Among the huge crowd that gathered for the funeral of the rais, Palestinian Authority chair Yasser Arafat, in the Muqata in Ramallah, there were large groups of demonstrators circulating constantly, marching together and chanting slogans. At least one of the groups organized itself around the cry: "Whoever poisoned him, we'll drink his blood."
Many among the Palestinian public, and perhaps among its leadership as well, believe that the reason for Arafat's death was poisoning by Israeli secret agents. We apparently will never know the facts of the matter, because no autopsy was performed on Arafat, and it is doubtful whether the French hospital will give precise information on the subject. Arafat's personal physician, Dr. Ashraf Al-Kurdi, who examined him before he was hospitalized in Paris, says - without pointing an accusing finger at Israel - that poisoning is not out of the question.
This affair has interesting political implications. Khaled Meshal, the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, who himself was saved from an attempted poisoning by agents of the Mossad espionage agency, was quick to claim over the weekend that it's clear to him that the cause of Arafat's death is poisoning by Israel. Such an accusation inflames hatred for Israel among the Palestinian and Arab public, increases the desire for revenge, and therefore suits the policy of Hamas, which is trying to enlist support for the armed struggle and for terror attacks.
The top echelons of the PA have an opposite goal: to reduce the hatred and the support for attacks. It is quite possible that this was why Palestinian Foreign Minister Nabil Sha'ath declared at a press conference in Paris, which was held while Arafat was dying, that the doctors in the French military hospital had rejected the possibility of poisoning.
As important as is the truth in this affair, no less important is what the general public believes. In the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict, there are certainly more than a few examples of similar incidents, on both sides. One of them is the belief that existed in the past in the Arab world, and perhaps still exists, that in the Knesset hangs a map of Israel that stretches from the Nile to the Euphrates Rivers. Arab and Palestinian spokesmen have repeated this legend countless times. Among them was Arafat, who added, in interviews that he gave in the past, that the two blue stripes on the Israeli flag represent the Nile and the Euphrates. Another proof of his, a claim that he made years ago, concerned the Israeli 10-agorot coin, on which the symbol of the menorah (candelabrum) appears on the background of a vague image which, according to Arafat, depicts the areas to which Israel wants to expand: again from Egypt to Iraq.
No Israeli, even those who demonstrate understanding for Palestinian distress, will accept these ridiculous stories. Not the legend of the map, not the nonsense about the blue stripes on the flag, which was designed according to the colors of the traditional tallit (prayer shawl), nor the issue of the coin, which is only a replica of an ancient Israelite coin.
These beliefs, which Arafat shared, were of importance. They testified to the view that prevails among the Arab and Palestinian public regarding the political goals of Israel, which wants to expand at the expense of the Arabs. They demonstrated the hostile atmosphere in the street, and they served as a means of enlisting supporters for the war against Israel.
The Palestinian belief that Israeli agents poisoned Arafat can serve as proof of the depth of the bitterness, the hatred and the anger toward Israel. From the point of view of those who share this belief, not only did Israel impose house arrest on their leader and humiliate the man who was a national symbol, but in the end Israel also eliminated him by secret means. If such a belief should prevail among the Palestinian public, it is difficult to expect a peace agreement. What will continue is the violence and bloodshed.