Sharon's real programme: Uri Avnery talked to Chris Kutschera about his friendship with the Israeli Prime Minister.

Author:Kutschera, Chris

Uri Avnery is no ordinary Israeli. Born in Germany in 1923, this son of a Jewish banker who emigrated to Palestine in 1933, became a member of the Irgun, an extremist Jewish underground organisation that fought a bitter war against the British Mandate in Palestine, at the age of 15.

In 1948 Avnery left the Irgun and started petitioning for the establishment of a Palestinian state to exist alongside Israel, a programme described in detail in the magazine Haolam Hazeh (This World), which Avnery founded in 1950.

Three times a member of the Israeli Knesset, Uri Avnery was the first Israeli to have contact with the PLO leadership in 1974, when he met Said Hamami, who was assassinated by Palestinian extremists four years later.

After these talks Avnery wrote the famous book My Friend, the Enemy. In 1982 he went to Beirut during the siege of the Lebanese capital by the Israeli army, where he met Yasser Arafat. Later, in 1993, he founded Gush Shalom, the Peace Bloc, which called for the creation of the state of Palestine in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the release of all Palestinian prisoners, the dismantling of all settlements and the recognition of Jerusalem as the joint capital of both states.

Visiting Paris on the occasion of the publication of his latest book Chronicles of an Israeli Pacifist during the Intifada, Uri Avnery wears a badge on his jacket, an insigna displaying the flags of Israel and Palestine.

At nearly 80, he still displays the fighting determination of the young revolutionary he once was. During a meeting with Leila Shahid, the PLO representative in Paris, he denounced Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's policies with eloquence and lucidity.

Uri Avnery claims he is one of the few people who knows how the mind of Ariel Sharon really works. In 1973, following the Arab-Israeli October war, after Sharon left the army and founded the Likud, the magazine Haolam Hazeh ran a cover story on Sharon portraying him as their 'man of the year'. "He devoted a lot of time to us and I spent many hours with him", says Uri Avnery. "I can say that at that time we were close, even if my wife does not like me to admit it now. He visited me, and I visited him at his home. In the 1970's he had not yet become such an outspoken right winger; he was playing with all kinds of ideas, and we were under the illusion that he would eventually evolve as a sort of Israeli De Gaulle. So I know quite well how his mind works. People abroad--even Chirac--do not have...

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