An eyewitness account of when Uri Avnery met Yassir Arafat in 1982

By Uri Avnery, April 18, 2008
1982: Meeting Arafat I started my secret contacts with the PLO in 1974, in London and in Paris. I informed Yitzchak Rabin, then Prime Minister, of the meetings, and brought him messages. Rabin approved my meetings, but rejected Palestinian offers. “If I make the first step,” he told me, “it will inevitably lead to a Palestinian state, and I don’t want that.” In June 1982, the Israeli army invaded Lebanon. As an editor of a news magazine, I was invited by the Israeli army to East Beirut, where I found out to my utmost surprise that the telephone was operating on both sides of the front line. I called Arafat’s office from my hotel, and asked for a meeting. At 2 or 3am, the phone rang and a very excited voice said: “Are you Uri Avnery? The president will expect you tomorrow morning at 10am.” I asked a German television crew to help me to cross, and in the morning we approached the front line. At the meeting point, a PLO officer awaited us, together with Arafat’s personal body guard. We were brought to a private apartment, where we waited — in the company of several Fatah officers and their families — for the president to come. I did not even notice that Arafat had entered the room, so when I suddenly found myself opposite him, I was totally surprised. Within a few minutes, we were sitting side by side on the sofa and talking. It was as if we had known each other all our life. In a way he did, because, as he later told me, he had for years read my weekly articles and knew what my opinions were. This may explain the extraordinary trust he showed, meeting us Israelis when hundreds of Israeli and Falangist agents were looking for him all over Beirut. We talked for about an hour-and-a-half about how to achieve peace. We then did a short interview for German television — an interview that was also broadcast later that night on Israeli television. I also asked for a meeting with an Israeli Air Force pilot captured by the PLO. I think that by this I guaranteed the airman’s life, because I could testify that he was there and that he was alive. At the end of our conversation, I asked Arafat: “If you come out from here alive (which I personally very much doubted), where are you going?” He said: “What do you mean? Home!” I smiled inwardly, but I kept a straight face. I expected to be arrested at the border, but I wasn’t. Four cabinet ministers had asked for me to be put on trial for high treason, but a later investigation by the Attorney General concluded that since I had been invited to Beirut by the Israeli army, I had not contravened any law.
    Last updated: 1:57pm, September 16 2008