A week after the Al-Jazeera’s sensational scoop on Yasser Arafat’s death, it seems as if the network’s investigation leaves more questions than answers. While Al-Jazeera succeeded in returning the late terrorist to the headlines, and with it, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its new conspiracy theory – that Arafat was poisoned in 2004 with radioactive polonium (with heavy hints that Israel was responsible) – is very unconvincing.
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Traces of the material were ostensibly found on the chairman’s clothing and hat by a Swiss lab. But the investigative reporters don’t say where those clothes had been held for the past seven-and-half years.
The logical conclusion is that they were held by Arafat’s wife, Suha. Obtaining small amounts of polonium on the black market is not mission impossible, and Suha has all the reason in the world to revive the poisoning claim, especially now.
It’s no secret that the merry widow is in trouble. France has been asking her for explanations about money that has disappeared, while in Tunisia, which hosted her for years, she’s now a persona non grata, ever since that country got rid of her friend, the wife of deposed president Zine bin Ali, who has also been linked to corruption and the disappearance of large sums of money.
Meanwhile, Ramallah isn’t interested in having her back either, after her scathing criticism of Arafat’s successors on the eve of his death, when she took him to a Paris hospital where he died two weeks later. Publicizing a new reason for Arafat’s death, let alone the opening of a new official inquiry, may help Suha restore her status somewhat.
And there’s another issue: Several professors of medicine, both Israeli and foreign, who examined the medical report on Arafat’s death prepared by the French hospital (and which Avi Issacharoff and I revealed in 2005), expressed wonder at the total lack of any investigation into a possible reason for the chairman’s death: AIDS.
Arafat was not a homosexual, despite efforts by former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and other to portray him as such over the years. The claim that Arafat had AIDS was also heard for many years, but Palestinian society still considers death from AIDS a stain that allegedly proves a person’s sexual tendencies, though of course there are many ways to become infected with AIDS other than by sexual contact.
Therefore, the family has a supreme interest in erasing any memory of that explanation, which should have at least been checked, given the nature of his illness. The lack of any mention of AIDS testing in the rare copy of the medical file that we obtained at the time seems to point to a deliberate omission.
On the other hand, a retroactive determination that Arafat died as a shahid (martyr) would bolster his historical image and give a boost to the family’s position, while also offering an immediate opportunity to blame Israel for being responsible for his murder. Just recall how Israel’s failed effort to poison senior Hamas official Khaled Meshal in Amman in 1997 enhanced his position.
But the major flaw in this explanation is that it is hard to see what interest Israel would have had in assassinating Arafat in late 2004. It’s true that Sharon despised Arafat and wanted him dead. But then U.S. President George W. Bush had made sure to extract a personal promise from Sharon that he would not harm Arafat.
But more than that: Arafat, on the eve of his death, was practically an Israeli asset. Both Israel and the United States had a wealth of proof of his involvement in terror, from the seizing of the Karine A arms ship through his links to the terrorists of Fatah’s armed wing. Arafat was under siege and isolated, as Sharon had already scored significant successes in stopping the Palestinian suicide bombing campaign.
Thus Sharon, paradoxically, actually had an interest in keeping Arafat in power as long as possible, rather than having to deal with a successor like Mahmoud Abbas, who was not directly involved in terror and was thus accepted by the international community with open arms.