July 11, 2012 – 12:58 pm

Arafat wanted peace. He was influential and could convince Palestinians to accept peace with Israel. That’s why he is dead argues 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. [Ed: Arafat died in 2004.]

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.

Yasser 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.

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 Israeli.

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 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.

Note: Uri Avnery is an Israeli writer and peace activist with Gush Shalom. He is a contributor to CounterPunch’s book The Politics of Anti-Semitism. The above article was posted at CounterPunch.

  1. 5 Responses to “POISONING ARAFAT”

  2. Ah yes, BigO, the home of great bootlegs and virulent anti-Semitism. Here are some quotes from your peace-loving Arafat:

    “Peace for us means the destruction of Israel.”

    “We plan to eliminate the state of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state.”

    “We will not bend or fail until the blood of every last Jew from the youngest child to the oldest elder is spilt to redeem our land!”

    By none more black on Jul 12, 2012

  3. Arafat had many opportunities for peace. He turned them all down and keep building his bank account up overseas while murdering innocent people.
    If he was poisoned it was probably by other Palestinian groups. I’m not a big supporter of Israel either.

    By The Doctor on Jul 12, 2012

  4. I looked up None’s quotes. The first apparently dates from 1980 and the second from 1996, after Arafat’s 1973 change of heart, per Avnery.

    Arafat also however said “I come bearing an olive branch in one hand, and the freedom fighter’s gun in the other. Do not let the olive branch fall from my hand”.

    I want to believe him and Avnery, difficult as it is. Of course there’s no end of anti-Palestinian screed from Israeli officials as well, e.g. “We must use terror, assassination, intimidation, land confiscation, and the cutting of all social services to rid the Galilee of its Arab population” from David Ben-Gurion.

    The poisoning scenario sounds entirely plausible to me. Maybe Arafat was becoming a little too pacifist for Israeli hawks or too willing to compromise for Palestinian hawks. Or maybe it was just to cut the head off the Palestinian chicken.

    None of it would surprise me. Both sides are horribly guilty. Seems to me still though that as Israel has gained power, it’s used it to stifle that of Palestine wherever possible, with the unflinching backing of the US and its odd, guilty-feeling brand of Protestantism. What a tragic mess for all of us.

    By Motorvilleboy on Jul 12, 2012

  5. I know this is going to get people angry and hostile be they Jewish or Arab, but it needs to be said.

    Sure is amazing that now in a world so damn politically correct how it is imposed upon the masses that anything said or mentioned negatively against Jews or Israel itself is deemed anti-Semitism while anyone Jewish can throw out their own form of verbal or acted upon violent hatred and that is suppose to be all fine and dandy with no repercussions. That’s a double standard that’s being forced upon us all because everyone has to now by law feel sorry for the what Germany did a few generations ago. This current problem in the Middle East we now find ourselves in started when Israel was formed after WWII (Churchill was half Jewish and was backed by Jewish Bankers in the UK and the US had many their own reasons too) to appease the Jewish population not even residing in Europe by giving them property they lost two thousand years ago, disrupting the Arabs who had been fully settled there since then and having nothing to do with horrific Nazi antics or the actions of two thousand years past.

    Sadly, the problem won’t go away easily until the Jews and Arabs blow each other up or poison themselves off. The Christians in Rome would like that (strangely enough currently in the hands of a German pontiff — go figure).

    By datdemdar on Jul 12, 2012

  6. datdemdar, mainstream Palestinian leaders routinely call for the outright annihilation of Israel and even have children’s TV shows where they indoctrinate them to hate Jews (see memritv.org). You never hear that sort of genocidal talk from Israeli leaders, and they certainly do not have TV shows where they refer to Muslims as “the sons of apes and pigs.” When Israel does an airstrike on a Hamas leader’s house, they call in advance to warn innocent bystanders to clear out. In comparison, Islamist radicals deliberately aim to kill Israeli civilians, including women and children, without warning. Israel obviously has the firepower to wipe out the entire Gaza strip if they wanted to, yet they do not - is there any doubt what the Palestinians would do if they had the military ability to wipe out Israel? I’m not saying that Israel is blameless; in particular, they push the settlements too much. But to say that that is morally equivalent to what the Palestinians say and do, is ridiculous.

    By false equivalence on Jul 13, 2012

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