BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Janet Wallach, co-author of the new book "Arafat," you use an Arab proverb in the beginning of the book that goes like this: "A monkey in the eyes of its mother is a gazelle." Why did you use that?
JANET WALLACH, AUTHOR, "ARAFAT: IN THE EYES OF THE BEHOLDER": Well, the title of the book is "Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder," and we felt very strongly that there are many different Arafats, that, in fact, it is how you look at him. It's the different perceptions that give you different pictures. This is a well-known Arab proverb. I must tell you that our book was given to Arafat by a friend of his, and when he saw that proverb he hit the ceiling. He did not find it flattering, amusing or anything else. But we did not mean it in a nasty way. It's almost like "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder," that, in fact, we in this country tend to see Arafat as a scruffy, ugly, unappealing terrorist. The fact of the matter is that many Palestinians and many in the Arab world see him in a whole different light. They see him as a freedom fighter and as the leader of the nationalist movement, and so that's why we use that proverb.
LAMB: What was his reaction, John Wallach, besides that, to this book? Do you know?
JOHN WALLACH: Well, we have no idea, actually. The book's only been out a few weeks, so we really don't know how he's reacted to it. Actually, you know, it's almost peripheral. I mean, this book is an effort to look at this man who is extremely controversial in a very objective way, and, Brian, as Janet said, very much in keeping with our theme we wanted to look at him through five different perspectives. Through his own perspective of himself, which obviously is one that glorifies the myth, but then through four other perspectives -- through the eyes of the Jordanians who have dealt with him, the Syrians, the Israelis, who obviously hate him, and through the eyes of Americans, who have dealt with him, and there is a long list of Americans who have secretly dealt with him, including the Central Intelligence Agency, for more than 20 years.
So, what we wanted to do was to try to come up with some picture of whether this man really is a liberation fighter or a terrorist or a combination of both. That's why we look at him through these five different perspectives in the book, why we called the book, in fact, "Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder," and why we talked to so many people who had direct experience with him. We spent several months in the region. We spent three months with him. We spent more months traveling throughout the Arab world -- to Syria where he spent a lot of time in the 1960s, to Egypt, to Israel, to Jordan. We spent a lot of time with King Hussein who has dealt with Arafat for a long time -- and tried through their eyes to come up with an objective perspective of this man's career and his importance in the region.
LAMB: Janet, I want to ask you about the last paragraph in Acknowledgements. "Finally, we could not have completed this task without the understanding and support of our children, Michael and David, who often had their dinners served late and had to suffer through our noisy battles." What noisy battles?
JANET WALLACH: Well, you know, it's very difficult for a husband and wife to write a book together and then go to bed at night and complain to the person next to them about that awful person they had to deal with during the day when that person is the one they've been dealing with. So there were some -- well, I don't want to call them battles, but, you know, arguments. Creative tension is what we like to call it.
LAMB: John, what did you disagree over? Anything?
JOHN WALLACH: Gee, we disagreed over a lot, Brian. I would say probably the Epilogue more than anything else because what happened, of course, was that this book was put to bed, so to speak, before the crisis erupted in the Persian Gulf, and obviously the minute it happened and Iraq invaded Kuwait, we realized that we had to add an epilogue to the book. Not only did we have to add an epilogue, but we had to find Yassar Arafat who, it turns out, happened to have been in Baghdad at that time.
JANET WALLACH: And find his position on things.
JOHN WALLACH: And find his position. So, I flew over to Baghdad to meet him and spent several hours with him there. In fact, then flew from Baghdad to Amman with him on his private Gulf Stream jet, one of the four planes belonging to Muammar Qadaffi, the Libyan leader, and was sending back lots of faxes from Iraq, from Baghdad, to our house. Janet would look at the faxes and say, "Well, this is much too sympathetic to Arafat." Then she would look at the next one that came in, and she would say, "This is much too critical of Arafat." So we had a lot of disagreements -- long-distance disagreements -- with me in Baghdad and Janet in Washington -- over how we would end the book.
LAMB: How long have you two been married?
JANET WALLACH: We've been married 16 years. I think that in the end that this process of writing together actually has been very positive for our marriage. We've seen sides of each other that we did not appreciate before. We brought different skills, different abilities to the book, and I think it was a very positive experience.
JOHN WALLACH: Yes, I think what makes it work is that Janet is strong in areas where I'm weak, and I hope the reverse is true. She is a better writer than I am -- certainly more human in her approach. I probably am a little bit better in terms of the politics of the region. So, we tended to do that -- to write where one of us was strong. I would sort of deal with the politics, and Janet would deal with the human side of the story. That's what we tried to combine, because this is an effort above all, Brian, to stop the dehumanization.
You know, Arafat is depicted in this country, and I guess in many other parts of the world, as almost a comic book character, a kind of a caricature of a terrorist, and we really don't know much about the man. Now, that, of course, is partly his own fault -- a good deal his own fault -- because he's clouded his life in mystery and in myth. In fact, we're not even sure that he knows where he was born himself. But we wanted in this book to try to understand the man and to try, in some way, to stop the dehumanization because when you dehumanize anyone, it's much easier to kill them and it's much easier to go to violence. That's one of the pictures, of course, when we were in his office in Tunis. Many times we've spent with him in that office, indeed often at 1:00, 2:00 in the morning.
