Former Italian MP ‘ashamed’ her country ‘freed Palestinian terrorists’

Israeli analysts weigh in on claims that arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat kept a secret journal describing a deal that turned Italy into “a Palestinian shore on the Mediterranean.”

By: Steve Leibowitz, World Israel News

An exclusive report Sunday, by the Italian L’espresso magazine opened old wounds when it revealed an alleged agreement between the PLO terror organization and Italian leaders, as gleaned from previously unknown secret diaries of the PLO’s founder and first Palestinian Authority president, Yasser Arafat.

According to L’espresso, the 19 volumes of personal writing cover the years between 1985 and 2004, the year Arafat died in a French hospital.

The magazine published only short excerpts of the alleged diaries that dealt with a deal that was reportedly struck with top officials in the Italian government, including former prime ministers Bettino Craxi and Silvio Berlusconi, and foreign minister Giulio Andreotti.

The L’espresso feature brought to light negotiations between Arafat and the Italian government (headed by Craxi and Andreotti) in 1985, during the hijacking of the Achille Lauro cruise ship off the Egyptian shore by four Palestinian terrorists. The terrorists had planned to travel on the ship to Israel to carry out a murderous attack, but they were accidentally discovered and took over the ship instead, murdering a Jewish-American hostage, Leon Klinghoffer, during the takeover.

The mastermind behind the terrorist group was Palestinian Liberation Front (PLF) official Muhammad Zaidan (a.k.a. Muhammad “Abu” Abbas). When Italy had the opportunity to arrest and try Zaidan – or extradite him to the US to stand trial for Klinghoffer’s murder – the diaries claim that Andreotti allowed Abbas to escape justice. Craxi publicly supported the position that there was not enough evidence to allow for Abbas’ extradition.

Italy later sentenced Zaidan in absentia to five terms of life imprisonment for his role in the Achille Lauro hijacking. He was also wanted in the US for crimes including terrorism, piracy, and murder. On April 14, 2003, Zaidan was captured by American forces in Iraq while attempting to flee from Baghdad to Syria. Nearly a year later the Pentagon reported that Zaidan had died of natural causes, while in U.S. custody. The PLF accused the Americans of assassinating their leader.

“I am so very sorry that Italy let murderers get away.” That’s how former Italian Member of Parliament and now analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs Fiamma Nirenstein reacted when asked about the reported secret deal between Italy and the PLO. According to Arafat, the PLO promised there would be no terror attacks in Italy in exchange for freedom of movement in Italy for its members.

Nirenstein told World Israel News (WIN), “Of course it’s hard to say if a report is true when the source is an alleged Arafat diary. But what I can tell you is that then Prime Minister Bettino Craxi was a great friend of Arafat. It was clear that he gave free reign to the PLO terrorists and this is a terrible shame. It also did not work. The terrorists carried out a few attacks and Italy still allowed the murderers of the Achille Lauro to go free.”

Asked to comment about whether the Italian government also paid the PLO money as Arafat claimed, Nirenstein responded remorsefully, “I have no idea if we gave them money, but if we did it’s unforgivable. You must not pay ransom to terror.”

It had long been rumored that an understanding had been in place between Italy and the PLO since 1973, after a PLO attack on an airport in Rome. The PLO would not target Italians in exchange for Italian acquiescence to the terror group’s objectives. L’espresso reported that in his diaries, Arafat warmly described Italy as “a Palestinian shore on the Mediterranean.”

Former Israeli Ambassador to Italy Avi Pazner told WIN, “It was never officially revealed, but when I was in Italy we all knew that there had been a deal struck in 1973 after the Munich Olympics attack and an attack in Vienna and other attacks on air planes. My understanding is that there was an agreement to cooperate with the PLO if they prevent any terrorist activity in Italy. I did not hear about a financial bribe. The quiet in Italy was mostly maintained until the Achille Lauro which is an Italian ship. There was also an attack on a synagogue in Rome but Arafat claims it was not a PLO action. The PLO viewed Italy as its base in Europe. The Craxi government was openly pro-PLO.”

According to the alleged diaries, Arafat agreed to help Silvio Berlusconi, a three-time prime minister to commit a crime. In return for a handsome gift, Arafat wrote, he confirmed Berlusconi’s false statement to Italian prosecutors that a 10 billion lire grant was given to the Palestinians, rather than to an Italian political party as suspected by police.

Nirenstein entered the Parliament in 2008 in the the People of Freedom party as a close ally of President Silvio Berlusconi. She told WIN that the Italian governments of today would not make such an agreement. “I think the current leader knows that you cannot make a deal with terrorists. They will kill you today or they will kill you tomorrow and the politicians know that,” Nirenstein said.

Asked about reports of Berlusconi’s return to politics she said, “He is making a big effort and I can tell you he is a very good friend of Israel. Maybe Arafat’s reported references to Berlusconi paying him a bribe is an attempt to frame him.”

According to the diaries, Arafat perjured himself for a “considerable sum,” which Berlusconi later provided him. The journals also contain a log of all of the sums of money Arafat allegedly received from the Italian leader.

Jerusalem writer Mathew Kalman co-authored a book titled, The Murder of Yasser Arafat. Kalman told WIN, “I would be surprised if Arafat really kept a journal. A deal between Italy and the PLO was rumored for years but the story was floated by Israel.” According to Kalman there is no hard evidence of a deal with the Italian government.

“The way the Achille Lauro murderers escaped was suspicious but until now there was no evidence of complicity,” he concluded.