Arafat’s death

There have been renewed insinuations about the cause of Yasser Arafat’s death eight years ago, at the age of 75.

July 4, 2012 23:38
3 minute read.
Children hold placards of Arafat and Abbas

Placards of Arafat and Abbas 311 (R). (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Some tall tales refuse to die. In the Arab Mideast they even grow – often to gargantuan proportions, usually proportionate to their inherent preposterousness.

This is the case with insinuations about the cause of Yasser Arafat’s death eight years ago, at the age of 75. Conspiracy theories abound. The only scenario serially discounted is natural causes.

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The years haven’t mitigated the suspicions/fabrications.

Quite the contrary. Thus Al Jazeera reported on Tuesday that tests at a Swiss lab conducted on Arafat’s purportedly uncontaminated personal items, such as clothing and a toothbrush supplied by his widow, Suha, yielded indications of elevated traces of radioactive Polonium 210. This, it should be noted, is the substance used six years ago to eliminate Russian spy-turned-dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London.

The Lausanne lab stressed that nothing can be said for certain without exhuming Arafat’s body, but that is no impediment to innuendo. The Palestinian Authority said it would agree to an exhumation from the Ramallah mausoleum if Suha Arafat requests it.

Meanwhile, Mrs. Arafat, leading the accusing chorus, summed up the Al Jazeera “documentary” by asserting that it has been firmly established that her husband’s death was part of “a criminal scheme.”

These allegations are hardly new and surfaced hot on the heels of Arafat’s demise at a French military hospital (which did not divulge the cause of death). The appeal of conjuring nefarious plots persisted and in 2009 became the stuff of intense challenges to Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas.


That was when Fatah co-founder Farouk Kadumi – who brands the two-state solution “just a temporary phase” – showed Al Jazeera TV what he asserted were protocols of a three-way collusion by Abbas, Arafat’s longtime sidekick Muhammad Dahlan and then-prime minister Ariel Sharon to assassinate Arafat.

To cleanse himself and counter the politically loaded charges, Abbas recruited Bassam Abu Sharif, Arafat’s consigliore, nicknamed the “Face of Terror.” But Abu Sharif’s tack was hardly to deny the calumny. He merely modified it to place the culpability more squarely on Israel.

Tall tales of a plot to murder Arafat are too good to pass up in a setting where fact and fiction are intrinsically indistinguishable.

Since no one would anyhow believe Arafat died a natural death, better just blame all foul-play on Israel.

In that spirit and with Abbas’s unstinted backing, Abu Sharif claimed he knew for a fact that Israeli agents substituted toxins for medications Arafat was taking. Moreover, the lethal Israeli concoctions were, according to Ramallah’s officially sanctioned version of events, brewed especially for this purpose by a leading Israeli pharmaceutical firm.

Nobody asked how Abu Sharif came to possess this information, whether he can back it up or why he chose to divulge it so late. Instead, all delegates to the 2009 Fatah convention in Bethlehem – without a single skeptic among them – raised their hands in favor of a resolution proclaiming that Israel is responsible for Arafat’s “poisoning.”

The convention unanimously demanded an international inquiry into Israel’s role in terminating the Nobel Peace laureate.

But such slander is not the exception. It is the Palestinian norm. In a 1999 ceremony welcoming America’s then-first lady Hillary Clinton to Gaza, Suha Arafat railed in indignation: “Our people have been subjected to the daily and extensive use of poisonous gas by the Israeli forces, which has led to an increase in cancer cases among women and children.”

Mrs. Arafat charged that Israel deliberately contaminated with lethal toxins 80 percent of the water (not 79% or 81%) consumed by Palestinian females and infants (but presumably not by adult males). Clinton uttered no objection.

Herein lies the trouble. The failure of the international community to object gives assorted canards legitimacy.

Hence Arab masses are convinced that Israel was behind the 9/11 destruction of the Twin Towers.

Not only is invaluable energy expended on deception at the expense of tackling real problems, but fantastic convolutions of trumped-up cloak and dagger stories do not bolster the cause of true peace. Falsehoods negate peace.

Where the culture of mendacity reigns, trustworthy accords cannot grow. That is why the latest twist in the “Arafat assassination” tale matters.

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