Most Palestinians, whether they supported their late leader Yasser Arafat or not, were in agreement that he did not die of natural causes. They believed he was murdered by Israel or its agents.
But are Palestinians justified in blaming Israel for his death?
French doctors treating Arafat did not issue a conclusive report identifying the cause of his illness. The French public medical report pointed to the destruction of red blood cells as a reason for his death, but did not identify the cause of the red cell failure.
According to an Al Jazeera report, tests by scientists at the Institute of Radiation Physics in Lausanne, Switzerland, suggested that traces found on Arafat’s stained underwear and other personal belongings pointed to an “unexplained, elevated amount of unsupported polonium-210”, which could explain his red cell abnormality.
The Swiss lab is the same medical institute that uncovered traces of the radioactive isotope polonium-210 on former KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko’s belongings.
The Russian dissident died in 2006 following a meeting with Russian officials after ingesting tea laced with the substance.
After scanning Arafat’s belongings, lab officials found an “unexplained level of polonium”, concluding the possibility that he died of “poisoning”.
Israel is the only nation in the region with a proven capability to produce polonium-210.
A July 5 report by the French newspaper Le Figaro cited sources in the French secret service, who indicated that authorities knew more about Arafat’s death than they said publicly.
Following Al Jazeera’s report, Israeli officials defensively filled the airwaves, denying culpability in Arafat’s death.
Dov Weisglass, chief aide to Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon at the time, told an Israeli radio station that the government “didn’t think his physical extermination would help”.
According to a Time magazine story earlier this month, Israeli officials discussed the possibility of killing Arafat, but decided not to since he was “rendered nearly inert”, holed up in the last building still standing at his compound with Israeli tanks rumbling outside “24 hours a day”.
It is true that Arafat had been a virtual prisoner for three years in a small room surrounded by Israeli tanks. But to the angst of Israeli officials, he continued to lead the second Palestinian Intifada despite the Israeli siege.
He was able to communicate with the outside world and spoke via satellite to an Arab Summit meeting in Beirut in March 2002.
As for their argument that they had no need to remove the “inert” Arafat, it was belied by Israel’s history of ruthless extrajudicial assassinations.
On March 22, 2004, Sharon gave the green light for a AH-64 helicopter gunship to fire Hellfire missiles, killing the nearly blind 67-year-old quadriplegic Shaikh Ahmad Yassin.
A fortnight later, in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Maariv, Sharon openly threatened Arafat’s life.
Reporting on April 9, 2004, six months before Arafat’s death, Sharon reportedly told Maariv: “He no longer feels bound by a three-year-old commitment to President (George) Bush not to harm Yasser Arafat.”
In light of the new findings, and especially if polonium was found on Arafat’s exhumed body, the Palestinian Authority should urge the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution, mirroring a 2006 resolution, which appointed an international commission to probe the killing of former Lebanese premier Rafiq Hariri.
That is, of course, unless the potential culprit, unlike the presumed killers of Hariri, is above international law.
* Jamal Kanj writes frequently on Arab issues and is the author of Children of Catastrophe, Journey from a Palestinian Refugee Camp to America. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. (This article was first published by the Gulf Daily News Newspaper)
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.