Uri Avnery – Clandestine diplomacy (212/315)

Returning to our subject. It was clear to me that
[Said Hammami] was an emissary from Arafat, a diplomat from the PLO and it was obvious
that he was not going to take the smallest step or write a single word without Arafat’s approval. Afterwards he showed me a text he had published, with corrections that had been handwritten by Arafat. It was Arafat’s initiative from the beginning. I think what happened is, it was the Yom Kippur War. The war of the Day of Atonement was a war which started with the best conditions for the Arabs compared with all of the other wars: they surprised us, they crossed the [Suez] Canal, they conquered the fortifications. In the north, the Syrian army
effectively removed the IDF from the Golan Heights and reached the shores of the Sea of Galilee. And Arafat himself said: ‘If that didn’t work, then there is no military solution. If there is no military solution
then we need to think of new ways’. Then he thought of the diplomatic option and decided that the best location for this would be London,
and that the best person to do this would be Hammami. We sat together and discussed what could be done. It was evident from the very beginning
that our job would be to persuade the public and the Israeli establishment to make peace with the PLO which at that time was such an extraordinary idea so impossible, that it all seemed like a fantasy. But we sat down and my mind was for the most part concerned with how to influence Israeli public opinion. We thought about all kinds of plans which he could introduce to Arafat and get his approval, and that was how we parted. Rachel returned home from the theater, she from the show and I from this meeting. And that was the beginning of the fairly frequent meetings that took place throughout the year
between Said Hammami and me, a period when relations between us became
very friendly and, more importantly, trusting. Trust was the basis for everything,
because – as I said − any meeting could be a trap by either party. We always met in the same place,
the same hotel, the Mount Royal near Oxford Street and always in the same manner: we decided that he would call himself Sam, and if he left me messages they would be signed ‘Sam’. He left me one or two which
I still have in my archive. For security reasons we never scheduled
a specific day and time − that was the extent to which
we maintained mutual caution.

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