In the Ramallah Mukata'a ("compound"), no security measures were added. I had meals with him several times, and wondered again at his openness. American and other foreign guests, who were (or seemed to be) pro-Palestinian activists were invited by him freely, sat next to him and could easily have slipped poison into his food. Arafat would joke with his guests and feed them choice tidbits with his hand.
Certain poisons do not need food. Slight physical contact is enough.
YET THIS man was one of the most threatened persons in the world. He had many deadly enemies, half a dozen secret services were bent on his destruction. How could he be so lax?
When I remonstrated with him, he told me that he believed in divine protection.
Once, when he was flying in a private jet from Chad to Libya, the pilot announced that the fuel had run out. He was going to crash land in the middle of the desert. Arafat's bodyguards covered him with cushions and formed a ring around him. They were killed, but he survived almost without a scratch.
Since then he became even more fatalistic. He was a devout -- though unostentatious -- Muslim. He believed that Allah had entrusted him with the task of liberating the Palestinian people.
SO WHO carried out the assassination?
For me, there cannot be any real doubt.
Though many had a motive, only one person had both the means and a profound and lasting hatred for him -- Ariel Sharon.
Sharon was furious when Arafat slipped through his fingers in Beirut. Here was his quarry, so near yet so far. The Arab-American diplomat Philip Habib managed to make an arrangement which allowed the PLO fighters, including Arafat, to withdraw with honor from the city, with their arms. I was lying on the roof of a warehouse in Beirut Harbor when the PLO troops, flags flying, were driving by to the ships.
I did not see Arafat. His men were hiding him in their midst.
Since then, Sharon made no secret of his determination to kill him. And when Sharon was resolved to do something, he never, but never, gave up. Even in much smaller matters, if he was thwarted, he would return to his effort again and again and again, until he succeeded.
I knew Sharon well. I knew of his determination. Twice, when I felt that Sharon was nearing his goal, I went with Rachel and some colleagues to the Mukata'a to serve as a human shield. Later we had the satisfaction of reading an interview with Sharon, in which he complained that he had not been able to carry out the planned assassination because "some Israelis were staying there."
THIS WAS much more than a personal vendetta. He -- and not only he -- saw it as a national aim.
For Israelis, Arafat was the embodiment of the Palestinian people, an object of abysmal hatred. He was hated more than any other human being after Adolf Hitler and Adolf Eichmann. The generations-old conflict with the Palestinian people was personified by this man.
It was Arafat who had resurrected the modern Palestinian national movement, whose supreme aim was to thwart the Zionist dream of taking possession of all the country between the sea and the Jordan. It was he who had led the armed struggle (a.k.a. terrorism). And when he turned towards a peaceful settlement, recognized the State of Israel and signed the Oslo Accords, he was even more hated. Peace was bound to give back a lot of territories to the Arabs, and what could be worse?