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11 Nov 2004 10:48
With the death of veteran Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has lost his closest enemy, whom he chased, hated and finally isolated for three years in Ramallah.
For Sharon, Arafat never qualified as a sufficiently credible Palestinian partner with whom he could bring a peace agreement to fruition.
To the Israeli leader, Arafat—who took up the struggle against the Jewish state for Palestinian statehood in the 1960s—remained a symbol not only of that struggle, but a dangerous terrorist.
Sharon even went so far as to label his adversary a “terrorist whose hands are stained with blood”, hands the Israeli premier vowed never to shake. Sharon kept that promise to the end.
The Israeli prime minister used a colourful array of expressions to describe his sworn enemy, words that speak volumes about their relationship, like “murderer”, “pathological liar”, “dog” and, finally, “bin Laden”.
While serving as defence minister in the government of Menachem Begin, Sharon launched a military offensive against Palestinian sanctuaries in Lebanon in 1982, hunting Arafat all the way to Beirut.
But the international community’s intervention kept him from finishing the job, and a disappointed Sharon watched Arafat and his Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) fighters leave Lebanon for a new exile in Tunisia.
Following the Oslo accords between the Israelis and the Palestinians in 1993, Arafat was only greeted with scorn from Sharon, despite the new recognition the Palestinian leader was receiving on the international scene.
For Sharon, he was and always would be a “criminal”.
However, upon the former Israeli general’s electoral triumph in February 2001 that saw him become prime minister, Arafat wrote him a letter to congratulate him and express the wish that 2001 would be a year of peace.
Sharon said he was ready to meet the PLO leader once he had put a stop to anti-Israeli attacks.
They spoke once or twice by telephone or through Sharon’s son Omri, but contacts were broken off with a new wave of attacks in June 2001.
In December 2001, Sharon—who accused Arafat of directly encouraging attacks targeting Israelis or turning a blind eye to them—isolated his arch-foe at his Muqataa headquarters in the West Bank.
His virtual house arrest would last three years, until he was dramatically airlifted from the West Bank to Paris nearly two weeks ago for urgent medical treatment of what was initially described as a blood disorder.
During his confinement at the Muqataa, the Palestinian leader endlessly repeated his belief that Sharon’s decision to block him into his headquarters stemmed from a “personal vendetta”.
But, a defiant Arafat added, “if Israeli tanks failed to intimidate me in Beirut, they will not scare me in Palestine”.
“What will Sharon do now, after having walled in the living proof of his thesis” that Arafat was an “obstacle to peace”, Israel’s Maariv daily asked on Wednesday, referring to the last three years of Arafat’s life in Ramallah.
For political commentator Eytan Gilboa, a professor of political science at Bar-Ilan University, “the most likely scenario is that Sharon will implement his Gaza disengagement plan in concert with the new Palestinian leadership”.
“No one can take the risk of seeing a chaotic situation in this territory after the Israeli withdrawal,” Gilboa noted.
“Afterwards, a resumption of negotiations is possible, but it’s up to the new Palestinian leadership to dismantle armed groups as stipulated in the roadmap,” Gilboa concluded.
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