Arafat Exhumed

The death of Yasser Arafat is the stuff of conspiracy theories. The cause of it is unknown. Aged 75 when he died in 2004, he had not been in good health. One rumor was that he had cancer, probably leukemia, and another was that he had AIDS. Ion Pacepa, head of the Securitate, or secret police, in Communist Romania described in a memoir how his organization had to procure young boys for Arafat. Was this true, or disinformation? Announcing that Arafat was so ill that he had to be flown to Paris for treatment, BBC reporter Barbara Plett wept, one of millions who wanted to believe that Arafat’s career of terror and corruption was really liberation from the cruelties of Israel. When Arafat then died in Paris, yet another rumor sprang up that these selfsame cruel Israelis had poisoned him. It is fair to say that most Arabs and maybe almost all Palestinians are convinced of this.

Of all American presidents, Bill Clinton came closest to getting Arafat to compromise, and Hillary Clinton famously exchanged kisses with Suha, Arafat’s wife. Until recently, Suha refused to allow the exhumation of Arafat’s remains or the analysis of his clothes. Once she had given permission, forensic teams from Switzerland, Russia, and France got to work. The Swiss have now reported levels of Polonium-210 high enough to support “moderately” that this is what killed him. Does that “moderately” convey a little, a lot, or nothing? Nine years have passed since the death, and anyone could have tampered with the remains and especially the clothing. Suha has been quick to say categorically that the death was a crime, adding that he had many enemies who might have committed it.

Needless to say, fingers are already pointing at Israel. They certainly had the capacity and have conducted targeted assassinations. But Israeli politicians and the military always said that Arafat invariably took decisions that did harm to his cause, and therefore Israel had an interest in preserving him as Palestinian leader. Again, true or disinformation? The Russians used polonium to kill Alexander Litvinenko, so they know the form. Their forensic experts have not yet reported, nor have the French. If they too come up with a verdict supporting that “moderately,” the conspiracy-mongers will be occupied for years to come.


David Pryce-Jones — David Pryce-Jones is a British author and commentator and a senior editor of National Review.

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