LAMB: How often did the two of you meet with him together?
JANET WALLACH: Well, we always met with him together, and we saw him a number of times. I don't think we counted.
JOHN WALLACH: I think we probably spent 70, 80 hours with him all tolled over the course of the three months that we were there.
LAMB: Let me go back to the first meeting, because you write about what you saw when you walked in. The garb that he normally wears wasn't there.
JANET WALLACH: Right. Well, that was fascinating, and it really kind of took us aback. There was Arafat sitting at that desk that you just showed with his bald head, his jacket off, his sleeves rolled up, and it was a very different kind of a man. It was the first time that you could see Arafat the human being. The only other tiny glimpse we got of that was not from Arafat himself, but from his brother Fathi, who we also saw in Cairo. There was a remarkable similarity in their looks. But here was one man who was almost, as John says, a cartoon-like figure. Arafat with the kafeeyah, the beard, the guerrilla uniform, versus Arafat just quiet. John said almost grandfatherly.
JOHN WALLACH: Yes, I mean, he's much smaller than one recognizes. He really is -- I wouldn't say tiny, but he's small. When he takes his kafeeyah off his head and you see the bald pate, especially at 2:00 in the morning when he often had us for dinner, he doesn't look nearly as menacing. In fact, Janet said to him, "You really ought to go on television like that and not look quite as scruffy as you often look."
JANET WALLACH: And he laughed, and he said, "Oh, sure. Why not?" But the fact is that we spoke to many of his aides about that and said, "Why not? Why doesn't he do it?" But he has worked all his life to blot out the man and bloat this myth of Arafat, and part of that myth is the guerrilla picture that we see -- that image.
LAMB: Did you have any trouble getting these pictures from the old days?
JOHN WALLACH: I wouldn't say trouble. It took us some time. Of course, those pictures are when he was a very young man when he was 18 years old, and another picture when he was at the University of Cairo just as a young graduate at the School of Engineering. Incidentally, he went from there to Kuwait, and he made his first million dollars as an engineer in Kuwait.
LAMB: This is not a picture of him that we just saw then.
JANET WALLACH: No. That was a picture of his uncle, Sheik Abu Saud, who actually raised him. He was his uncle on his mother's side. Arafat had a very strange childhood. I don't want to be a pop psychologist, but at the same time it is interesting that he was shunted around the family, that from the age of 4 he was sent by his father -- really abandoned by his father -- and sent to live with the mother's family in Jerusalem and literally was sent from house to house. So there was no sense of real family, no sense of really caring for him as a human being.
LAMB: You deal with this early; why is it such a controversy over whether or not he was born in Jerusalem or in Egypt?
JOHN WALLACH: Well, Janet should go into more detail about it, but it is a controversy because he wants the world to believe that he is a Palestinian, and to be a Palestinian and, indeed, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization, it means a great deal to have been born in Jerusalem, which is the third holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina, and clearly in the heart of Palestine -- of what once was Palestine. So, it's very important to him to have been born there, but belying that fact is the fact that he speaks Arabic with a clear Egyptian accent, an Egyptian birth certificate which exists in the archives in Cairo, and the fact that part of his family was from Gaza, which belonged to Egypt at the time, and he acknowledges having spent some of his early years living in Gaza. Now, at that point, I'll turn over the mystery of his birth to my wife.
JANET WALLACH: Well, every time we saw him we would ask the same question: "Where were you born? What's the story?" Again and again and again he insisted that he was born in Jerusalem, so we went to Jerusalem and we went to Amman, where much of his family lives today, and we went to Gaza and we went to Cairo to talk to people to find out whatever we could about his birth. It seems that his father did come from Gaza, as John said, and married a woman from Jerusalem, was in business in Jerusalem, and then moved to Egypt, to Cairo, where he set up shop as a merchant -- as a trader, really -- and lived there for several years. The couple had four children. She was pregnant again. They were not getting along at all. There was a lot of fighting between the husband and the wife, and at the very end of the nine months she, in a fit of fury apparently, left her husband's home in Cairo and went to her family home in Jerusalem, which was a shameful thing in the Arab world to leave the home of the husband and go to your own, to the woman's home.
Apparently it was there that Arafat was born. Several weeks later she picked up the baby and went back home to her husband in Cairo and registered the child's birth, so that would account for that part of the story. Four years later she died, and now the father was faced with six children. A younger child had been born, still, so six children. The man was beside himself. What was he going to do all alone? He kept the four oldest at home and sent off Yassar Arafat and Fathi back to his wife's family in Jerusalem, and there they spent nine years, as I said, being shunted back and forth between one uncle and a cousin and another cousin. In fact, they met many leaders in the early nationalist movement at that time.
JOHN WALLACH: In fact, Brian, we had, I think, the most difficult time with Arafat in uncovering facts about his early years because he doesn't like to talk about them. He doesn't like to talk about them, as Janet mentioned, because it was shameful that his mother left his father's house in Cairo and went to have the baby Yassar in Jerusalem. He doesn't like to talk about them because his father squandered most of the family money, and they were a reasonably well-to-do family that owned quite a bit of land in Gaza. The father squandered the money on a lawsuit against the Egyptian government, claiming to own one of the larger parts of Cairo, Abyssia. He actually won the case in the religious courts in Cairo, but squandered all the family money and then was expelled by the Egyptian government.
