What was Yasser Arafat’s speech at the Davos conference in January 2001?
Palestinian Authority president Yasser Arafat delivered a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 28, 2001. This date was one day after the end of the peace talks held in Taba, Egypt where Arafat’s team had rejected the latest proposals for Israeli concessions. Taba closed with the expectation of further meetings, possibly a summit between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat in Stockholm, Sweden.
Arafat used the Davos forum to launch a blistering attack on Israel. He accused Israel of:
- … the policy of economic strangulations, closures and siege, as well as starvation and collective punishment against our Palestinian people.
- … [waging] a savage and barbaric war, as well as, a blatant and fascist military aggression against our Palestinian people.
- … using internationally prohibited weapons and ammunitions that include in their construction depleted uranium.
He blamed all the violence of the al-Aqsa intifada on Israel, reversing the cause and effect:
- Whoever wants really to achieve peace and seeks it with belief and sincerity, does not resort to killing, persecution, assassination, destruction and devastation as the Government of Israel and its army of occupation are doing to our people these days and since four continuous months.
Arafat went on to ask for help from the international community:
- … [to end] this Israeli war and aggression against our unarmed people; a war and an aggression which constitute a flagrant and blatant violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the Protection of Civilians in Times of War. We ask for the provision of international protection for our people immediately, the lifting of the siege and closure and the ending of this escalating military aggression.
Writing in the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, Sever Plotzker described the scene this way:
- I saw Arafat up close. He was dressed in the best of his military uniforms and cowboy boots. Full of rage, at times on the verge of tears, he sat in his seat on the stage and waited impatiently for the moment in which he could begin to read his speech.
Shimon Peres, former Prime Minister and Regional Cooperation Minister at the time of Davos, was present on the platform at Davos and had just given a speech of peace and warm words. He was observed to be upset by Arafat’s speech, but did not make any rebuttal at the meeting. As Thomas Friedman of the New York Times said:
- Mr. Peres did extend the olive branch, as planned, but Mr. Arafat torched it. … after the warm words of Mr. Peres [Arafat] made Mr. Peres look like a dupe, as all the Israeli papers reported.
Arafat’s outrageous speech at Davos ended any possibility of continuing negotiations with the Barak government of Israel. When he learned of the speech, Prime Minister Ehud Barak cut off diplomatic contact with Arafat until after the election.Ariel Sharon’s landslide victory on February 6, 2001 took Barak out of the picture. One of Barak’s advisors said:
- I swear. [Arafat] deserves Sharon. He simply deserves him. He has earned Sharon, honestly.