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By 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 meals.
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 certainty.
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 protected.
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 eyes.
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
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 lifetime.
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.