So, Yassar Arafat has very mixed feelings about his father, who he, I don't think, ever was really very close to. I don't think he really forgave his father for remarrying twice. I don't think he enjoyed being brought up by his uncle and being shunted around from one part of the family to the other. I don't think he really ever forgave his mother for having died when he was four years old. I think that he was very close to his mother to the extent that he can remember anything from the time he was 3 or 4. I think it was a very difficult childhood. So, in that sense, Yassar Arafat is himself homeless and the product of a homeless family, and so it's very easy for him to feel the kind of passion for the homelessness of the Palestinian people. There's an interesting parallel there between his own childhood and that of his people, who he is the acknowledged leader of.
LAMB: We're talking with Janet and John Wallach, and this is the book "Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder." Janet Wallach, where did you grow up?
JANET WALLACH: I grew up in New York where Arafat was not a popular figure, nor is he now a popular figure.
LAMB: Where did you go to school?
JANET WALLACH: I went to NYU.
LAMB: How did you meet John?
JANET WALLACH: I met John, fittingly, on an airplane, and we've spent a lot of time together on airplanes traveling around the world.
LAMB: How long ago? You've been married for 16 years?
JANET WALLACH: Yes, so it was 17 years ago that we met.
LAMB: What were you doing at the time?
JANET WALLACH: Well, I was in a very different field. I was in the fashion field. I was a designer in New York. John, of course, was in foreign affairs. He was a journalist with Hearst.
LAMB: With Hearst?
JOHN WALLACH: I was with Hearst, yes. I've been with Hearst more than 20 years.
JANET WALLACH: As a matter of fact, I suppose it's quite right that our first conversation was about Salvador Allende in Chile.
JOHN WALLACH: I was carrying a tape recorder and I had just come from Chile, I think, from interviewing Salvador Allende. It was, in fact, one of the last interviews that he gave before he was assassinated. He was, of course, the Marxist leader of Chile in the '70s. We were both on vacation -- we didn't know each other. I have to tell you that I fell in love with Janet the instant I saw her. We still fight over this, but I claim that I proposed to her on the airplane en route to our holiday. I guess we're not giving up too much of a secret to say it was a Club Med trip. So, if this is advertisement for Club Med, so be it. But we spent a week together in Martinique, and at the end of the week we became engaged and it's been one long honeymoon ever since.
LAMB: Where are you from, and where did you go to school?
JOHN WALLACH: I grew up around the New York area in Long Island and Westchester and Scarsdale. I went to Scarsdale High School. I went to Middlebury College. I took my bachelor's degree at Middlebury. I graduated in 1964. I went to New York and did my master's work at the New School for Social Research in New York and then worked in the newspaper field. I started out with Radio Press International, actually, on radio -- the precursor to all-news radio in the days when all-news radio didn't exist. They were one of the first. And then went to a place called Deadline Data on World Affairs and then joined Hearst Newspapers on 1968. Came to Washington in February of 1968.
LAMB: You were in the fashion field, but obviously you moved over to writing and freelance and things like that. What moved you over there?
JANET WALLACH: I had actually studied writing in college. NYU at that time had a program, a major in writing, which I don't think they have anymore. That was my first love. I was torn between the two. So, it took me a while to come back to writing, but I did that through, actually, books on fashion. Then I started writing profiles, many for the Washington Post magazine, on political figures. In fact, one of the people I wrote about was a man currently in the news, Nazir Handoon, who is the deputy foreign minister in Iraq and was a very successful Iraqi ambassador in the United States. But I did start writing about Middle Eastern figures. I felt that the more that we knew about them, the more that we could be successful in all kinds of policies.
JOHN WALLACH: In fact Brian, we did an earlier book called "Still Small Voices" together, and we lived in the West Bank with Palestinian and Israeli families for several months and wrote a book profiling both Israelis and Palestinians who live within a stone's throw of each other and who often do relate to one another. In other words there are relationships that grow up between the Jews and the Israelis who live in the settlements, even though they're guarded, and the Palestinians in the surrounding communities. There are only 60,000 or 70,000 Israelis on the West Bank. There are a million and a half Arabs -- Palestinians -- and we wanted to chronicle what the daily life was like of each of them, so we spent quite a bit of time living with families and wrote a book, as I say, called "Still Small Voices" which was published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, which actually led us in a psychological way and I suppose also in a somewhat more practical way to doing the book on Arafat. "Still Small Voices" was about the Palestinians and Israelis whose names are unknown because they're not political leaders. They're trying to live their lives in an atmosphere of tension and often of violence. I guess it was the fact that Arafat felt that we had dealt sympathetically with the Palestinians that then led him to agree to spend the amount of time with us that he did in writing this biography.
LAMB: As you point out in the book you're both Jewish. Why in the world would Yassar Arafat spend 70 hours with two Jews talking about his life?
JANET WALLACH: Just because of that. Because he is smart enough to realize that the audience that he must reach eventually is the Israeli audience and one way to do that is to reach the American Jewish community. And so I think that he felt that to that extent he was using us. For us it was an opportunity to look at him -- some people would say "to know thine enemy"; others would say to understand this man so that we can deal with him.
