Arafat’s Wife: Palestinian Leaders Trying to “Bury Arafat While He is Still Alive”

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Controversy erupts over whether senior Palestinian leaders would be allowed to visit Arafat in France when his wife, Suha Arafat, tried to block the visit claiming they were attempting to “bury Arafat while he is still alive.” We go to Amman, Jordan to speak with independent journalist Lamis Andoni. [includes rush transcript]

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat is reported to be in stable but very serious condition in a military hospital in Paris. A controversy erupted yesterday over whether senior Palestinian leaders would be allowed to visit Arafat in France. Arafat’s wife, Suha Arafat, tried to block the visit claiming they were attempting to “bury Arafat while he is still alive.”

Today the officials, including Prime Minister Ahmed Qurei and PLO chief Mahmoud Abbas, are expected to arrive in France to see Arafat. Suha is one of only a handful of people who have seen Arafat since he was hospitalized 10 days ago. There have been rumors that Arafat has fallen into an irreversible coma but his wife has denied this.

Meanwhile conflicting reports are coming out of Israel as to where Arafat’s funeral will be held. Yesterday, the government said Arafat would be buried in the Gaza Strip. But today news reports are claiming that the official funeral will take place in Cairo followed by a private ceremony in Gaza.

  • Lamis Andoni, independent journalist who has been covering the Middle East for 20 years. She has reported for the Christian Science Monitor, the Financial Times and the main newspapers in Jordan. She joins us on the line now from Amman.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Lamis Andoni joins us right now from Amman, Jordan. She is an independent journalist who has been covering the Middle East for 20 years, reported for The Financial Times, The Christian Science Monitor and main newspapers in Jordan. Welcome to Democracy Now!

LAMIS ANDONI: Hi. How are you?

AMY GOODMAN: It’s good to have you with us. You have been monitoring Arab reports around the world, coverage of what’s happening in Fallujah. What are newspapers saying?

LAMIS ANDONI: Well, most newspapers, except maybe in Kuwait, are condemning the attack in Fallujah, and some feel freer to criticize Allawi, because Allawi, although he has no legitimacy and he’s appointed by the U.S., he has been giving cover of not — legitimacy to the attack. He has been using the same words, the same terms that the U.S. administration is saying, but some governments, including the government in Jordan, supports Allawi and is putting a lot of pressure on the newspapers here not to attack Allawi. So they just attack the decision to attack Fallujah.

AMY GOODMAN: And what about Kofi Annan, the U.N. Secretary General, speaking out against it, as well?

LAMIS ANDONI: Yeah. I think that that was received well, but it was thought as not — as insufficient by the — most of the commentators in the newspapers here. As for the coverage, you know, as your former guest who has done a brilliant job last April from Fallujah has said most journalists cannot go — cannot even be in Iraq. Many journalists have stopped going to Iraq, and so, they depend either on some Iraqi journalist who can report or a compilation of wire services, but their pictures are so clear, so when — like when they, for example, they did not allow the ambulances and that to enter, and the people leaving Fallujah, these are — I don’t think that the U.S. administration knows what impact these pictures are having on the Arab world and the news from Fallujah. They feel Fallujah is like just another Gaza or Jenin. Every picture that you see here is very similar, except for the intensity of the war in Iraq. I mean, the operation in Iraq and Palestine.

AMY GOODMAN: What has the Jordanian king said?

LAMIS ANDONI: He doesn’t support Allawi’s — some of Allawi’s policies publicly, but the problem that Allawi has been supported by Jordan since 1996. He said — the U.S. — there was a lot of pressure on King Hussein, and he succumbed to it. In 1996, he opened the first office for Allawi here because the thinking then was to — for Jordan to back a coup d’etat in Iraq and Allawi was their man. And he is still their man. It’s very embarrassing for Jordan, but — this is why their attempts to pressure the press is not succeeding because Reuters finds other ways to show what’s happening, by just attacking, by just criticizing or analyzing what’s happening in Iraq. So I think this is very embarrassing for Jordan, what’s going on in Fallujah and especially for the government here.

AMY GOODMAN: Lamis Andoni, what about as we move from Fallujah to what’s happening in the occupied territories in Gaza and West Bank, but actually not there, in Paris, in France, with Yasser Arafat? Right now, it looks like there is a struggle going on between the family, Suha Arafat, at her husband’s bedside, and the Palestinian delegation that is headed there right now, though they said they were going to cancel their trip when she spoke out on Al-Jazeera, and then they decided to move ahead. Can you talk about the situation and who is in charge?

