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Becoming the PLO’s conduit of their peace plans

RELATED STORIES

Clandestine diplomacy
Uri Avnery Social activist
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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 change public opinion and persuade 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 by which he could introduce them 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. Absolute trust. 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.

קטן ולא יכתוב אף מילה בלי האישור של ערפאת. לאחר מכן הוא פעם הראה לי את הטקסט הזה שהוא פרסם עם התיקונים בכתב-ידו של ערפאת. זאת הייתה יוזמה של ערפאת מהתחלה. מה שקרה לדעתי הוא, שהייתה "מלחמת יום הכיפורים”. "יום הכיפורים" הייתה המלחמה שהתחילה בתנאים הכי טובים לערבים מכל המלחמות האחרות: הם הפתיעו אותנו, הם חצו את התעלה, הם כבשו את המעוזים. בצפון הסורים למעשה סילקו את צה"ל מהגולן והגיעו עד לחוף הכנרת. וערפאת אמר לעצמו: "אם זה לא הצליח, אז אין פתרון צבאי. אם אין פתרון צבאי צריכים לחשוב בדרכים חדשות”. ואז הוא חשב על הפתיחה הדיפלומטית והחליט שהמקום הכי טוב זה לונדון ושהאיש הכי טוב זה חמאמי. וישבנו יחד ושאלנו את עצמנו מה לעשות. היה ברור מהתחלה שהתפקיד שלנו הוא לשכנע את דעת הקהל ואת הממסד הישראלי לעשות שלום עם אש”ף. שזה באותה תקופה זה היה רעיון כל כך חריג, כל כך בלתי אפשרי, שזה בכלל נראה כמו פנטזיה. אבל ישבנו והמחשבה שלי בעיקר הייתה איך להשפיע על דעת הקהל בישראל. וחשבנו על כל מיני תכניות שהוא יכול היה להציג אותן לערפאת כדי לקבל אישור, וכך נפרדנו. רחל חזרה הביתה אחרי זה מהתיאטרון, היא מההצגה שלה ואני מהפגישה הזאת. וזו הייתה ההתחלה של פגישות די תכופות במשך שנה בין סעיד חמאמי וביני. תקופה שבה באמת נוצרו יחסי ידידות, ומה שיותר חשוב אמון. אמון מוחלט. אמון שהוא היה בסיס לכל דבר, מפני שכאמור כל פגישה יכלה להיות מלכודת של צד זה או של צד זה. ותמיד נפגשנו באותו מקום, באותו בית מלון, "מאונט רויאל" ליד רחוב אוקספורד. ותמיד באותה צורה: קבענו שהוא יקרא לעצמו "סאם", ואם הוא משאיר לי הודעות אז הוא יחתום "סאם", הוא השאיר לי אחת או שתיים שעוד יש לי בארכיון שלי. ומטעמי בטחון לא קבענו אף פעם בדיוק יום ושעה, עד כדי כך כן שמרנו על זהירות הדדית.‏

Uri Avnery (1923-2018) was an Israeli writer, journalist and founder of the Gush Shalom peace movement. As a teenager, he joined the Zionist paramilitary group, Irgun. Later, Avnery was elected to the Knesset from 1965 to 1974 and from 1979 to 1981. He was also the editor-in-chief of the weekly news magazine, 'HaOlam HaZeh' from 1950 until it closed in 1993. He famously crossed the lines during the Siege of Beirut to meet Yasser Arafat on 3 July 1982, the first time the Palestinian leader ever met with an Israeli. Avnery was the author of several books about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including '1948: A Soldier's Tale, the Bloody Road to Jerusalem' (2008); 'Israel's Vicious Circle' (2008); and 'My Friend, the Enemy' (1986).

Listeners: Anat Saragusti

Anat Saragusti is a film-maker, book editor and a freelance journalist and writer. She was a senior staff member at the weekly news magazine Ha'olam Hazeh, where she was prominent in covering major events in Israel. Uri Avnery was the publisher and chief editor of the Magazine, and Saragusti worked closely with him for over a decade. With the closing of Ha'olam Hazeh in 1993, Anat Saragusti joined the group that established TV Channel 2 News Company and was appointed as its reporter in Gaza. She later became the chief editor of the evening news bulletin. Concurrently, she studied law and gained a Master's degree from Tel Aviv University.

Tags: Said Hammami, Yasser Arafat

Duration: 4 minutes, 17 seconds

Date story recorded: October 2015

Date story went live: 26 June 2017