Tall tales

Arafat died at a French military hospital that assiduously refuses to reveal the 550 pages of his medical records.

Binyamin Netanyahu, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat  370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Binyamin Netanyahu, Bill Clinton and Yasser Arafat 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
There’s nothing the Middle East loves better or produces more of than conspiracy theories. Just last week we were treated to the rerun of the Arafat poisoning calumny and hot on its heels comes another seeming tall tale about the Turkish betrayal to Iran of Israeli spies.
No one can verify or deny the latter, but it fires up the imagination and makes for sensational copy. The Arafat story had its sensational run in the international media last year, but that doesn’t prevent its recycling.
Claims that Yasser Arafat didn’t die a natural death in 2004 at age 75 – despite his prolonged and quite visible deterioration – but was the victim of a dastardly plot via mysterious radioactive toxins, has been with us for a long time. Its chief attraction for the Palestinians is escalating internal squabbles, stoking the furnace of hate against Israel and tarnishing its reputation yet another bit more.
In July 2012, Al Jazeera reported that tests at a Lausanne lab conducted on Arafat’s purportedly uncontaminated personal items, such as clothing and a toothbrush supplied by his wife, Suha, yielded indications of elevated traces of radioactive polonium-210. This, it should be noted, is the substance used seven years ago to eliminate Russian spy-turned-dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London.
Subsequently, last November, Arafat’s body was exhumed from its Ramallah mausoleum for tests by Swiss, French and Russian scientists. No results were officially disclosed but the latest brouhaha arises from a rehash of last year’s information in the Lancet medical journal, where the Swiss toxicologists assert that items belonging to Arafat showed traces that “support the possibility of Arafat’s poisoning with polonium-210.”
Even the authors caution, however, that “the absence of myelosuppression [i.e. bone marrow deficiency] and hair loss does not favor acute radiation syndrome.” Nonetheless, they maintain that “symptoms of nausea, vomiting, fatigue, diarrhea and anorexia, followed by hepatic and renal failures, might suggest radioactive poisoning.”
These symptoms, though, can far more likely fit a gamut of not uncommon diseases.
The Russian scientists charged with finding polonium produced a significant reality check.
Arafat “could not have died of polonium poisoning – the Russian experts found no traces of this substance,” Vladimir Uiba, the head of Russia’s Federal Medical-Biological Agency, told the Interfax news agency.
While that is not an official statement (the results were handed to the Russian Foreign Ministry), Uiba dealt a death blow to the elaborate assassination-by-Israel deception.
The trouble is that test results in all three countries must be submitted to the Palestinian Authority that commissioned them, and the the PA has the prerogative of never releasing them. Thus negative results from the samples might never kill the bizarre radioactive assassination insinuation, as it is just too tantalizing to let go of.
Arafat died at a French military hospital that assiduously refuses to reveal the 550 pages of his medical records.
The PA has a copy but is keeping it under wraps for reasons that doubtless serve its interests.
Significantly, innuendo about poisoning preceded Arafat’s demise. PA higher-up Nabil Sha’ath was with him and said immediately after death was pronounced that the French physicians had ruled out any possibility of poisoning.
But not long afterward, in keeping with Middle Eastern tradition, Sha’ath changed his tune and speculated that “Arafat may have been poisoned with a substance too rare for the doctors to detect.”
The appeal for competing Palestinian factions of conjuring up allegations persists and is still the stuff of challenges to Arafat’s successor Mahmoud Abbas.
Fatah co-founder Farouk Kaddoumi – who brands the two-state solution “just a temporary phase” – showed Al Jazeera TV in 2009 what he insisted were protocols of a three-way collusion by Abbas, Arafat’s longtime sidekick Muhammad Dahlan and then-prime minister Ariel Sharon to assassinate Arafat.
Unfortunately such slander is not the exception. It is a Palestinian norm. Fantastic convolutions of cloak and dagger canards do not bolster the cause of peace. Falsehoods negate peace.
Where the culture of mendacity reigns, trustworthy accords cannot grow. That is why recurrent twists in the Arafat assassination tale matter.