Israeli Cabinet Approves Arafat Burial in Ramallah

By Julie Stahl | July 7, 2008 | 8:15 PM EDT

Jerusalem ( - As Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser remained in a "deep coma" in a Paris hospital Wednesday, Palestinian and Israeli officials were planning for his burial, possibly later this week.

The Israeli cabinet on Wednesday approved the West Bank city of Ramallah as a burial place for the veteran Palestinian leader.

"Following the request of the Palestinian Authority, and taking into account the recommendation of the security is our intention to allow the funeral [of Arafat] and burial in Ramallah (at the Mukata)," a statement from Israeli Prime Minister's media advisor said.

Arafat had wanted to be buried in Jerusalem, but Israel strongly ruled out the idea from the beginning. Israel was pushing for a Gaza Strip burial, where Arafat's father and sister are buried.

Israel considers united city of Jerusalem as its eternal, indivisible capital. The Palestinians want the eastern section of the city, including the historic Old City, to become the capital of a future Palestinian state.

Arafat, 75, for decades embodied the Palestine Liberation Organization's dream of destroying Israel and raising a Palestinian state in its place. He will be buried at his Mukata office compound, where he was holed up for some three years.

Former Arafat advisor and current Israeli Knesset member Ahmed Tibi said Arafat would one day be buried in Jerusalem, regardless of Israel's refusal.

"In the end," Tibi said in a radio interview, "if he is not buried today or tomorrow in East Jerusalem, a day will come when there is a sovereign Palestinian government, a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem, and Yasser Arafat will be buried in the mosque of Al Aksa."

Israel made it clear that responsibility for maintaining security in Ramallah rested solely with the Palestinian security services.

"Israel is interested in having the burial ceremony and funeral arrangements take place in an orderly fashion, in order to avoid confrontations or unnecessary escalation," the statement said.

"The responsibility for maintaining security and public order in Ramallah during the funeral and after it falls on the Palestinians.

"Israel will not be involved in maintaining security in Ramallah during the funeral, assuming it takes place in Ramallah. This message was passed on to the Palestinians and Arab and international bodies," it said.

Analysts here said that Israel was concerned that if the funeral were held in Ramallah, masses of Palestinian mourners might march on Jerusalem, which is only a few miles away.

According to Sharon's office, the cabinet recommended approval of the security recommendations, including special deployment in the Jerusalem area. But no further details were available.

The U.S. was involved in the discussions on where Arafat would be buried, an Embassy spokesman in Tel Aviv said but he would not say what role the U.S. had played.

The spokesman said that the U.S. would likely send a representative to Arafat's funeral but ruled out the possibility that President Bush might attend. Bush refused to meet Arafat unless the Palestinian leader took steps to stop terrorism, which he never did.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak reportedly will host Arafat's funeral service for Arab and foreign dignitaries in Cairo, where Arafat was born, before his body is then interred in Ramallah.

The funeral would be followed by a 40-day mourning period.

PLO and Fatah leaders were meeting in Ramallah on Wednesday after four officials returned from a trip to Paris, where they met with Arafat's doctors and one of them saw their ailing leader.

On Wednesday, Palestinian envoy Leila Shahid said a top Palestinian Islamic cleric and old friend of the Palestinian leader Taisser Bayoud Tamimi was at Arafat's bedside to be with him in "the final phase of his life."

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.