Arafat’s widow says armed struggle will lead nowhere

Suha Arafat appears to accuse Hamas of ‘genocide’ in Gaza, laments Islamizing of Palestine, calls for renewed talks with Israel

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Suha Arafat in 2013 (screen capture:Youtube/AlJazeeraEnglish)
Suha Arafat in 2013 (screen capture:Youtube/AlJazeeraEnglish)

Suha Arafat, wife of the late Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, appeared to accuse Hamas on Wednesday of perpetrating “genocide” in the Gaza Strip, and denounced the terror group for Islamizing the coastal enclave and holding its inhabitants “hostage.”

In an interview with the Italian La Republicca in honor of the tenth anniversary of her husband’s death, Suha Arafat called on Palestinians to resume negotiations with Israel and renounce violence. She also addressed the allegations that Arafat was poisoned and expressed the hope that the French authorities would get to the bottom of the matter, but insisted she could not cast blame on Israel or Palestinian suspects.

“Hamas has taken people hostage. When I see what is happening in Gaza … It’s a genocide. A generation that is growing up in violence, with no education, with no hope but emigration,” she said. (Ironically, Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas accused israel of committing genocide in Gaza, in an inflammatory address to the UN General Assembly in September.)

Suha Arafat called for resumed peace talks with Israel, as “the armed struggle will not lead to anything.”

“I hope that Hamas will finally understand and work towards peace negotiations,” she added.

She also said she hoped Italy would follow in Sweden’s footsteps and recognize the state of Palestine, and maintained that the existence of the state of Israel need not be questioned.

“It’s easy to make war, difficult to stop. The armed struggle today will not lead to anything. We will only end up crushed. The forces are unequal. We have to continue negotiations, proving, if anything, that it is Israel that does not want peace,” she said.

While criticizing Hamas for its terror activity, Arafat cautiously defended her husband’s role in launching attacks against Israel, saying “history will tell whether Arafat was right to declare the intifada.”

She hailed her late husband for unifying the Palestinians, and for his negotiations with Israel. “Many say that my husband was an obstacle to peace, but we saw, after his death, what happened to peace.”

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and his wife Suha prior to their departure from his compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Oct. 29, 2004. (photo credit: AP/Palestinian Authority/Hussein Hussein)
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat prior to his departure from his compound in the West Bank town of Ramallah, Oct. 29, 2004. (photo credit: AP/Palestinian Authority/Hussein Hussein)

Suha also condemned Hamas for canceling the Gaza Strip’s 10-year commemoration of Arafat’s death, saying its leaders “had no right” to do so, and decried their stifling religious leadership. Hamas forced the cancellation earlier this week during a row with Fatah.

“Arafat turned Palestine into a secular country, people went to the beach in Gaza. He never imagined that it would become Islamic,” she added.

The widow of the Fatah leader refrained from blaming Israel for Arafat’s death. “Many wanted to get rid of him. I cannot blame anyone, neither Israel nor anyone in his close circle,” she said.

Suha Arafat filed legal action in July 2012 asking French authorities to look into claims that her husband was poisoned by polonium. The following month, French prosecutors opened a murder inquiry.

Last year, a report by Swiss scientists maintained that Arafat’s remains and burial soil contained elevated levels of polonium-210, a rare and lethal substance. The scientists concluded that the results “moderately support the proposition that the death was the consequence of poisoning with polonium-210.” But French scientists who had been looking into Arafat’s death concluded he died of a “generalized infection.” A Russian forensic institute also said that the Palestinian leader died of natural causes.

In the far-reaching interview on Wednesday, Suha Arafat said she would not return to the Gaza Strip or West Bank because she would feel like a guest there, and maintained that she had loved the Palestinian leader, but given the chance to do it over, may not have married him.

“I loved him and he loved me very much. But if I went back I’m not sure I’d do it [again],” she said, explaining that she was the source of many rumors and accusations.

Almost two years ago, Arafat had said she regretted her marriage to the PLO head. “We were married for 22 years and it felt like 50,” she said at the time. Arafat added that she had repeatedly tried to leave her husband but was denied her freedom.

“I tried to divorce Arafat more than 100 times and he didn’t let me,” she said.

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