“Shamir is ‘Mr. No’ – not the Prime Minister of Israel”

The Prime Minister of Israel (1915-2012) forced the PLO out of the (October 1991) Madrid Peace Conference and only accepted the presence of a Jordanian-Palestinian delegation. Yasser Arafat does not forgive him. (Read more..)

Late Israeli Prime mInister Yitzhak Shamir was a member of Irgun, a Jewish group that the British Mandate authorities of Palestine tried to capture on the allegation of being a terrorist. @All Rights Reserved

Yitzhak Shamir, as Prime Minister of Israel, tried very hard no to attend the 1991 Madrid  Peace Conference but was forced by the American Administration to be present.
© All Rights Reserved

“Mr. No is out of place, both in space and in time, as are his antiquated slogans and out-of-date dreams”. These were the carefully weighed and strongly pronounced words which Yasser Arafat, the PLO leader, used in response to the speech of the Israeli prime Minister, Yitzhak Shamir, at the Peace Conference in Madrid [November 30, 1991].

“Shamir continues to be obstinate stressing the he is not accepting the new situation following the third world war [a reference to the 1991 Gulf war], said Arafat at a meeting in Tunis, sponsored by the United Nations with a group of journalists (I was one of them) from several European newspapers.

“He [Shamir] continues to use the old language; he continues to speak of a Greater Israel”, complained Arafat, without hiding the deep-rooted antagonism that exists between the two leaders.

Arafat also availed himself of the opportunity to repeat the accusation that the Herut Party’s ideology., one of the members of the Likud bloc and of the Israeli governmental coalition, “is to annex not only the West Bank but also the East Bank of the Jordan River, from Jordan to the Euphrates.”

Donning his military uniform and the traditional kaffiyeh to cover his baldness, and with a hand partly covered in an elastic bandage, Arafat showed himself to be a real actor.

He raised or lowered his voice to heighten the effect of his words, crossing his arms on the table, sticking out his finger like a prosecuting attorney, or pinning his eyes on his adversary, as if appealing for understanding. His timbre gained further impetus when he mentioned Jerusalem and denied that the Jews and Israel had an exclusive right to that city.

A photograph dated 1947 shows a poster issued by British police forces seeking 18 wanted Jewish terrorists from the Irgun Zvai Leumi and Stern Gang. Pictured at top left is Irgun commander and future Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. @

A 1947 photograph  shows a poster issued by British police forces seeking Jewish terrorists from the Irgun Zvai Leumi and Stern Gang. Shamir is on the center: at that time his name was Yitzhak Yezemitzky.
© All Rights Reserved

The name “Jerusalem” derives from the term “Olsalim”, meaning the city of Salim, one of the kings of Canaan who built it, Arafat explained. In order to make sure that his words were not misinterpreted, Arafat referred several times to his advisers who filled the room, where one of the walls was completely covered by a photograph of the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem.

“Shamir repeated antiquated and blatant lies and the old cliché about peace in exchange for peace”, Arafat remarked. “Why did the Israelis come to Madrid, if the first item on President [George H. W.] Bush’s agenda, which we appreciate, was ‘land for peace’? I regret to say it, but Mr. Shamir is Mr. No, not the Prime Minister of Israel.”

What angered Arafat most were the conditions that Israel imposed on the Palestinian delegation to the Conference, forcing a joint one with Jordan, and excluding the PLO.

Only Palestinians from the occupied territories, as Faisal Husseini, Hanan Ashrawi and Haidar Abdel-Shafi, were allowed to participate, even if Israel and the US were aware that they were in permanent contact with their exiled leader in Tunis.

“Schwarzkopf did not select the Iraqis with whom to speak after the war… In the Cambodian peace process, no one dictate the names of the delegations. The exception is Shamir as regards to the Palestinians.”

For about two hours of conversation, Arafat showed himself several times to be conciliatory vis-à-vis the United States, having adopted an unusually severe tone towards Europe.

“I regret to tell you this, but you Europeans have pampered and spoilt your naughty boy, Israel”.