LAMB: As you write in the book and as he tells you, he really doesn't like Zionists. He gets really upset when you talk about Zionists. Are either one of you what you would call Zionists?
JOHN WALLACH: The answer to that question is, we both believe in Zionism, yes, Brian, because Zionism is the national movement of the Jewish people for a homeland. I would say that Arafat does not like Zionism because he considers it a colonial implant -- a kind of product of imperialism, the product of the First and Second World Wars -- the great influx of Jews into a part of the world where they, in his eyes, did not have a historical home or claim to a religiously-based homeland. The Jews, of course, were always for 4,000 years in the Middle East, and indeed, the Jewish states of Judea and Samaria existed thousands of years ago. In fact, there was even in the 19th century a Jewish majority in Jerusalem. But for Yassar Arafat the idea that any religion because of its religious base should be entitled to a state is anathema, because, of course, it has meant the uprooting of, in 1947, 400,000 Palestinians who today are four or five million, and the uprooting of those people from their homes in what was then Palestine has created the homelessness of the Palestinian people. So, he is opposed very much to Zionism, and we had our bitterest fights with him -- again, we often saw him at midnight, 1:00 in the morning. We had our most, I would say, virulent fights with him over Zionism, trying to explain to him that as American Jews and indeed as survivors of the next generation -- my parents were briefly detained and in concentration camps in Germany -- being first-generation Americans that it is very important for the American Jew to know that if there ever were a repeat of the Holocaust in which six million Jews were killed there is a place that is safe for Jews to go to. That's a very difficult concept, argument to make -- and understandably, I must say, to any Arab, because the Arabs, indeed, were not responsible for the Holocaust. They say, with some justification, why does it have to be at our expense? So, it is a very difficult argument to have with him, and I must say we had it often. In fact, probably the most exciting parts of the tapes -- we've got it all; we've got 60 or 70 hours with him on tape -- are these arguments over Zionism.
LAMB: Audio tape?
JOHN WALLACH: Audio tape.
LAMB: What are you going to do with those audio tapes?
JOHN WALLACH: We're open to any ideas. We haven't thought about that. It was enough to get the book done.
LAMB: And he spoke in English.
JOHN WALLACH: He spoke in English, yes.
LAMB: Tunisia. Tunis. Other than John's meeting in Baghdad with Yassar Arafat, did all your meetings occur in Tunis?
JANET WALLACH: They did.
LAMB: What's that like? What kind of a country is it?
JANET WALLACH: Well, it's kind of strange. It almost has a split personality. You know, it's a very quiet, very pretty, town, port. Very French in feeling and very low-keyed. I must say the people are very gentle. They're very friendly and open, and you have the feeling almost of being in a tourist area.
LAMB: How big is it?
JOHN WALLACH: Tunis, the city? Well, the country is fairly small. I mean, it's beautiful, situated on the Mediterranean. It's an exquisite country.
JANET WALLACH: But then there's a underside of Tunis that few people see, and that's the PLO.
LAMB: How many members of the PLO are actually living there?
JANET WALLACH: Several thousand live there -- several thousand in terms of fighters -- Fatah members who had left Lebanon in 1982 at the time of the withdrawal who have gone with Arafat.
LAMB: Were you in Yassar Arafat's home?
JANET WALLACH: There is no such thing. Arafat moves from house to house in the middle of the night. You never know where he's going, where he's going to sleep. In fact, one of his close aides said to me, very frustrated, "You know, he calls me or I get a phone call to meet him at 9:00 o'clock in the morning, and I never know where to go because every night it's a different place to hide."
LAMB: There is a picture that I want the audience to see here, where he is airborne in, I guess you'd say, a borrowed jet. What's this about him never telling aides where he's going until they're airborne?
JOHN WALLACH: Well, Janet should talk about that because we lived in dread in Tunis that we were going to get calls saying, "Be at the airport in 20 minutes." And, indeed, when I flew with him from Baghdad to Amman, I got a telephone call in the hotel saying, "Be downstairs in the lobby in 20 minutes. He wants to take you with him on his plane." You get very little notice. His aides do not like to travel with him because they are often very, very long flights -- 14-hour flights with maybe one or two refueling stops.
JANET WALLACH: And as you said, Brian, they never know where they're going. Arafat is so terrified of all of the people who are out to get him, and that's not just the Israelis. It's the Israelis, it's the Syrians, it's extremists within the PLO. So everything he does is very secretive, very scurrilous. You always have the feeling that things are going on under the covers.
LAMB: When you went to Tunis, how did you get there?
JOHN WALLACH: Well, Tunis was easy to get to. We flew to Paris, and then from Paris flew directly to Tunis. There are Air France flights all the time. But once you're in Tunis, you're only halfway there because you've got to make contact with the PLO in Tunis. Now, they will often meet you at the airport, escort you through the airport. When we saw Arafat, as I say, routinely we would get a call at midnight saying, "Be downstairs in 10 minutes. We'll come and pick you up." They would pick us up, and the car would screech through the deserted streets of Tunis at 1:00 in the morning at 100 miles an hour or 120 miles an hour, gun toting aides in the back of the car. We often would not know where we were going, because he has four of five different places that he spends the night. In fact, the first time we saw him, which I think was the first or the second night we arrived, we left the hotel and we went about 30 seconds from the hotel. We screeched out of the hotel, made a right turn, and the next thing we knew, we made another right turn and we were at the home of the PLO ambassador to Tunisia. Quite a grand mansion. But that was the only time that we saw Arafat there. All the other times we saw him downtown or in some other part of Tunis.
