Yasser Arafat sat immediately to my right at the head of the old long wooden dining/conference table he had used for decades. His friends and Cabinet seated along its length on either side. He hunched over his bowl of soup. His hands shook as he tried to take a spoonful, spilling most of it as he raised it.
I had dinner with Arafat on far too many occasions to count over the several years since I had first met him in Bruit in the summer of 1982. He had always been animated on those occasions. Jovial, friendly. He was a talkative, energetic man. Now he was frail, listless. His eyes were dulled, somewhat teary. His only conversation was to call me to his side at the table when I entered the dining room of the Mukatta, or what was left of his headquarters they called they called the Mukatta, in Ramallah.
The Israeli army had surrounded the building with tanks and troops. They repeatedly shelled Arafat's headquarters at Ramallah for months, until it was left a near ruin. Only a third of the once sprawling compound was left intact.
He had taken my hand with both of his as he always did when we met that night but his grip on my hand this time was weak palsied, not the robust grip of the past. He looked quite sad and appeared to be in terrible pain. His eyes were dulled, and teary.
His voice nearly a whisper as he greeted me and motioned for me to sit at his side. I tried to make conversation with him during the meal but he did not look up from his plate. He was lost, gone somehow. He was there, next to me, but he was not there at all. The meal ended and he turned in his chair and made to go to his room directly behind the dining room. Someone opened the door behind us, revealing his bed, desk and sparse furnishings. He again took my hand saying he would see me in the next day.
I knew he was not going to see me again. I knew somehow that evening that I had probably seen Arafat for the last time. Shortly after our meeting, as I was on my way back to the states he died. He had been dying that night or at least in the final stages of death. He died on the 11th of November 2004in Paris only days after I returned to the United States. He might have saved himself if he had left the compound earlier but the Israelis warned that if he left he would not be allowed back.
Now they are going to exhume his body to try and find out if he were poisoned. His wife Suha has claimed that he was murdered and demanded the French authorities conduct an investigation.
French scientists have found significant traces of the radioactive poison Polonium 210 a rare poison produced in small quantities by nuclear reactors, in Arafat's clothing and on his personal effects. Polonium 210 was the same poison used to kill Alexander Litvinenko the former KGB agent and critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Arafat had enormous popularity among the Palestinians and he was not going to settle for less than a two-state solution.
The two-state solutions are and always were out of the question. If there is peace between the Palestinians and Israel it would come only as a fiction that Palestine exists as a state. There will be no physical state of Palestine. Israel has absorbed or occupied nearly all that was once was Palestine.
Palestine will be engulfed by Israel. There might be the illusion of a separate state. The Palestinians might be allowed to have a government, a police force perhaps, even their own postage stamp but there will never be a separate state of Palestine.
There is a simple reason for this. We need only look to the Old Testament for the reason.
Genesis: And they came to the land of the Canaanites. "On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, 'To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates.'"
There is and will be continued dispute as to exactly what land this bounty encompassed. The Israeli's will decide on that but God and the covenant made it quite clear.
The very essence of Israel is this promise made to the Hebrews by God we are told and expected to believe "The Covenant." They would have to abandon the Covenant made with God if they were to agree the Palestinians were to have a piece of the Promised Land. There would be no real purpose for an Israel if they did.
I had posed the question to Arafat on several occasions, as cautiously as I dared with the most careful crafting of language, did he not feel by agreeing to the peace accords drawn up in Oslo that he was walking into a trap.
That Israel simply wanted him where they could get at him if they found it necessary and they wanted an end to the bothersome Palestinians. That is the way it worked out in the end. He always violently disagreed. He believed he had his Palestine. I think he died knowing he had not.
The Oslo accords, and the several vapid agreements and treaties made by various American presidents over decades, with great theater, and all the strum und drang that could be brought to bear, were never taken seriously by the Israeli's. They were never to be undertaken. Netanyahu has made this quite clear now. There was never to be a Palestinian state.
It was all simply a grand deception, at great incalculable cost, but the price does not matter. Not to the Israeli's at least. They have what they wanted all these many, many years.
*Morgan Strong is a former professor of Middle Eastern History, and was a consultant to CBS News "60 Minutes" on the Middle East.