Analysts have long debated the role of Yasir Arafat in the second intifada, the violent Palestinian uprising that followed on the failure of Camp David in 2000.
The PLO and Palestinian Authority (PA) have long denied that Arafat was behind the violence, instead calling the second intifada a spontaneous uprising. This claim was endorsed in the so-called Mitchell report, the “Sharm el-Sheikh Fact-Finding Committee” of 2001: “We have no basis on which to conclude that there was a deliberate plan by the PA to initiate a campaign of violence at the first opportunity….”
That story began to fall apart for good in 2010, when Hamas leader and co-founder Mahmoud al-Zahar stated that “President Arafat instructed Hamas to carry out a number of military operations in the heart of the Jewish state after he felt that his negotiations with the Israeli government then had failed.”
Now there is an additional source: Arafat’s widow, Suha. In an interview in December on Dubai TV she said this:
Yasser Arafat had made a decision to launch the Intifada. Immediately after the failure of the Camp David [negotiations], I met him in Paris upon his return, in July 2001 [sic]. Camp David has failed, and he said to me: “You should remain in Paris.” I asked him why, and he said: “Because I am going to start an Intifada. They want me to betray the Palestinian cause. They want me to give up on our principles, and I will not do so. I do not want Zahwa’s friends in the future to say that Yasser Arafat abandoned the Palestinian cause and principles. I might be martyred, but I shall bequeath our historical heritage to Zahwa [Arafat's daughter] and to the children of Palestine.
The debate over Arafat’s role should be over. Many Palestinian leaders have always understood it to be a phony, in any event. I recall a conversation about five years ago with one PA official, whom I asked whether he shared the fears expressed then in the press about a new intifada. No, he replied, because such things do not start spontaneously. The last one started when the Palestinian leadership decided to start it, but the current leadership is against violence–so there will be no intifada.
Let’s hope that remains true. But meanwhile, there should be no doubt about the origin of the second intifada: it happened when Yasir Arafat decided that more violence was useful to him. That case is closed.