LAMB: Were you ever afraid?
JANET WALLACH: Brian, before we left Washington I called our physician, and I asked him for an economy-size prescription of Valium. The truth is, I never used it. Thank goodness. I was very afraid. I was sure that, you know -- who knows what would happen? The fact is that they took quite good care of us. I think we felt fairly protected. Maybe that was a false sense of security. After all, every time we went to one of these places we were met by dozens of bodyguards outside, always sort of leaning against cars, waiting expectantly. As we walked into the houses we'd be frisked. We'd be watched very carefully. The Kalashnikovs were always on the shoulders or at the ready. There were always pistols in the bodyguards' pockets. They would twirl them around, play with them. So, I probably should have been more frightened than I was.
LAMB: When did you become relaxed?
JANET WALLACH: I think just arriving in Tunis and realizing that we were not going into a war zone. The truth is, I was actually more frightened when we spent three months in the West Bank in Gaza. That was scary.
LAMB: What year was that, by the way?
JANET WALLACH: That was 1988. That was the middle of the intifada when it was at its hottest, probably. That was very frightening.
LAMB: What was the longest you stayed in Tunis, and what was the longest session of meetings you had with Mr. Arafat?
JOHN WALLACH: We were there for the summer of 1989, and we spent June, July and August either in Tunis or traveling in the Arab world, seeing relatives of Arafat, seeing King Hussein in Jordan, seeing Yitzhak Shamir in Israel, seeing Syrian leaders in Damascus. We spent about a month at the beginning in Tunis, and we saw Arafat about every third or fourth day because we wanted to get his side of the story first. Part of the problem is there is so much myth associated with the man which he engenders deliberately that you've got to get that all down first and then go out and check every part of the story -- the story of his life and the version of events as he presents them -- because he does lie. Let's not kid ourselves. He's a superb propagandist for his cause.
One of the real challenges that we had was getting out and checking all of the versions of his story with others who had lived through the same events, whether it was the '67 war, whether it was the period in 1964-65 when he lived in Damascus and started out his life as a guerrilla leader, whether it was at Cairo where he went to university, whether it was in Kuwait where he worked as an engineer and, in fact, once lived something of the high life with silk jackets and went to Venice and made a million bucks and had a red Thunderbird convertible. We had to check all of that out with people who lived through it with him so that we could get that side of the story, and, indeed, Brian, one of the most difficult things to check out was his love life. Does he have any kind of feeling for women?
LAMB: Let me interrupt because I wanted you to deal with something that's been said on this network by David Halevy in his book "Inside the PLO," was countermanded by Jim Abourezk, the former senator, in a "Booknotes" beyond that, and that is David Halevy said point-blank that Yassar Arafat's a homosexual.
JOHN WALLACH: Well, Brian, what we tried to do was to base this book on empirical evidence -- evidence that we ourselves gathered. There's been an awful lot of disinformation put out about Yassar Arafat by people who love him, by people who hate him. We wanted to try to steer clear of that because we wanted to base this book on things that we ourselves could attest to. We certainly found no evidence of any kind of a homosexual past. We did not talk to anybody in the Arab world who said that he'd had any kind of homosexual relationships. Now, that does not exclude that when he was a young man that he had relationships with other young Arab boys. That was fairly common in the Arab world when he was growing up.
We did speak to several women who attested to us that they had had relationships with him, and, indeed, we spoke to several people who told us -- indeed Arafat himself -- of an ill-fated romance that he had with a Lebanese woman in 1972 who was murdered, and murdered by the Christian Phalangist militias in Lebanon because she may have possibly been spying for Arafat. At that time the PLO was under bombardment from the Phalangist militias, and she either of her own accord or was sent to the presidential palace in Beirut of Suleiman Franjieh, who was then the president, and overheard a conversation when she may have gone to plea for a halt to the bombardments. In any event, when she returned home to her apartment, she was murdered. We were told by Arafat himself and, indeed, by others that he was so upset by this that he banged his head against the wall, that he cried like a baby, and we tended to believe it. We do believe that he has had a relatively normal sex life, but he's obviously never been married.
LAMB: Janet, who is Rita Hauser?
JANET WALLACH: Rita Hauser is an American Jewish woman who has taken, I think, a very brave stand in working towards some kind of a resolution to this crisis, and I think John's very good at the details of what Rita Hauser has accomplished.
LAMB: Who's Sten Andersson?
JANET WALLACH: Sten Andersson is the Swedish foreign minister who also has been a very courageous man in moving this whole process forward. Both of them were very closely involved in getting Arafat to say the magic words in '88 of the recognition of Israel and of the renunciation of terrorism. It was a brave thing on Arafat's part to do, but it took an enormous amount of work by Rita Hauser, by Sten Andersson, by ministers and leaders all over the Arab world to get Arafat to that point.
LAMB: A couple of other names I want to ask you about -- this may not be the correct pronunciation -- Munib al-Masri, a Palestinian businessman. You say, "None of this would have been possible without him." Why?
