الراصد القديم


Poisoning Arafat

Uri Avnery

FOR ME, there was no surprise. From the very first day, I
was convinced that Yasser Arafat had been poisoned by Ariel
Sharon. I even wrote about it several times.

It was a simple logical conclusion.

First, a thorough medical examination in the French
military hospital where he died did not find any cause for
his sudden collapse and death. No traces of any life-
threatening disease were found.

The rumors distributed by the Israeli propaganda machine
that Arafat had AIDS were blatant lies. They were a
continuation of the rumors spread by the same machine that
he was gay - all part of the relentless demonization of the
Palestinian leader, which went on daily for decades.

When there is no obvious cause of death, there must be a
less obvious one.

Second, we know by now that several secret services possess
poisons that leave no routinely detectable trace. These
include the CIA, the Russian FSB (successor of the KGB),
and the Mossad.

Third, opportunities were plentiful. Arafat's security
arrangements were decidedly lax. He would embrace perfect
strangers who presented themselves as sympathizers of the
Palestinian cause and often seated them next to himself at

Fourth, there were plenty of people who aimed at killing
him and had the means to do so. The most obvious one was
our prime minister, Ariel Sharon. He had even talked about
Arafat having "no insurance policy" in 2004.

WHAT WAS previously a logical probability has now become a

An examination of his belongings commissioned by Aljazeera
TV and conducted by a highly respected Swiss scientific
institute has confirmed that Arafat was poisoned with
Polonium, a deadly radioactive substance that avoids
detection unless one specifically looks for it.

Two years after Arafat's death, the Russian dissident and
former KGB/FSB officer Alexander Litvinenko was murdered in
London by Russian agents using this poison. The cause was
discovered by his doctors by accident. It took him three
weeks to die.

Closer to home, in Amman, Hamas leader Khaled Mash'al was
almost killed in 1997 by the Mossad, on orders of Prime
Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. The means was a poison that
kills within days after coming into contact with the skin.
The assassination was bungled and the victim's life was
saved when the Mossad was compelled, after an ultimatum
from King Hussein, to provide an antidote in time.

If Arafat's widow, Suha, succeeds in getting his body
exhumed from the mausoleum in the Mukata'a in Ramallah,
where it has become a national symbol, the poison will
undoubtably be found in his body.

ARAFAT'S LACK of proper security arrangements always
astonished me. Israeli Prime Ministers are tenfold better

I remonstrated with him several times. He shrugged it off.
In this respect, he was a fatalist. After his life was
miraculously preserved when his airplane made a crash
landing in the Libyan Desert and the people around him were
killed, he was convinced that Allah was protecting him.

(Though the head of a secular movement with a clear secular
program, he himself was an observant Sunni Muslim, praying
at the proper times and abstaining from alcohol. He did not
impose his piety on his assistants.)

Once he was interviewed in my presence in Ramallah. The
journalists asked him if he expected to see the creation of
the Palestinian state in his lifetime. His answer: "Both I
and Uri Avnery will see it in our life." He was quite sure
of this.

ARIEL SHARON'S determination to kill Arafat was well known.
Already during the siege of Beirut in Lebanon War I, it was
no secret that agents were combing West Beirut for his
whereabouts. To Sharon's great frustration, they did not
find him.

Even after Oslo, when Arafat came back to Palestine, Sharon
did not let up. When he became Prime Minister, my fear for
Arafat's life became acute. When our army attacked Ramallah
during "Operation Defensive Shield" they broke into
Arafat's compound (Mukata'a is Arabic for compound) and
came within 10 meters of his rooms. I saw them with my own

Twice during the siege of many months my friends and I went
to stay at the Mukata'a for several days to serve as a
human shield. When Sharon was asked why he did not kill
Arafat, he answered that the presence of Israelis there
made it impossible.

However, I believe that this was only a pretext. It was the
US that forbade it. The Americans feared, quite rightly,
that an open assassination would cause the whole Arab and
Muslim world to explode in anti-American fury. I cannot
prove it, but I am sure that Sharon was told by Washington:
"On no condition are you allowed to kill him in a way that
can be traced to you. If you can do it without leaving a
trace, go ahead."

(Just as the US Secretary of State told Sharon in 1982 that
on no condition was he allowed to attack Lebanon, unless
there was a clear and internationally recognized
provocation. Which was promptly provided.)

In an eerie coincidence, Sharon himself was felled by a
stroke soon after Arafat's death, and has lived in a coma
ever since.)

THE DAY Aljazeera's conclusions were published this week
happened to be the 30th anniversary of my first meeting
with Arafat, which for him was the first meeting with an

It was at the height of the battle of Beirut. To get to
him, I had to cross the lines of four belligerents - the
Israeli army, the Christian Lebanese Phalange militia, the
Lebanese army and the PLO forces.

I spoke with Arafat for two hours. There, in the middle of
a war, when he could expect to find his death at any
moment, we talked about Israeli-Palestinian peace, and even
a federation of Israel and Palestine, perhaps to be joined
by Jordan.

The meeting, which was announced by Arafat's office, caused
a worldwide sensation. My account of the conversation was
published in several leading newspapers.

On my way home, I heard on the radio that four cabinet
ministers were demanding that I be put on trial for
treason. The government of Menachem Begin instructed the
Attorney General to open a criminal investigation. However,
after several weeks, the AG determined that I had not
broken any law. (The law was duly changed soon afterwards.)

IN THE many meetings I held with Arafat since then, I
became totally convinced that he was an effective and
trustworthy partner for peace.

I slowly began to understand how this father of the modern
Palestinian liberation movement, considered an arch-
terrorist by Israel and the US, became the leader of the
Palestinian peace effort. Few people in history have been
privileged to lead two successive revolutions in their

When Arafat started his work, Palestine had disappeared
from the map and from world consciousness. By using the
"armed struggle" (alias "terrorism")' he succeeded in
putting Palestine back on the world's agenda.

His change of orientation occurred right after the 1973
war. That war, it will be remembered, started with stunning
Arab successes and ended with a rout of the Egyptian and
Syrian armies. Arafat, an engineer by profession, drew the
logical conclusion: if the Arabs could not win an armed
confrontation even in such ideal circumstances, other means
had to be found

His decision to start peace negotiations with Israel went
totally against the grain of the Palestinian National
Movement, which considered Israel as a foreign invader. It
took Arafat a full 15 years to convince his own people to
accept his line, using all his wiles, tactical deftness and
powers of persuasion. In the 1988 meeting of the
Palestinian parliament-in-exile, the National Council, his
concept was adopted: a Palestinian state side-by-side with
Israel in part of the country. This state, with its capital
in East Jerusalem and its borders based on the Green Line
has been, since then, the fixed and unchangeable goal; the
legacy of Arafat to his successors.

Not by accident, my contacts with Arafat, first indirectly
through his assistants and then directly, started at the
same time: 1974. I helped him to establish contact with the
Israeli leadership, and especially with Yitzhak Rabin. This
led to the 1993 Oslo agreement - which was killed by the
assassination of Rabin.

When asked if he had an Israeli friend, Arafat named me.
This was based on his belief that I had risked my life when
I went to see him in Beirut. On my part, I was grateful for
his trust in me when he met me there, at a time when
hundreds of Sharon's agents were looking for him.

But beyond personal considerations, Arafat was the man who
was able to make peace with Israel, willing to do so, and -
more important - to get his people, including the
Islamists, to accept it. This would have put an end to the
settlement enterprise.

That's why he was poisoned.

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