The BBC is reporting that British documents have been leaked confirming former U.S. President George W Bush ordered the CIA to find a replacement for former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Bush’s order followed the escalation of the Second Intifada in 2001.
The CIA effort came after negotiations failed between then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Arafat at Camp David in 2000. Escalating violence in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank led to talks between the two.
President Bush expected from the beginning that Barak’s successor, Ariel Sharon, would use the Gaza Strip to create separation among Palestinians. The documents reveal discussions between the U.S. and the United Kingdom during the months following the Bush administration taking office.
Bush was inaugurated during the peak of the second Palestinian uprising in January of 2001. The Second Intifada had erupted the previous September after Sharon stormed the courtyards of the Al Aqsa Mosque, an act that was viewed as a provocation by Palestinians.
Bush’s administration called on Arafat to end the uprising and lay the groundwork for security negotiations to begin with Israel. The administration also vetoed a United Nations Security Council draft resolution, proposing that a U.N. observer force be sent in to protect Palestinian civilians in the occupied territories from Israeli forces.
After Israelis and Palestinians aborted negotiations, Bush and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair held phone conversations discussing The Palestinian/Israeli conflict in detail. According to the minutes of the talks, Blair said that Arafat was a liability.
The British PM said Arafat “had reached the limits of what he can do constructively, and he is only working to maintain his position.” Blair added that the Palestinian leader “no longer has anything to offer”, indicating that Arafat had already made all the concessions he could.
Blair’s comments were endorsed by President Bush, who described Arafat as “weak and useless.” Bush then revealed that he had asked the CIA to begin searching for a possible successor to the Palestinian leader. Bush said that the CIA had “researched the Palestinian scene thoroughly and concluded that there is no successor available.”
The leaked British documents also reveal that then-U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell was against Bush’s search for Arafat’s replacement.