WE BECAME MORE THAN FRIENDS

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At 2 a.m. last Saturday, senior correspondent Scott MacLeod met with Yasser Arafat in his Gaza headquarters for a one-hour interview. Arafat, sitting under a poster of Jerusalem, seemed drained of energy, shocked and worried. Excerpts: TIME: It was a terrible week.

Arafat: As if it is one year, not one week. I lost my partner. The man paid with his life for the peace of the brave. It was a big shock for me, a big shock. First there were feelings for him as a man. The moment we signed [the peace agreement] we became more than friends. I used to phone him. We had two "hot lines." One through the phone, and one through a person appointed to be a special channel. That person would come and go, by day or night.

TIME: How do you think Rabin's death will affect the peace process?

Arafat: I am a little bit worried. This big crime is not a joke. If I should not be worried now, when should I be worried? [The fanatics] have some political importance, but I am worried about the violence ... There is coordination between these [Israeli] fanatic groups and some--some, not all--of the fanatic groups on our side. When I mentioned it to the Israeli government, they didn't believe me. One of these [Palestinian] leaders was sentenced to 15 years in our state security court because of this coordination. TIME: Do you have doubts about Peres' political strength?

Arafat: In general, I am sure that the peace process will continue. Don't forget that the other [Israeli] peacemaker is Mr. Peres. He will have the capability. Beside him are many officials.

TIME: If Likud comes to power, will it cause a problem?

Arafat: These are not bilateral agreements. These are international agreements. Who signed the last one? Me and Rabin. Then President [Hosni] Mubarak, King Hussein, [Secretary of State Warren] Christopher, [Russian Foreign Minister Andrei] Kozyrev, [Spanish Prime Minister Felipe] Gonzalez [Marquez] in the name of the European Union.

TIME: Benjamin Netanyahu didn't sign.

Arafat: And Hamas didn't sign. But I am representing the Palestinians. And Rabin was representing the Israelis. TIME: Are you satisfied with your own security?

Arafat: Do you think this is the first time I am facing trouble? [Israeli General Ariel] Sharon was trying to kill me during the siege of Beirut. Did you forget that? Then there was the air raid against my residence in Tunisia. And the crash of my airplane in the desert. I am a strong leader. Yet nobody can escape his destiny. I am a strong believer in God.

TIME: Rabin had a No. 2 to follow him. Who's yours?

Arafat: Oh, I can't give you his name. But I have No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, No. 5. I am not here with a tank and a coup d'etat. I have been elected in the Palestine National Council. [If something happens], they will call an urgent meeting of the P.N.C. and elect another one.