hold to the results of the war for fifty-seven years."
"Eight years later we drove into Sinai," he continues, "and it took three weeks for Ben-Gurion to be thrown out after he made his messianic announcement to the Knesset about the founding of the Third Kingdom of Israel. In 1967 we opened fire but the perception in the world was that they tried to strangle us, and we enjoyed the moral high ground and internal unity. In Lebanon we violated this basic rule and we were unable to hold what we took. I felt if we did not act quite urgently to create this moment of truth before Bill Clinton left office, we will have an eruption, and Israel will be blamed."
I mention to Barak that Yigal Carmon, a former Israeli national-security adviser, and now the head of memri, a leading source of translations of Arab-language media into English, told me of meeting with Barak several times before he went to Camp David to make his historic peace offer to Arafat. Each time they met, Carmon said, Barak pressed him on whether Arafat would accept the deal. Each time, Carmon said that based on the speeches Arafat was making in Arabic, the Palestinian leader would insist that the Israelis hand over the Old City of Jerusalem to serve as the Palestinian capital.
Even for secular Israelis the idea of surrendering the historic center of Jerusalem to Arab rule was simply unthinkable. In order to defuse the strategic threat posed by the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem, the Israelis needed to stage a controlled scenario in which they would appear as peacemakers while Arafat would be bound by his own rhetoric to refuse their generous offer of a state. There could be no better master of ceremonies for such a demonstration than Bill Clinton, the American president who brought Arafat and Rabin together in 1993 on the White House lawn. By this account, at least, reports of Barak's unfriendly behavior at Camp David can be explained by the fact that the Israeli prime minister was hoping that his peace proposal would fail.
Many Israelis dismiss the idea that Barak's offer to Arafat at Camp David was part of any master plan. Still, the implication is worth considering: the prime minister of Israel used an American president to knowingly create a huge diplomatic failure that damaged the international prestige of the United States in order to extricate his country from the consequences of Oslo.
"Let me complete one point," Barak says. "Imagine two firemen who are both running to save a two-family house from a fire. The other fireman is already a distinguished one with a Nobel Peace Prize, and all along the way you don't know if he's the fireman or the pyromaniac. And you have to attend to both possibilities." He puts his hands one on top of the other, and then lays them both flat on the table.
"So yes, I felt the need strategically to create this moment of truth before the eruption, and before Clinton leaves."
Wearing a black dress and a fashionable white jacket, Arafat's dark-haired nine-year-old daughter, Zahwa, stood with her mother, Suha, and watched as her father's coffin was loaded on to a plane. "Don't cry, Zahwa," an Egyptian television announcer intoned as the scene was broadcast on the day of Yasir Arafat's funeral in Cairo. "Your father never cried. He was a man of patience and endurance." The press was naturally eager for a glimpse of the little girl who might inherit the Palestinian leader's fortune. Yet Zahwa was not Arafat's only child. Since the early 1970s Arafat had adopted a number of orphaned children, paying for their schooling and giving them away at their weddings. Of all Arafat's far-flung progeny the one to whom he was probably closest was Raeda Taha, who was adopted by Arafat when she was eight years old, after the death of her father, the PFLP and Black September terrorist Ali Taha.
A lively woman in her early forties with a low smoker's voice, Raeda has sharp features that could be pretty or ugly, a slightly receding chin, and large, beautiful eyes, which are set off to great advantage by her white fur coat and diamond earrings. In 2002, while living in Ramallah, during Operation Defensive Shield, she decided to write a book about her father, who hijacked Sabena Flight 517 from Brussels to Tel Aviv on May 8, 1972, with three accomplices, and was shot dead by a commando team led by Ehud Barak.
"I don't care if he died for Palestine or anything else," Raeda says, when I meet her at a restaurant on a rainy night in Ramallah. "He looked like a movie star," she remembers. "White, perfect teeth, and shining eyes. He was very young." As a child, Raeda knew that the men who came discreetly to her parents' apartment in West Beirut to sip tea were important guests who belonged to a secret world.
"I remember my mother would open the door and I will peek a little bit and I would look to see who they are," she says, naming several well-known international terrorists of the 1970s. "I remember Carlos," she says, of the terrorist who was known as "The Jackal," and who now resides in a French jail. "He would play with us a little bit. Wadi Hadad used to come a lot." Wadi Hadad was the inventor of airplane hijacking as a political weapon; his brother Isad was the owner of the exclusive girls' school that Raeda attended in Beirut.
The day Ali Taha left on his final trip, he hugged his daughters good-bye and promised his wife that this would be his last trip abroad. When her mother heard the news that a plane had been hijacked to Tel Aviv, she called her husband's controller in the PFLP and confessed her fears. "And he told her, 'Not in your wildest dreams. Just go back to sleep.'" The next morning Raeda saw her father's picture on the front page of the newspaper, and took it to the superintendent of her school.
