The question of what caused the death of Fatah’s founder and the Palestinian people’s leader, Yasser Arafat, will occupy the Middle East for many years to come.
The latest al-Jazeera investigative report claiming that Arafat was poisoned merely reinforces the mystery. In this case we are not facing with more habitual accusations by Palestinian spokespeople, who automatically blame Israel for any death among them, but rather, scientific tests at reputable Swiss institutes.
Only few know the real answer.
Palestinian officials around Salam Fayyad have been collecting additional information in the past two years and will be publishing it soon. The conclusions from this material will also assert that Yasser Arafat was murdered by professionals who hoped to leave no trace, convincing the world that he died of natural causes.
On the face of it, there are quite a few reasons to believe that Arafat died of natural causes. Israeli spokespeople strongly denied that Israel was involved in the affair. It was a decisive, unequivocal denial that was not accompanied by a wink, as was the case in other unexplained Mideast deaths (Imad Mugniyah, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.)
“We are not involved,” senior, grim faced intelligence and political officials told me, on the record, in interviews following Arafat’s death. An assassination operation, had it taken place, would have required quite a few parties to participate in it. In Israel, many people believe that everything is ultimately leaked.
Moreover, the report on Arafat’s illness from the Paris hospital he died at raises serious suspicions that Arafat was afflicted with AIDS and that this is what killed him. This report joined various previous reports on the Palestinian leader’s sexual orientation.
Ion Mihai Pacepa, the Romanian communist security chief who defected to the United States, claimed that his men shot a video of Arafat’s room while he was the guest of Romanian ruler Ceausescu. In the images, Arafat was supposedly documented having sex with his bodyguards. Ariel Sharon told some of his close associates that Israel secured this videotape and considered the option of posting it on the Internet in order to shame Arafat.
On the other hand, there is no doubt that Arafat’s death came at a rather odd timing. Sharon was the one who decided upon assuming the post of prime minister to change Israel’s approach, asserting that the Palestinian Authority is part of the problem, rather than the solution, and that Arafat is an enemy.
If Sharon indeed ordered Arafat’s assassination, this must have been done very secretly, in much smaller forums than any other assassination. The sensitivity would have been great, towards the Palestinians and perhaps more importantly towards the Americans.
Only the passing years, the lifting of censorship limitations and perhaps the peace that will come to the Middle East may bring an answer to this curious question.