It is July 1999, the funeral of the late King Hasan of Morocco. Heads of State and dignitaries from all over the world are gathered in a room waiting for the funeral to proceed.

Among those gathered to pay their respects are United States President Bill Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, the new King of Jordan Abdallah II, and Yasser Arafat, to name just a few.

Arafat takes the opportunity to step forward and approach the Kuwaiti delegation, headed by the country's Crown Prince and Prime Minister Shaikh Saad Al Abdallah Al Sabah.

Accompanying Arafat is Egyptian Foreign Minister, Amr Mousa (who is today the Secretary General of the Arab League). Arafat extends his hand to Shaikh Saad, who responds by pulling his arm to his chest and refusing even to greet Arafat. "Please, don't make a scene and embarrass me," says Shaikh Saad.

"Come on Shaikh Saad, it is all in the past. Let us look forward to the future," pleads Arafat. "Impossible," replies Shaikh Saad adamantly. "After what you've done to Kuwait? No way."

Mousa steps in to mediate: "Come, Your Highness, it is all in the past." Shaikh Saad continues, implacable: "Impossible, please, do not try and make a scene."

Arafat walks away as I, standing next to the Crown Prince recall: "My God! This is the man who saved Arafat's life 30 years ago, and now he refuses to even shake hands with him!"

Flash back to September 1970, or rather, Black September, as it is known in Arab political literature. Shaikh Saad arrives in Amman as a member of the Arab League's delegation to help put an end to the bloody fighting between the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and the Jordanian army.

King Hussain of Jordan is determined to eliminate the PLO, which is becoming a state within a state in his country. The PLO is on the defensive, and the Jordanian army has the upper hand. The fate of the PLO and its leader, Yasser Arafat, seems certain.

Shaikh Saad and his companions, including the Sudanese President Jaffar Numeiri, head off to Arafat's hideout in the Wihdat Refugee Camp, where Arafat is anxiously sending out an SOS over the PLO's radio station.

Shaikh Saad meets Arafat. With Arafat camouflaged in Shaikh Saad's Arabic headdress and cloak, the motorcade slips through the numerous checkpoints scattered around Amman, manned by soldiers and police officers on the lookout for PLO leaders. Arafat's life is saved.

From Amman, Arafat and the PLO went to Lebanon, where they became embroiled in the messy Lebanese civil war.

Later, the PLO was forced out of Lebanon by the Israelis, when they invaded and occupied most of Lebanon in 1982. Yet even today, some Lebanese blame the PLO and Arafat for the streams of blood shed in Lebanon.

In 1990, when Saddam Hussain invaded Kuwait, Arafat stood at Saddam's side. Kuwaitis will never either forget or forgive Arafat for the position he took. To Kuwaitis, at the very least, it smacks of absolute ingratitude.

Kuwait did not just save the life of Arafat back in 1970, it had already served as the very cradle of the PLO. Back in the 1950s, after finishing his studies in engineering in Cairo, Arafat moved to Kuwait and worked at the Ministry of Public Works.

In Kuwait, Arafat and his comrades established the PLO in 1959. Those who were with him at the time have all now died either of natural causes or been assassinated by the Israelis or fallen victim to Palestinian infighting.

Into exile once again

Up until 1990, Kuwait hosted the largest Palestinian community living in exile after Jordan. Around 400,000 Palestinians lived and worked in Kuwait, sending their remittances to the PLO and the Occupied Territories and thereby providing important revenue for the Palestinian economy. As most unarmed civilians, most of them fled Kuwait after the Iraqi army invaded the country in August of 1990.

After being driven out of Lebanon in 1982, Arafat and his organisation went into exile once again. That time, he went further away from his dreamland of Palestine to Tunisia, where he remained until his return to the Gaza Strip in 1994.

The peace process which the PLO initialised in Oslo in 1993, was finalised on the lawns of the White House in the historic treaty made famous by the highly-touted handshake between Arafat and the then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin on September 13, 1993.

Rabin's assassination in 1996 marked a change in Israeli politics, which have been dominated by the extreme right ever since.

Of late, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has had Arafat under siege in his compound in Ramallah for over two years -until a few days ago, when the French, distancing themselves from US politics in the Middle East and expressing their solidarity with the Palestinian people, offered, in a humanitarian gesture, to treat the ill Arafat in a French hospital.

It is somewhat ironic that it was a Jordanian military helicopter that flew him to Amman last week to board the specially chartered French jet to take him to Paris for medical treatment.

The same military that tried to kill him more than 30 years ago was now trying to save his life, whereas the people whose country functioned as the cradle for his political, military and economic career, and the man who was instrumental in saving his life from that same military refused even to shake his hand.

Dr. Saad Al Ajmi is a former Minister of Information in Kuwait, an academic and analyst. He can be contacted at