Was Arafat HIV-positive?

Abbas categorically refuses to talk with Hamas. The Arafat affair that fell into the Jordanians' lap was an excellent opportunity to get back at him, and they took advantage of it.

A magnificent mausoleum was built over the grave of Yasser Arafat in the courtyard of the Muqata in Ramallah, but the ghost of the late Palestinian Authority chairman continues to haunt the Palestinian leadership. Last week Arafat's admirers commemorated the 78th anniversary of his birth, and former aide Bassam Abu Sharif convened a press conference to mark the event. Abu Sharif demanded that former French President Jacques Chirac disclose the cause of Arafat's death, or, to be more precise, the type of poison that killed him.

Many Palestinians believe that the Mossad poisoned Arafat. A senior Palestinian official once said he did not understand why Israel did not admit to it. When Israel's plan to assassinate Saddam Hussein ended in the Tze'elim 2 training accident, nothing was concealed, he said. And when the Mossad agents who attempted to assassinate Khaled Meshal in Amman failed, then, too, Israel accepted responsibility for its actions. In other words, Israel admits its failures, so why is it denying its success in this case?

Every once in a while, a witness emerges. A few months ago, Ramallah residents reported that Arafat's dentist died when his immune system collapsed, possibly after coming into contact with poison while treating Arafat.

No official, complete and clear explanation of Arafat's death ever has been issued, despite the commission of inquiry appointed by the Palestine Liberation Organization and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas used the issue in its last election campaign, claiming that the Fatah leadership refuses to investigate the affair seriously for fear of revealing that one or more senior officials were accessories in his poisoning.

The most shocking revelation, however, came last weekend in the wake of a live television interview with Dr. Ashraf Kurdi, Arafat's Jordanian physician. Kurdi, speaking to Al Jazeera in an Amman studio, said HIV antibodies were detected in Arafat's blood. The station immediately halted the broadcast.

Afterward, Kurdi clarified the matter, saying he believed that Arafat was deliberately infected with the HIV virus in order to obscure the real cause of death and in order to blacken his name. (Rumors about Arafat being homosexual were once rife, and homosexuality is condemned in traditional Arab society.) Kurdi, who was Arafat's personal physician for 18 years, added that everything regarding Arafat's death was very odd: "I would usually be summoned to attend to Arafat immediately, even when all he had was a simple cold. But when his medical situation was really deteriorating, they chose not to call me at all. His wife, Suha, would not allow me to travel with him to the hospital in Paris; no doctor at the French military hospital contacted me for details about his health; and after he died, the current PA chairman [Kurdi did not mention Mahmoud Abbas by name - D.R.] did not allow his grave to be reopened in order to determine the cause of death."

It is hard to say whether the affair has any political significance today. The rumor mill is active in both Arab and Palestinian politics. Most of what goes around is nonsense. Kurdi is a respected man and a former Jordanian health minister. His statements are very damaging to Abbas and his associates, who he presents as hiding something about Arafat's death. Reporters in Ramallah told me that Kurdi could not have said these things without consulting with the very highest levels in the Hashemite kingdom. Does someone in Jordan want to damage Abbas? Hard to tell. In any event, in Ramallah this weekend the talk was that Jordanian officials, like their Egyptian counterparts, are angry with Abbas for acceding to the American and Israeli demands for a full boycott of Hamas at a time when the neighboring states want the PA to reach a compromise with the Islamic group. The reason: Leaders in Amman and Cairo have concluded it is unwise to provoke the Islamic opposition in Jordan and Egypt or their supporters. Abbas categorically refuses to talk with Hamas. The Arafat affair that fell into the Jordanians' lap was an excellent opportunity to get back at him, and they took advantage of it.