Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Marking Arafat’s death anniversary

Forensics on Arafat’s body will go ahead, and so too will Abbas’s UN membership bid, writes Khaled Amayreh in Ramallah

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Palestinian Authority (PA) this week commemorated the death of the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, vowing to follow in his footsteps until the creation of a viable Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital. Arafat died a mysterious death at a Paris hospital on 11 November 2004 following a brief illness.
Palestinian officials accused Israel of responsibility, possibly by way of poisoning the iconic Palestinian leader, but never produced damning and irrefutable evidence to corroborate their accusations.
Earlier this year, a nine-month investigative effort by the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera TV network claimed that Arafat was poisoned by the deadly radioactive substance known as polonium.
Tests revealed that Arafat’s personal belongings, including his clothes, his toothbrush, even his kuffiyeh (Palestinian headdress) contained abnormal levels of the highly lethal agent.
Those personal effects, which were analysed at the Institute de Radiophysique in Lausanne, Switzerland, were variously stained with Arafat’s blood and sweat, saliva and urine. The tests carried out on these samples suggested there was a high level of polonium inside Arafat’s body when he died.
The findings prompted Suha Arafat, his widow, to ask the PA leadership to exhume her late husband’s body from its grave in Ramallah.
The PA consented without hesitation, probably to dispel rumours and insinuations that it had much to hide with regard to Arafat’s death.
Finally, after overcoming objections from his family, mainly his sister, it was decided to exhume Arafat’s body in order to find out how he died.
On Tuesday, 13 November, Arafat’s lavish mausoleum was closed to visitors, apparently in preparation for the forensic examination.
In a new development, an Electronic Intifada report claimed that former Gaza strongman Mohamed Dahlan volunteered to kill Arafat and that Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas was probably aware of Dahlan’s designs to that effect. Dahlan had close ties with the Israelis and the George Bush Jr administration, which made him a possible suspect. He also was considered Mahmoud Abbas’s right-hand man. He eventually fell into disfavour with Abbas and was expelled from Fatah’s institutions.
The report has not been confirmed by independent sources.
The Electronic Intifada describes itself as a not-for-profit, independent online publication that covers the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from a Palestinian perspective. It often publishes highly credible reports pertaining to Israel and the Palestinian issue.
Meanwhile, the Palestinian media has reported that up to 85 per cent of Palestinians believe that Israel killed Yasser Arafat, perhaps through a secret Palestinian agent, probably one of Arafat’s close confidants.
Israel officially denied any responsibility for Arafat’s death. However, Israeli denials appear to be half-hearted and carry little veracity. The Israeli government, especially under former prime minister Ariel Sharon, indicated on numerous occasions that it was interested in seeing Arafat liquidated.
The PA leadership hopes that by proving Israeli responsibility beyond reasonable doubt, which is not an easy task, that this would lead to the prosecution of Israeli suspects before an international tribunal, such as the International Criminal Court at The Hague, and also prompt the international community to exact a political price from the Israeli government.
However, most experts on the Arab-Israeli conflict doubt that any of these Palestinian wishes will be attained, given Israel’s notorious record of defying international law and unlimited US backing of the same.
“Even if it was proven beyond any doubt that Israel murdered Yasser Arafat, there would be no guarantees that the Zionist state would agree to pay the price for the murder. We have always to remember that Israel is treated by the international community as above international law. Besides, the United States, Israel’s guardian-ally, would move decisively to shield Israel from international condemnation,” said Abdel-Sattar Kassem, professor of political science at An-Najah National University in Nablus.
Qassem said the very maximum the Palestinians could realistically hope for is to determine and identify the Palestinian agent (or agents) involved in murdering the late Palestinian leader on Israel’s behalf.

GOING TO THE UN: Marking Arafat’s death anniversary, PA President Abbas vowed to follow in the late leader’s footsteps and remain faithful to his legacy. He reasserted his commitment to final status issues, including Jerusalem, the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees to their former homes and villages, as well as water and border issues.
Abbas’s invocation of the right of return was a defensive reflex on the PA president’s part following his recent notorious interview with Israeli television in which he tacitly ceded his right to return to his former town of Safad, which is now in Israel.
The interview, described by his supporters and loyalists as a huge public relations disaster, drew furious reactions from many quarters, including Hamas, forcing Abbas to retract his statements. Eventually, Abbas claimed that he was only speaking of his personal right, not that of millions of refugees uprooted from their homes when Israel was established in 1948.
Abbas also vowed to go ahead with his bid to seek non-member status at the United Nations. Palestinian officials said an application to that effect would be submitted before the end of November.
Recently re-elected President Barack Obama called Abbas this week in an effort to convince him to drop the Palestinian UN bid. However, Abbas reportedly declined Obama’s “advice”.
The PA has asked the Arab League to make available a financial “safety net” in case the US severs financial aid to the PA, an entity that survives only thanks to foreign — mainly Western — aid, which many observers describe as politically motivated.
Most Palestinians’ hearts are decidedly with Abbas in his endeavour to win UN membership. However, their minds are reluctant and ambivalent as most Palestinians believe that the UN is too weak to pressure Israel to comply by international law and that even the United States is unable — and probably unwilling — to force Israel to end its occupation of Arab lands and allow for the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.

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