JOHN WALLACH: Well, Munib is from the Masri family, which is a Jordanian-Palestinian family from Nablus in what today is the West Bank. Munib was very helpful to us. He is very close to Arafat. He was able to put us in touch with him and, in fact, just a couple of months ago when we had to go to Baghdad, it was Munib al-Masri who was able to arrange for my trip to Baghdad to see Arafat.
LAMB: He is a banker.
JOHN WALLACH: He is a Palestinian banker. He is on the board, I think, of the Arab Bank. He has been involved, I think, in the finances of the PLO.
LAMB: If he cleared the way for you, how did you first get his confidence that you were worth introducing to Yassar Arafat?
JOHN WALLACH: Through Rita Hauser. I think Rita was a great help to us from the very beginning. We chronicle in the last part of the book her efforts. She's a Manhattan lawyer, by the way, who actually served in the Nixon administration. She's a Republican. She is Jewish, and she has been very active in trying to force the PLO to accept Israel's existence and to become more politically responsible. In fact, it was Sten Andersson, the Swedish foreign minister, who went to George Shultz in the spring of 1988 and said, "The way we can break through this dilemma is to have Arafat meet with a delegation of American Jews and tell them that he is prepared to accept Israel."
LAMB: What is this that we see on our screen right about now?
JOHN WALLACH: That's a top-secret letter, a classified letter, that was written by George Shultz to Sten Andersson in early December, just a few days before Arafat accepted Israel, telling the PLO leader through the Swedish foreign minister what the United States was prepared to do once Arafat recognized Israel and renounced terrorism. That letter was classified and involved some secret understandings that were made by the United States to the PLO that have never before been made public.
LAMB: This is really off the subject, but it's a little bit of inside-Washington that I want to ask either one of you about. You write about Sten Andersson being on the balcony, looking out over Washington over at the State Department with George Shultz, in which George Shultz started lobbying him to keep the Swedish ambassador here in town, and that led to tennis courts and George Bush and George Shultz and all this. What in the world was that all about? Is that the way Washington works?
JANET WALLACH: That's the way Washington works, very much.
LAMB: Explain the whole thing.
JANET WALLACH: Well, the Swedish ambassador, Willie Wachtmeister, was a very close tennis pal of George Bush's, and I think they played several times a week on the tennis courts. This is when Bush was vice president. So to have somebody so close to the Swedish government and close to the American government was a great asset for us.
JOHN WALLACH: But what you're talking about took place at the funeral of Olaf Palme. I think it was 1985 or 1986 when George Shultz went to the funeral, and at that time the Swedish foreign minister Sten Andersson was going to replace Willie Wachtmeister, and Wachtmeister didn't want to go home. He wanted to stay here for another couple of years. When Sten Andersson said to George Shultz, "I'm going to replace the Swedish ambassador," George Shultz said, "Well, you ought to think about that because, you know, your man in Washington is regularly playing tennis with a lot of people including the vice president." Sten Andersson said, "Well, you know, you're interfering in our internal affairs. You have no right to tell us who our ambassador's going to be in Washington." But then he kind of laughed and he said, "But, you know, you have a point. Maybe we should leave him there."
That little exchange led to a kind of amity and a friendship between George Shultz and Sten Andersson that they were then able to build on, and Sten Andersson, in a sense, became the American point man -- became George Shultz's point man -- in dealing with Yassar Arafat and with the PLO. Sten Andersson was somebody that George Shultz could trust, and Yassar Arafat had trust in Sten Andersson, so he became the middle man. He, as I say, was the point man, and then there was this delegation of American Jewish leaders led by Rita Hauser, Stanley Sheinbaum in California, and a number of others who traveled secretly to Stockholm to meet with Yassar Arafat in November just before the Palestine National Council meeting and got the so-called Stockholm Declaration, which was the first big step towards Arafat's accepting Israel's right to exist and renouncing terrorism.
LAMB: Janet, this is a technical note -- and we'll get a close-up of this -- one of the things I noticed is that every chapter started off with italicized print, and as you can see there and I can barely read it, talking about a Mercedes. I can't even see it. It's not close enough. "Darkness cloaks the armored gray Mercedes waiting in the driveway of the safehouse." In other words, there's a lot more drama that you describe. Why did you use italics? What was the purpose?
JANET WALLACH: There are really two parts to every chapter. There's the now, the present, the interviews that we had with Arafat, the feeling that we got being there, being with him. Then there's the whole historical perspective of this. What we wanted to do was really separate those and to almost write the current feelings as a novel. I think you could almost read the italicized portions of each chapter as an ongoing novel.
JOHN WALLACH: We wanted primarily, I think, the reader to have the same experience that we had, because it was very dramatic. It was a very exciting -- unnerving, often -- experience not to know where you were going, at what hour of the day you were going somewhere, where you would meet him, what kind of mood he was in. This was as true not only of seeing him in Tunis and in other parts of the Arab world, in Baghdad, but of seeing other Arab leaders in other parts of the Arab world. We wanted the reader to experience some of that excitement.
JANET WALLACH: And also to understand how Arafat sees things now, how his mind works now, how it interprets events now, which is the italicized part at the beginning, and what led to that kind of thinking -- the whole historical background of his experience and how he reached these conclusions.
LAMB: This is a picture of Yassar Arafat, with the symbol for the intifada? Is that the flag in the background?