LAMIS ANDONI: Yes, yes. First of all, even Suha’s family is not involved in this, it’s Suha. It seems that I — we’re all amazed, and I have known Suha by what she is doing, because she is presenting her — she presented herself in Al-Jazeera as if she’s the Palestinian successor to Arafat, and she doesn’t have any — she’s not as popular among the Palestinians. Anyway, she’s his wife, but she was never really into like a popular leader or something. So, everybody was shocked. The other thing, the decision was made last night actually, I was following the story last night, and in fact, I give it to Jordanian paper here and to Al-Jazeera, and Al-Jazeera called Suha, and Suha has been preventing all P.L.O. officers, not only the delegation that has just arrived in Jordan on their way to France, to see Arafat. Qaddumi, Faruq Qaddumi, who was a guest also, for example [inaudible] Abbas, she thinks that Abbas and Ahmed Quraya the two people who orchestrated Oslo, maybe they’re not popular enough, so she only mentioned their names; but she also mistreated and practically expelled Faruq Qaddumi, who is a well-known critic of Oslo (and who’s based in Tunis because he refused to accept the terms of Oslo) to visit him. She — she has been refusing to — to cooperate with his nephew, who is the ambassador of the U.N. in New York and ambassador of the P.L.O. at the U.N. and he’s the nephew of Arafat. After three days she prevented him from coming into the room. Because there’s a law in France that allows the wife, regardless of what the status or the women — the woman to be the only person who could allow other people to come in to see their husband or not when he’s in such situation. And she’s using this law because she thinks that it’s an opportunity for her, and we’re all shocked. I mean, I’ve known Suha. I haven’t seen her for years, but she didn’t seem to have this — such ambition; and today, I’ve been in touch with the West Bank with reports and people there and even when I was in Gaza, she’s not a popular person, even, so she cannot win. So last night, what happened is that the first P.L.O. delegation that was in France, including [inaudible] and P.L.O. the spokesman Abu Rdeneh came through Amman, and I learned immediately from the only person who saw them, another P.L.O. official, that Suha gave a letter to — a message to [inaudible] to tell Mahmoud Abbas and [inaudible] Ahmed Qureia that she will prevent them from even coming to France and she can sue the French government, according to the law. So, at the beginning last night, [inaudible] and Mahmoud Abbas and Ahmed Qureia decided not to go; but there was a lot of pressure on them all night that, you cannot let her win. This is the Palestinian people. What is she — They are talking to her mother and everybody, because her mother has been a close friend of Arafat for a long time, and I’m sure that — I’m trying to see her today because she’s just arriving from Paris and going the hospital. So, this is why — after she appeared, because she was talking as if she were Arafat. She was using his very — very language and even she said, which — “Allah Akbar”, God is great, because she is Christian, and she — she was — she thinks that it’s politically useful to show the majority of the Palestinians that she has become a Muslim. It’s all — it doesn’t make sense, so I — I’m not even used to talk about wives and — and I find it very embarrassing that you have to talk about that, because — Yes, she’s his wife. She has many rights. But the Palestinian people are — are — even here in Amman, all of the Arab world are waiting to see what’s happening. He is a leader. He’s not —and a symbol. He’s not just a husband. It’s very, very upsetting.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, where he will be — where Yasser Arafat will be buried? I mean, Suha Arafat said that these leaders are trying to bury Arafat while he’s still alive, but the whole issue is now being worked out as well. We only have a few more — another minute to speak about this.

LAMIS ANDONI: Well, he is in a very — I mean, it could be a matter of days or a matter of months. They’re trying — they don’t know if they can reverse the process. About where he’s going to — I think people will — will insist that it’s in Palestine. I don’t know what big of a matter it will be about Jerusalem. I mean — I mean, you know, the Mufti of Jerusalem has come out and said that Arafat has asked him to be buried in Jerusalem, [inaudible]. But I don’t know what big of a battle is. I don’t know if we can get him inside anyway. I just want to mention last, that Israel has always in the past refused the burial of many Palestinian activists in their hometown, even those who were deported. My uncle, included. He was — when he died, Israel refused to bury him in Bethlehem. What’s happening with Arafat again is symbol of what’s happening to the Palestinian people.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to thank you for join us, Lamis Andoni, independent journalist covering the Middle East for twenty years. She speaks to us from Amman, Jordan.

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