Arafat-Israel murder conspiracy is back from the dead
The thought that then-PM Ariel Sharon enlisted top Palestinian figures to help kill Arafat defies all reason.
The mystery surrounding the 2004 death of Yasser Arafat, at the Percy military hospital near Paris, continues to hover over Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. The sixth Fatah convention on Thursday made no official decision about his death. But more than 2,000 delegates rose to applaud the late leader's nephew Nasser al-Kidwa, former PLO ambassador to the UN, when he demanded the congress officially denounce Israel for being behind the "assassination" of the late PA chairman.
The affair resurfaced in the Palestinian discourse a few weeks ago in the wake of accusations by PLO enfant terrible Farouk Kaddoumi, head of the organization's state department. Kaddoumi accused Arafat's successor, PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas and PA senior official Mohamed Dahlan, of conspiring with Israel to murder Arafat.
This accusation is groundless. Even if one believes the allegations against Israel, the thought that then-prime minister Ariel Sharon enlisted senior Palestinian figures to plot against Arafat defies all reason. But Kaddoumi's accusations were enough to ignite a lively argument in the Arab world, and al-Kidwa's declaration Thursday fell on fertile ground.
None of the speakers at the Fatah congress had any new information on this issue. Al-Kidwa, who has a copy of the French hospital report on the circumstances of his uncle's death, has admitted that his accusations against Israel are based on assumptions he cannot prove.
Fatah's non-decision is not expected to affect Israel's relations with the PA. The sides have considerable differences, first and foremost the final status arrangement and the construction in the settlements. Thursday's announcement should be seen as lip service to Arafat's memory that will yield no practical implications, not even an inquiry commission.
The official hospital report on Arafat's death appeared in Haaretz in September 2005. The report rejects almost completely the possibility of poisoning (which Kaddoumi and al-Kidwa alluded to). On the other hand, it does not specify a definite cause of illness. Israeli doctors who read the report were surprised that nowhere in its hundreds of pages did it mention the possibility that Arafat had contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. After all, the report described symptoms that could characterize AIDS, and many people close to Arafat presumed he had the disease. The findings also suggest a bacterial infection in the digestive system from spoiled food.
But the report reaches no final conclusions. Instead of spreading unfounded accusations, Fatah leaders should simply publish it in full so that the Palestinian public can read it and judge for itself.