JANET WALLACH: Yes.
LAMB: The intifada. What role has this played in modern-day Yassar Arafat? Does it strengthen him? Does it weaken him?
JANET WALLACH: It's two-fold. First, the intifada began in Gaza by the Gazans themselves, the Palestinians living in Gaza. And it actually ...
LAMB: Let me stop you a second, in case someone's listening to this for the first time. I don't have a map here, but let's say Jerusalem's right here. Where is Gaza?
JANET WALLACH: Okay. Gaza is to the southwest of Jerusalem.
LAMB: On the Mediterranean. There's a coastline there.
JANET WALLACH: Right.
JOHN WALLACH: Egypt is just across from Gaza and, indeed, Gaza belonged to Egypt before the 1967 war.
JANET WALLACH: You could almost in a crude way call Gaza the hellhole of the area. It's so crowded. It's so bleak, and a miserable place to live. In fact, nobody ever wants Gaza. It's always been a territory that's been fought not to own. The uprising that began in December '87 actually started in Gaza. It took the PLO in Tunis several weeks to catch up with the momentum of this uprising, and it really caught the PLO and Arafat off guard. They were not prepared for this.
LAMB: So they didn't start it?
JANET WALLACH: They did not start it, but they very quickly caught up with the pace of it and started funding it and started trying to control it from outside. For two years that's really what was happening. In fact, much of the money that was going to fuel the intifada was coming from Baghdad. Four million dollars a month was being used for the intifada.
JOHN WALLACH: Brian, I think there was a political plus side for Arafat and a downside. I think the upside was that the intifada was kind of the engine that fueled Arafat's political accommodation, his ability to convert what had been a terrorist struggle, a guerrilla struggle, into a political one, because the clear message from the people dying and being wounded -- the Palestinians on the West Bank -- was that "we want you to convert our suffering into a political process that gives us something, that gives us a homeland." That was a message that Arafat took very literally and impelled him, I think, to acceptance of Israel. On the other hand, the intifada is something of a threat politically to Arafat because a whole new generation of Palestinian young people are in the front lines of the battle and he is not. He is far away in Tunis.
LAMB: How old is he?
JOHN WALLACH: He's 61. These young people who are dying today on the front lines of the Palestinian struggle, for them Arafat is somewhat less important. Indeed, as we talk today, the real threat to Arafat -- or much of the threat to him -- comes not only from the Israelis but from the Islamic fundamentalists on the West Bank who are not prepared to accept political compromise -- the Hamas group of Palestinians who are moving towards more and more extremism as they see extremism in Israel.
LAMB: Let me ask you about numbers again. How many Palestinians are there in the world?
JANET WALLACH: About 5.5 million.
LAMB: How many of them would be card-carrying members of the PLO?
JANET WALLACH: Oh, very few. First of all, there is no such thing.
LAMB: You mean no cards.
JANET WALLACH: No cards, right. And certainly no cards in the West Bank in Gaza.
LAMB: David Halevy said in his book that the PLO were worth somewhere between $8 billion and $l4 billion.
JANET WALLACH: Oh, I think that's a great exaggeration. At one point it was considered somewhere around $3 billion, but since the oil glut and since all of the problems in the Middle East, it's way down. It's under $1 billion.
JOHN WALLACH: In fact, their annual budget is about $350 million a year, if I recall correctly.
LAMB: What do they do with that money?
JOHN WALLACH: Although they have investments. They have real estate in Africa. They have a lot of investments around the world. The money is used for all kinds of activities. It's used to fund embassies throughout the world. It's used to organize political meetings. They have the Palestine National Congress council meeting which has 450 members and which meets rather democratically, in fact, every year to elect a new leadership of the PLO.
JANET WALLACH: It also goes to support some rather high-style living on the part of the PLO officials. We were talking before about Arafat not having a home, but just about every other PLO official has at least one rather nice home. Some of them have several. So it goes for salaries of all of those people.
JOHN WALLACH: But one should also say that probably 60 percent of the money goes to Red Crescent hospitals, to take care of welfare organizations. There are Palestinian hospitals throughout the Arab world, almost exclusively for Palestinians, in Cairo, in Damascus, in other places. A lot of the money goes to take care of the refugee population. A lot of the money goes into the West Bank, as much as they can get in, to fuel the intifada. One has to be careful because there is a lot of money that is spent by the PLO on the welfare of the Palestinian people throughout the world.
LAMB: I hate to bring this up, and knock on wood, but why have we not seen any terrorist activities during this period between August the 2nd and now? Any guess?
JOHN WALLACH: Well, we have seen some terrorist activities.
LAMB: But I'm talking about the kind of Pan Am 103, the kind of thing that would really charge this atmosphere.
