Extended interview: Mohammed Rashid

Longer clips from our interview with Mohammed Rashid, who talks about the last time he saw Yasser Arafat.

These are extended clips from our interview with Mohammed Rashid, a longtime adviser to Arafat, who talks about the last time he saw the late Palestinian leader and about threats made against him.

Okay. Uh, it is, it is just, just to blame White House the, the way they campaigned against Arafat after the failure of Camp David in July 2000 because he had enough guarantees from President Clinton. If Camp David will not achieve the agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians, he will not to be blamed after that.

He was very, very careful that he will be, he will be exposed to a severe campaign, Israeli-American campaign, if Camp David would not go through and if the agreement will not be achieved.

And he knew he will be paying very high personal price. He was hesitating to go to Camp David before, before he went there. And based on promises and guarantees he received from the White House that if things not working in Camp David he will not be exposed to attacks. And that was the only, uh, only, only condition when he accepted to go based on it to, to the negotiation and to try this path.

In January 10th, 2001 after the last visit to Washington, I wrote a long letter to President Arafat. I resigned from my job, and I wrote him a long letter. I was here in London, and I sent him the letter to Tunisia where he was visiting for a few days. In that letter, I described my opinions, my analysis – what will happen? And, uh, I can tell you the, the main issue in my analysis was that he is now exposed to a serious danger, whether as a political leader of the Palestinian people, top leader, or even physical threat. I, I saw it clearly. It’s coming up because Barak was about to lose the elections, President Clinton was — him and his team was leaving the office; a new American team coming in.

It happened I met with some of the new team even before they took the office, and I was hearing from them totally new music to, to the Middle East issue, uh, during the, the periods of the — of the policy review in Washington. And I — at least I had one long meeting with, uh, a dear friend, Richard Haass. He was — by then, he was doing the, uh, policy review. And, uh, it happened I also met the brother of President Bush, one of his brothers. Excuse me to not disclose his name. And they both told me before the last visit – Arafat’s visit to Washington – if President Arafat say yes to President Clinton, then the incoming administration will be committed to the process. But if he will say no, then the new administration will start it all over again from totally new approach and from totally new dimensions.

So it was clear that he has nothing there solid on the table where he can say yes, but also the world wasn’t prepared to hear no. So when, when you’ll be in this critical path, you can see this, this leader that he’s stepping more and more to a very tough situation. What — which became a reality in 2002, 2002 to 2003, when, uh, especially after Israel elected the new prime minister, Ariel Sharon. And it was clear that we are heading to a serious deadlock which could cause Arafat his political leadership and it could cause him his life as well.

Last time when I saw Sharon, it was — there was an attack in Netanya. It was a big attack. It caused some 31 Israeli victims. I was on the way to the meeting, and I thought it is just wise to call it off and go back. I spoke to Omri Sharon, and he told me, “No. The prime minister waiting for you. Keep going.” And almost five hours meeting with him, uh, he was avoiding touching on the, on the event. In the last half an hour, I told him, “Mr. Prime Minister, we have to find a solution to stop attacks like these, more attacks like this in the future, and more reactions from the Israeli side on the Palestinians.” Then he told me, “I wasn’t willing to discuss this issue with you, but let me tell you. Tell your boss, next time it will be really tough. And I’m not sure there will be, after the next time, there will be any more time. So I’m fed up with this. This should stop. I hold him personally responsible, and I want, I want him — let him do what he likes to do, but I want a responsible prime minister to work with me; otherwise, there is nothing, nothing will move.”

So for, for me, this was more than political threat, and especially the tanks were getting closer to Arafat’s bedroom. I, I don’t think there was more than five meters’ distance between the tanks and his bedroom. So it was obvious another attack could lead to catastrophe, even a direct physical catastrophe. But it was obvious, time is ticking and Arafat’s days becoming really short and short. I would say the decision had been made in 2002 to get rid of him, politically and physically.

You will hear lots of rumors. You will hear he was — he wasn’t young. He was in his mid-70s. In this age in our, in our areas, you always have some diseases, some sickness, some symptoms. Nobody can tell you, because like you, I hear lots of rumors that he ate a piece of chocolate then he vomited and he did this and somebody gave him something. Nobody can tell you when it happened and who did it, and what was the way to do it? But everything tells you those people whom they know the truth, they don’t want to speak about it. Those people whom they need to know the truth, they are not requesting the truth.

What prevents Mr. Abbas or the Palestinian leadership to recommend officially to publish all the medical reports of Arafat in Percy hospital in, in France? Why it is a national secret for the French, sovereignty for the French government? He is the leader of the Palestinian people. Why it, it is, it’s not the top priority for the Palestinians? At least we request officially. Let France Chirac or France Sarkozy or France Hollande say no, no, we cannot do this legally because there is family privacy issue. There is this issue, there is that issue, but nobody requesting. As I’m sitting with you now, we are mid- 2012; there is no official investigation committee on the Palestinian side.

And maybe he, he paid the price at the end of the day; trusted people too much. And let’s not forget, Arafat was a target for assassination five, six times in his life by the same way, poisoning. So we don’t know how many times they failed to reach him. But we know only when they succeeded to get to him, to get to him.

And I’m saying that because I personally believe he was poisoned. And I hope French officials and authorities and doctors can show me wrong. I hope. We need to know the truth. We are strong. The Palestinian people, they are very brave, very strong. They can take any news. They need to know the truth.

So there was no protocol visiting him. There was no food protocol. And when food is on the table, anybody there can be part of that lunch or dinner. Anybody can be a very normal ordinary guest if he’s inside the building. He never used to eat alone – never. I know him at least for 32 years, never saw him eating alone.

This is – excuse my French language – this is bullshit. Twenty-nine French doctors, top doctors, were analyzing his case. After 15 or to 18 days you come up with the — with the answer, the reason of the death, unknown? What was it? Cancer? Tell us. Heart attack? Tell us. Brain stroke? Tell us. Like some people trying to say, well, it was — maybe it was AIDS that that’s what they are hiding. No, no, no, say it. As I said, the Palestinian people, they are strong. They are brave. They can take any news. Just say it; throw it out; mention it. What was it?

When you say — and that’s what I told the French officials because when they enforced the — I was the first, first one to be informed that his condition is — he is going down at a severe — almost he is done. When they said — when I asked, what, what, what’s the cause? They said unknown. And I told them immediately, “Then you are telling me he was poisoned.” They said we cannot confirm. We cannot deny. So who will confirm and deny if you can’t? If there is — if it is a national secret for the French government and, and country, let them come out publicly and say, we know but we will not say it. We will — we know but we will not declare it. It will hurt the national secret interest of, of France.