"I knocked at the door and I went in and I put the newspaper behind my back and I told him, 'Mr. Hassan, good morning. I want to ask you a question. What's the meaning of shahid?' And he said, 'Why are you asking me?' I told him, 'Just tell me the meaning.' He said, 'The one who dies for his country.'" Raeda went home, where she found that her mother had been given tranquilizers. The apartment was filled with people, who told her that her father was a hero who had died for Palestine.
"I knew the story by heart," she says. "He did something very heroic that nobody could do. To take a plane from one place to another was a big thing to me." Raeda also remembered the man who had come to her house in disguise before her father left on his final journey.
"I asked my mother when I was probably ten, or nine. I told her, 'Mom, I know this man from his mouth. He had this big mouth, with his lips—you know. She said, 'You're right.'" On the third day after her father's death the mystery man showed up at her house again.
"He called my mother and he called all of us, and he said, 'Listen to me carefully what I'm going to tell you now. I am your father now, and I'll be taking care of you, and you needn't worry about anything,'" Raeda remembers, taking another cigarette from the pack on the table. "He said, 'These children are mine from now on, and their father is my brother, and whatever you dream during the night, I'm ready to make it come true.'"
Being close to the Old Man was pleasant for a child. He was small in size, and had small, soft hands. He liked to kiss Raeda and her three sisters, and play with their hair.
"Your father was a very brave man," the Old Man would say. "He did something very good for Palestine. Your mommy loves you very much, and I love you very much, and whenever you want to see me and whenever you need anything, you can come and tell me." He asked the girls what they wanted to be when they grew up.
"I told him, 'I want to become an astronaut,'" Raeda remembers. "He looked at me; he said, 'Yeah, maybe.' I told him, 'Like Valentina Tereshkova.' He said, 'Yeah. By the time we go back to Palestine, probably you will be the first Palestinian astronaut.'"
Every few months or so throughout their childhood, and on birthdays, Raeda and her sisters would accompany their mother to a dingy office where her new father sat behind his desk, surrounded by his bodyguards. When he saw the girls, he would stand up and gasp with excitement, and come out from behind his desk. He would grab the four girls, and sit next to them, and kiss them, and ask how they were doing in school. One year, on the birthday of one of Raeda's sisters, a piano arrived. When Raeda went off to college in the United States, Arafat paid her tuition. When she visited him in Tunis, he would feed her ice cream and boast about her grades.
After she graduated from college, she became his press secretary. They ate together often.
"He enjoyed a little gossip, just to let you know that he is normal like you. He would ask me from time to time, 'What about your love life? No love?' I tell him, 'No love.' 'Why? Life is not beautiful without love, my dear.' I told him, 'You should say that to yourself,'" Raeda says, laughing. She taps the ash from her cigarette. "He would notice if I am wearing something new. 'This is a new bag. This is a new dress—I haven't seen you wearing it before.' He likes to get involved in your details, to let you know that he is normal. And he likes to tell you things about himself. You know, 'When I was young, I never liked to eat roheyeh or okra. I never like these two dishes. My big sister, my oldest sister, used to make me roheyeh and okra all the time, and I became a freedom fighter just to run away from her.'" Raeda laughs.
She offers me a cigarette, which I accept in the hope that it might quiet my bronchitis.
"I'll tell you about the last moments I saw him," she says finally. "He was lying down like this, you know, and he had this big smile on him with his training suit, and when he saw me, he said, 'Ah.'" Raeda sighs. "He said, 'So you came. How are you, my love? I miss you.' His hand was white. I was caressing his hand, and then I kissed it, and then he grabbed my hand with his full strength and he brought it close to his mouth and he kissed it. He said, 'Don't worry. I'll be fine. Yesterday I wasn't feeling well at all, but today I am feeling much better.'"
I ask her how many people came to visit Arafat at the end of his life.
"Very few people coming and going," she remembers, of the day before Arafat left Ramallah. "I stayed there until twelve o'clock, and then I told him, 'I wish you a safe trip, and I'll be waiting for you.' He said, 'Wait for me. I will come back.' I said good-bye to him and I left, and he never came back."
An article in the September 2005 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, "In a Ruined
Country: How Yasir Arafat Destroyed Palestine," by David Samuels, made
several references to Mohamed Rachid, a former senior official of the
Palestinian Authority (PA) and the Palestine Investment Fund (PIF).
Subsequent to publication, Mr. Rachid, who declined repeated requests to be
interviewed by Mr. Samuels, contacted the magazine to clarify portions of
the article. The references to Mr. Rachid were intended to illustrate
certain claims relating to the financial structure and activities of the
Palestinian Authority and its late chairman, Yasir Arafat, and not to allege
any fraudulent or unlawful conduct on the part of Mr. Rachid. The article
did not state nor intend to imply that Mr. Rachid transferred PA or PIF
funds to his individual account or used such funds for his personal benefit.