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Holy Sites Are First Targets

YOWUSA.COM, 11-September-00
Marshall Masters

Arafat and AmanpourIn a heated interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour last Thursday, Yasser Arafat may have very well revealed where the next conflict will begin if a peace agreement is not reached soon. 

The full interview was aired Sunday morning on CNN's World News program, during which Arafat realized that he had slipped up and then abruptly ended the interview by pulling off his clip-on microphone. He then brusquely departed the interview cubicle surrounded by Palestinian staffers with very concerned looks on their faces. Something was said that should have not been said.

The Obvious Slip

During most of his interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour he skillfully deflected her questions with the usual pat answers. 

To Amanpour's credit, she did not conduct the usual Larry King style interview, but chose to drive home her questions, with unrelenting intensity. 

When she questioned him on the issue of shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, Arafat again deflected the question with a bulleted statement:

Arafat - I can't betray the Arabs."I can't betray my people.
I can't betray the Arabs.
I can't betray the Christians.
I can't betray the Moslems"

As I have mentioned, this problem in Jerusalem it is for the Arabs, Christians and Muslims."

It is interesting to note Arafat's statesman like control of his own body language. He knows that he has this answered covered, and proceeds with a prepared answer, expecting that Amanpour would simply move on to something less intrusive. However, she did not.

Undaunted, Amanpour returned to the same issue of shared sovereignty from a completely different angle by asking Arafat if he would prolong the peace process.

Amanpour asked, "Would it be safer and better for you to extend this state of affairs that certain people would say is a sellout?"

Arafat responded: "First of all, I respect I had mentioned and promised my people, my nation, my religions, the Christianity and Islam and I'm not going to betray them.

I will continue to liberate all Islamic and Muslim holy places. If not (pointing to himself) another one will come along to liberate it."

Arafat’s body languageAt this point, Arafat's body language took a pronounced shift.  It was obvious that Amanpour's determined efforts were annoying him.  He shifted from his usual relaxed demeanor, and began leaning forward in his chair and began insistently pointing a finger at Amanpour.

Christiane AmanpourAnother reporter would have read the obvious shift in body language and moved on to a less intrusive question in order to relax the interviewee. However, by this time in the interview Amanpour was likewise becoming more intense if not personal.   That was when she framed her next question with a simple statement that obviously inflamed Arafat.  "Your people want an economic future."

The first targetThe impact of this simple statement was obvious, Amanpour was essentially implying is that economics is the main objective for the majority of Palestinians.  With that statement the tension between them rose another notch and Arafat said: "We Palestinians our first targets is our land (the land of the holy places)."  

At this point, Arafat leaned towards her and asked her if she knew what the holy places were, and after expressing several choppy thoughts suddenly leaned back in his chair and immediately changed his body language. The change was unmistakable. He obviously realized that he had said something that he would not have said, were he in control of the interview.

He feigned a quick smile and announced that the interview was over. He then began pulling the clip-on microphone from his lapel and a very concerned Palestinian aide walked onto the set to help him undo the wireless microphone device.

Without so much as a goodbye, he left leaving his back to a shocked Amampur who could only mumble her thanks for the interview.

An Unfortunate Choice of Language?

The following sequence of events in this interview demonstrate a revealing moment:

  • Tensions between Arafat and Amampur escalate over an unbroken series of pointed questions and statements by Amampur.
  • In a moment of heated passion, Arafat uses the word "targets" in conjunction with Muslim holy sites.
  • Arafat moves quickly to regain his posture and rudely terminates the interview by pulling off the wireless microphone from his lapel.
  • With the help of an aide, Arafat quickly leaves the interview set.

The Difference a Word Makes

After a year of Clinton's Monicagate, America is still wondering what "is" really means so why get picky with just one word -- targets? In a word, context.

Arafat is an accomplished public speaker with a superb command of the English language.  As a politician, he knows that the word "targets" carries military overtones. The fact that he moved so quickly and rudely to end the interview indicates that he realized that he had mistakenly used the the word "targets" in what some would call a classic Freudian Slip that revealed his inner thoughts based on conversations he has shared with others.

If you feel that this analysis is too focused on the word "targets" then ask yourself this question, "what single act of terror would inflame the Arab world more than the sudden and violent destruction of a treasured Muslim holy site.

Would Arafat himself want such a thing to happen?  Doubtedly not.  But what he may know is there is someone with less reverence for Muslim holy sites and that this person harbors the desire to inflame a regional conflict.  For such a person, bombing a Muslim holy site would be an inexpensive and expedient way to start a new war in the Middle East which could serve to foment another world war.

View The CNN Video Clip

CNN, September 7, 2000
Barak says 'time running out' for Mideast accord