UK documents: Bush ordered CIA to find replacement for Arafat

Former United States President George W Bush ordered the CIA to search for a replacement for Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat after the escalation of the second Intifada in 2001, the BBC said, quoting recently released British documents.

The US effort came after the failure of the Camp David negotiations in 2000 between Arafat and then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The talks followed the escalation of violence in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

According to the BBC documents, Bush expected early on that Ariel Sharon, who succeeded Barak, would use the Gaza Strip to sow divisions among the Palestinians.

The documents deal with discussions that took place between the United Kingdom and the US a few months after Bush and his administration, which was dominated by neoconservatives, entered the White House.

When Bush was inaugurated in January 2001, the second Palestinian uprising was at its height. It had erupted in late September 2000 when Sharon entered the courtyards of Al Aqsa Mosque, an act widely seen by Palestinians as a provocation.

The Bush administration called on Arafat to stop the uprising to lay the groundwork for the start of security negotiations with Israel. It also vetoed a draft resolution in the United Nations Security Council, which proposed sending a UN observer force to protect Palestinian civilians from Israeli forces in the occupied territories.

After the negotiations were aborted, telephone talks were held between Bush and then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair in which they discussed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at length.

According to the minutes of the talks, the prime minister said Arafat was a liability.

He said the Palestinian leader “had reached the limits of what he can do constructively and he is only working to maintain his position”. He added that Arafat “no longer has anything to offer”, indicating that the leader had made all the possible concessions he could.

Bush endorsed what Blair had said, then described Arafat as “weak and useless”. He revealed that he had asked the CIA to search for possible successors to the Palestinian leader but said that the agency “researched the Palestinian scene thoroughly and concluded that there is no successor available”.

The British documents revealed that the US secretary of state at the time, Colin Powell, did not agree with Bush’s search for a replacement for Arafat.

Arafat died a few years later, on November 11, 2004, at a Paris hospital after a cerebral haemorrhage caused by a toxic substance – polonium – that was found on his clothes and body.

Palestinians and Arabs accused Israel of killing him. It denied any responsibility for his death.

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