After the death of the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat seven years ago, many voices called for an official and open investigation into the cause; they were ignored. Palestinian, Arabic and even international parties have been trying to keep the cause hidden or, at least, away from serious discussion.
There are strong suggestions that those behind Arafat’s death were the Israelis, backed by the US, as they used to announce repeatedly and loudly that he was an obstacle to the peace process. That idea was developed after his famous stance at the second Camp David summit in 1999.
The unknown factor is who helped the Israelis and Americans to assassinate the Palestinian President. It seems obvious that he must have been a Palestinian from the leader’s close coterie. Doubts surround Arafat’s successors who divided his heritage among themselves but did not follow the way that he had set out in the way he treated the Israelis; they opted for another, worse way, which is leading the Palestinians to an unknown end.
Not only Fatah members or PLO factions but also all Palestinians used to ask for a public inquiry to know the reasons for Arafat’s death. The issue is still a cause of discontent among the current Palestinian leadership whose members were ready to occupy his position.
Many of Arafat’s successors across the leadership promised to launch a public inquiry, but they have not done so. They did not even publish the report from the French military hospital where Arafat passed away. That created even more suspicions among Palestinian citizens and factions.
Following an investigation by Aljazeera TV, it now seems almost certain that Arafat was killed by a dose of Polonium, the same radioactive substance which was used to kill the ex-Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006. It is not known yet who was responsible, or how this substance was administered to Arafat. Some say it was inserted through his ear, some through a poisoned kiss, and others a poisoned meal.
There is a prime suspect, but he will not be named easily until a comprehensive, independent investigation has been carried out. Aljazeera’s report, broadcast on Tuesday, did not name exactly who was involved in Arafat’s death; it did, though, prove that he was killed by Polonium which must have been injected or inserted into his body by one of his close aides.
For now, there are some important facts which should be made public about this issue. The first is that Mahmoud Abbas was the main tool used by Arafat’s foes to diminish his power when he was nominated to be the first Palestinian Prime Minster while the President was still alive. That was clearly against Arafat’s will, and his supporters took to the streets in massive demonstrations all over the Palestinian territories calling Abbas a collaborator with the Israelis and Americans. Those demonstrations continued until Abbas was deposed as PM.
After Arafat’s death, Abbas was in control of all of his positions and somewhat miraculously became the only choice to succeed him as President, supported by all Fatah and PLO leaders. Abbas was also welcomed by the Israelis, Arab, US and other international leaders as Arafat’s logical successor and the real partner for peace in the Middle East.
The fact that Mahmoud Abbas refused any kind of investigation into his predecessor’s death increases doubts about plans to keep the cause a secret. It is known that cultures from Arafat’s body were taken several days after his death to be tested in French, Jordanian and Tunisian laboratories, but they were “lost”.
Even the conditions surrounding Arafat’s burial were suspicious. Sheikh Tayssit al-Tamimi, the Palestinian Mufti who led the funeral prayer, confirmed several times on different occasions that there was suspicion regarding Arafat’s death.
Another important point relates to Mohammed Dahlan, who was one of the planned successors of Arafat. In a meeting in one of Gaza’s mosques in 2006, Yasser Abu-Helal, the founder of Al Ahrar Movement, declared that Dahlan had told Hamas leader Abdul Aziz al-Rantissi that his movement must take part in a campaign of incitement against Arafat in 2004 to protect him from being assassinated by the Israelis.
Rantissi refused and the head of the Hamas Political Bureau, Khaled Meshaal, told a press conference that Yasser Arafat was the target of a dirty tricks campaign by Palestinian figures; he said that Hamas would not keep silent if any harm came to President Arafat.
Neverthess, Yasser Arafat was killed and no formal investigations have been conducted. It is important now, following Aljazeera’s investigations, for a public inquiry to be opened by the International Criminal Court, which has the legal authority to conduct such an investigation. This is an issue of international importance, given that the peace process is still trundling on to nowhere. Palestinians need to know who has their best interests at heart, and who killed Yasser Arafat.