The unchangeable figure of  “Mr. Palestine”

Suha Arafat poses with her daughter Zahwa Arafat (L) in front of a portrait of her late husband Yasser Arafat at her home in Malta on November 10, 2011, on the eve of the seventh anniversary of his death. Arafat died on November 11, 2004 in a French hospital. A Tunisian court has issued an international arrest warrant against the widow of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat over alleged corruption, a justice official said on October 31. Suha Arafat, who was stripped of her Tunisian citizenship in 2007 following a dispute with the former ruling family and currently lives in Malta, vehemently denied any corruption allegations and said she was ready to lay the case bare.   AFP PHOTO / Matthew Mirabelli    ***MALTA OUT*** (Photo credit should read @ Matthew Mirabelli/AFP/Getty Images)

Suha Arafat (R ) poses with her daughter Zahwa Arafat (L) in front of a portrait of her late husband and PLO leader, at a new home in Malta, on November 10, 2011. The Palestinian president died in 2004 in a French hospital. A Tunisian court has issued an international arrest warrant against Arafat’s widow over alleged corruption. She denies all allegations. 
© Matthew Mirabelli | AFP | Getty

Yasser Arafat’s character – like his speeches – never changes. The PLO leader received his guests in a military uniform, with a gun in his holster and a kaffiyeh covering his baldness. Although his right hand was bound in an elastic bandage, he firmly shook the hands of the successive journalists who greeted him as if he were a head of State.

“A pleasure to meet you, Mr. President!” This is how he likes  – and expects – to be treated, except if among friends. For the latter he is only Abu Ammar, his nom de guerre.

Like a ruthless child, he is constantly reaching down to hid hip – on alert; his expression changes quickly from anger to a beaming smile, and his gaze is piercing and penetrating.

He revels in being treated like a “star” and willingly poses to be photographed alongside journalists who seek the “privilege” of being next to “Mr. Palestine”, as Playboy magazine called him.

The security surrounding him was indescribable. The meeting scheduled for 7 p.m. on Wednesday [October 30, 1991]. It was postponed for the same night at a time to be determined. An unexpected trip by Arafat to Morocco changed the rendezvous to the following day. At 7:30 p.m. everyone was in his place, but confirmation was not given until 9 p.m.

Two of Arafat’s messengers in a Mercedes led the bus to a residential zone two minutes away from the hotel. Traffic in the street was interrupted.

At the door of a modest house with a fence covered in a green plastic screen, dozens of men in plain clothes stood on guard, some of them showing machine-guns and others unsuccessfully hiding their weapons below their jackets.

Limousines surrounded the whole area around the house. In spite of the smoked-glass windows, it was possible to see that security officers were presumably occupying them. Several bodyguards searched the clothes and bags before allowing access to Arafat’s quarters.

There was a white house, in an indeterminate Arab style, a hastily built annex, a carved marble pillar in the doorway and windows with green wooden shades on the first floor. Several Merced were parked in the garage.

The inside was in complete disarray, which showed that it had not been well kept. The entire wall was covered with photographs of Arafat.

The Palestinian flag was everywhere. Behind Arafat’s desk there was a photograph of the Islamic sanctuary Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

The PLO leader in Lebanon, before being expelled to Tunis. Until the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, Israel considered Yasser Arafat a master terrorist, its public enemy number 1. In 1994, he became president of the Palestinian National Authority but after the Second Intifada, in 2000, he was again demonised and kept like a prisoner in Ramallah. @All Rihgts Reserved

The PLO leader in Lebanon, before being expelled to Tunis. Until the Oslo Accords, signed in 1993, Israel considered Yasser Arafat a master terrorist, its public enemy number 1. After those agreements, he became president of the Palestinian Authority but with the Second Intifada, in 2000, he was again demonised and locked as a prisoner in Ramallah (West Bank).
© All Rihgts Reserved

These two articles, now revised and updated, were originally published in the Portuguese newspaper PÚBLICO on November 1, 1991 – the translation, slightly changed here, was published in a UN special edition called “Peace in the News”

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