After the second Intifada erupted in 2001 and British documents were made public, former US President George W. Bush directed the CIA to look for a successor to Yasser Arafat.
The US initiative followed the collapse of talks at Camp David in 2000 between Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. The meetings came after the West Bank and Gaza Strip, which are both occupied territories, saw an increase in violence.
Bush anticipated early on that Ariel Sharon, who followed Barak, would use the Gaza Strip to sow discord among the Palestinians, according to BBC documents.
The records relate to negotiations that occurred between the US and the UK a few months after Bush and his neoconservative-dominated administration assumed office.
The second Palestinian uprising was at its height in January 2001, the month of Bush’s inauguration. It started when Sharon entered the Al Aqsa Mosque courtyards in late September 2000, an act that was generally perceived by Palestinians as provoking them.
The Bush administration urged Arafat to put an end to the rebellion so that security talks with Israel could begin. It also blocked a draft resolution in the UN Security Council that called for dispatching an observer force from the UN to guard Palestinian people in the occupied areas against Israeli soldiers.
The Palestinian-Israeli conflict was extensively discussed over the phone with then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair after the negotiations were abandoned.
As recorded in the meeting minutes, the prime minister declared Arafat to be a burden.
According to him, the Palestinian leader “has done all he can do constructively and is merely trying to hold onto his job.” Arafat “no longer has anything to give,” he continued, implying that the leader had already accepted all reasonable compromises.
Following his endorsement of Blair’s remarks, Bush referred to Arafat as “weak and worthless.” He acknowledged that he had requested the CIA look for potential candidates to succeed the Palestinian president, but said that after a “thorough analysis of the Palestinian scene, the agency concluded that there is no successor available.”
The British papers showed that Colin Powell, the US secretary of state at the time, did not support Bush’s efforts to choose Arafat’s successor.
A few years later, on November 11, 2004, Arafat passed away in a hospital in Paris from a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by the poisonous substance polonium that was discovered on his body and clothing.
Arabs and Palestinians charged Israel with his death though it denied any involvement in his death.