by Uri Avnery
"Have you gone mad? Now? He is irrelevant! He's finished!" These were the reactions of some people when Israeli TV showed my meeting with Arafat in Ramallah this week.
Is Arafat "finished"? If so, he has not heard about it. I found him in splendid shape. At some of my meetings with him over the last few years he frequently looked tired, even distant and self-absorbed. This time he was in good spirits. He talked energetically, reacted rapidly, poked gentle fun at his assistants and made some biting remarks.
(For example: when we spoke about Sharon's demand that Abu-Mazen conduct mass arrests, he laughed: "But the Israelis have destroyed all our prisons, except the one in Jericho. And if we want to transfer a criminal there, we must ask the Quartet for a car, so as to be able to pass the Israeli checkpoints!")
One can understand his lively mood. For the last year, his life has been hanging on a thread. Sharon could have sent his men to kill him at any moment. (Several times this danger seemed so close that my friends and I found it necessary to rush there as a human shield.) One of the Israeli officers boasted this week that "only a thin wall separated me from him." Now this danger has been rendered more remote --even if Arafat is still confined to his small building, amid surrealistic ruins.
During the last 45 years, his life has been in danger many times. Dozens of attempts have been made on his life. Once his airplane crash landed, killing several of his entourage. He survived it all. This time, too. His sense of relief is understandable.