Israel plans for event of Arafat's death
Israel is worried about chaos that might follow the death of Yasser Arafat and will do everything possible to prevent the Palestinian leader from being buried in Jerusalem, according to a contingency plan obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
The five-page document, prepared by the Foreign Ministry, lays out a series of forecasts about what might follow Arafat's death: the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, a challenge by Islamic militants, and upheaval in other parts of the Middle East.
The plan includes recommendations on how to contain what Israel expects to be an extremely volatile environment. The stickiest issue, it says, will be where to bury Arafat.
Officials close to Arafat say he has never indicated where he wants to be buried, but the assumption is he would want to be laid to rest at the Al Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem's Old City, a supreme honor for Muslims.
Israel will strongly oppose burying Arafat in Jerusalem, the document says. Israel and the Palestinians both claim Jerusalem as their capital, and Israel has continually resisted Palestinian attempts to gain a foothold in the city.
The document makes no reference to Arafat's health, despite signs in recent years that it is deteriorating.
The 74-year-old Arafat's hands and lips tremble, leading to speculation he suffers from Parkinson's disease. His doctors won't confirm the rumors.
Last summer, Arafat suffered a severe stomach flu, and his inner circle held talks about possible burial places. After he recovered, a medical clinic in his West Bank headquarters was upgraded.
Arafat keeps to a strict diet of boiled vegetables, avoiding oil and fried foods. He also puts honey in his tea instead of sugar.
Palestinian officials said their leader is firmly in control. "He is very healthy," Emad Shakour, an adviser to Arafat, told Israel's Army Radio.
Arafat, a one-time guerrilla leader, returned to the Palestinian territories from exile in 1994 under the interim Oslo peace accords. Peace talks broke down in early 2001, and the two sides have engaged in more than three years of conflict.
On Wednesday, Arafat made a brief public appearance at his compound. He was in good spirits, smiling and laughing. He did not comment on the Israeli plan.
The document looks at three possible causes of death: an Israeli military operation, a prolonged illness, or a short, natural death.
It forecasts "upheaval" in the Palestinian territories and throughout the Middle East.
It warns of mass demonstrations in the Palestinian areas, and raises concerns of attacks on Israeli and Western interests elsewhere.
The plan says Arafat's Palestinian Authority will collapse, and Islamic groups, led by Hamas, could rise up out of their refugee camp strongholds and try to take control of the Palestinian government.
Israel must take extreme measures to prevent this scenario, including preparations for a "wide-ranging military operation" in the Gaza Strip, according to the document.
Palestinians around the world will express collective grief, the document says. It predicts a "heroic and sacrificial story" about his demise and says Israel will be blamed.
The crisis could include holding Arafat's body in his West Bank headquarters for several days, leading to international pressure on Israel to bury him in Jerusalem. Another scenario envisions thousands of Palestinians trying to bring the body from Ramallah to Jerusalem.
There is a precedent for that. After Jerusalem Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini died suddenly in Kuwait in May 2001, his body was transferred to Ramallah. Israel opposed his burial in Jerusalem.
Then tens of thousands of Palestinians marched to the checkpoint between Ramallah and Jerusalem with his body, demanding entry. In the end, the Israelis had no choice but to step aside and allow a triumphal procession to a cemetery next to Jerusalem's Old City.
As a compromise for Arafat, Israel would suggest that he be buried in Abu Dis, a Palestinian suburb of Jerusalem that overlooks the Old City.
The Palestinians consider Abu Dis to be part of Jerusalem, and during peace talks in the late 1990s, the area was envisioned as a possible site of a Palestinian capital.
The Foreign Ministry document is part of regular planning for Arafat's death. Several government ministries have worked on similar plans. Ministry officials declined to comment.