JOHN WALLACH: Well, one would hope and expect that Saddam Hussein himself in Baghdad would recognize that that kind of an incident would bring immediate American retaliation against Baghdad itself, and to the extent that he can control people like Abu Abbas, the leader of the Palestine Liberation Front, a faction that is opposed to Arafat but based in Baghdad -- in fact, it was Baghdad and Saddam Hussein that fueled the May 30 attack by Abu Abbas's forces, the PLF, on a beach in Tel-Aviv in an effort to pull the rug out from under the American dialogue with the PLO, and they succeeded in doing it. It's clear today more than ever before that it was Saddam Hussein and Iraq that was behind Abu Abbas and the PLF and that those forces are just as much opposed to Yassar Arafat and the mainstream Fatah faction of the PLO, which has by and large refrained from terrorist activities since December 1988 -- at least they did for 18 months. There has been new terrorism directed against Israel from southern Lebanon, some of it sponsored by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, George Habash's group, which also has been opposed to Arafat's peace initiative. Some of it's sponsored by more radical PLO organizations. Arafat by no means controls the whole organization, but he does control the mainstream Fatah group which has made what Arafat calls "a historic compromise," namely the acceptance of Israel provided the Israeli government is willing to recognize self-determination for the Palestinian people and help negotiate a homeland for them.
LAMB: When you look back on this experience over the last -- two years?
JANET WALLACH: Yes.
LAMB: When was the last word written for this book?
JANET WALLACH: Not very long ago. It was very recent. It was October of this year.
LAMB: When you look back over the last two years, what are the one or two experiences that, you know, the first one you tell your kids about when you get back home?
JANET WALLACH: Oh, I suppose the first meeting in the middle of the night with all of the bodyguards around. That was certainly one. There was another experience that we had working on "Still Small Voices" that was kind of amusing. We were supposed to go with one of the Palestinian leaders to a refugee camp to see what the intifada was, the seeds of the intifada. The night before we heard on the radio that there was going to be fighting at this camp, that there was going to be real stone-throwing and some heated fighting. I said to John, "I'm sorry, but I don't want to go. I don't think we should go. It's not smart." John said, "We've got to go. This is what we're here for. This is what we've got to report on." Early in the morning we got a call from this Palestinian leader saying, sorry, that he just couldn't go. Later on he said to us, "I don't go anywhere where there's fighting. I don't want to be anywhere where there's danger." So it gave us a whole other look at the people.
JOHN WALLACH: The kind of stories, Brian, that I guess we share with our kids are not the ones that perhaps we ought to share with your audience, but I'll just tell you one. For example, we had been told pretty much to stay pretty close to the hotel in order to wait for that phone call to come and see Arafat because the moment you get the call you've only got a few minutes to get out. If you're not there, you miss the meeting with him. We had had several meetings with him at midnight, 1:00, 2:00 in the morning. So the second Sunday that we were in Tunis, it was a beautiful day and we decided, "Let's go to the beach. Nobody is going to call us in the middle of the day." So we went and we spent the whole day on the beach, 10 minutes away from the hotel. We got back to the hotel about 5:00 o'clock that afternoon, and there were a couple of PLO people running through the lobby saying, "Where have you been? Where have you been? We've been looking for you for hours! He wanted to have Sunday brunch with you. He wanted to have you over for lunch!" That was when we really felt terrible because we missed an opportunity to see him during the day, to see him probably when he was more relaxed than he often was in the wee hours of the morning.
LAMB: Do you think he'll regret having spent all that time with you?
JANET WALLACH: Oh, I hope not. I hope not. I don't think he should. I think that any writing that is objective and leads to any kind of broader understanding, deeper understanding of him, is going to be beneficial in the end.
JOHN WALLACH: You know, this is a human being with blood flowing through his veins, and people may hate him, they may love him. But the most important thing, Brian, is to try to understand him -- to understand where he's coming from. Why has he led the kind of ascetic life that he's led for the last several decades? Why has he emerged as something of a folk hero for his own people? Why has he made so many personal sacrifices? He doesn't live the kind of life that you and I would ever be able to live. He doesn't have a family. He never knows when he goes to sleep at night whether he's going to wake up alive the next morning. He can never sleep in the same house more than one or two nights in a row. He never knows who is going to shoot his airplane out of the air. He's always a target of Israelis, of extreme Palestinian groups. He somehow has to maintain some kind of cohesion among all the disparate PLO factions, and also negotiate with the West, with the United States, and hopefully with Israel.
LAMB: Will Israel ever live in peace, and will the Palestinians ever live in peace in your lifetime?
JANET WALLACH: Oh, Brian, I think one of the most frustrating parts about working on this book was seeing how many times peace was within reach, and one side or the other worked very hard to lose it. I hope so. I certainly hope so.
JOHN WALLACH: Abba Eban said once that the Palestinians never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. To some extent that's reflected in our book, but we also hope that the reader will take from our book that these are a people who are deserving of their own homeland, their own place in the sun, and that the Palestinians are to a large extent the Jews of the Arab world. They are the doctors, the lawyers, the physicians, the engineers, and they are the most persecuted by the rest of the Arabs. They always somehow are the victims, not only of the Israelis but of the rest of the Arabs. We hope one day -- and I think Janet and I feel this is one of the reasons that we've written these two books -- that there can be peace which is so natural between two Semitic peoples, the Palestinian people and the Israeli people, and that there can be a Palestinian homeland side by side, co-existing with Israel, with open borders -- open borders with Jordan that provides an access for Israel to the Arab world, open borders with Israel that provides access to the Mediterranean for Jordan and for the Palestinians.
LAMB: This is what the book looks like. "Arafat: In the Eyes of the Beholder" by Janet and John Wallach. Thank you both for joining us.
JOHN WALLACH: Thank you.
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