x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Questions need to be answered in Arafat plot

A report suggesting Yassar Arafat might have been murdered with polonium-210 adds a new dimension to the Palestinian struggle but diverts attention from the main goal

Just when it seemed the Palestinian cause could not get more convoluted, with peace talks continuing while Israel accelerates its settlement construction programme and extends its separation wall plans, comes news that seems more at home in the pages of a spy novel: PLO president Yasser Arafat might have been assassinated with radioactive polonium in 2004.

The report, compiled by the Centre Universitaire Romand de Médecine Légale in Switzerland and commissioned by Arafat’s widow, Suha, is far from definitive, despite her claim that it absolutely proves he was murdered.

The 108-page report says the results of their analysis, based on the exhumation of Arafat’s body, “moderately support the proposition” that the death was the consequence of polonium-210 poisoning.

The report raises as many questions as it answers.

If Arafat was assassinated, who did it? The list of those who wished him ill is a long one. Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s prime minister, issued the strongest possible threat against Arafat’s life only months before his sudden death in November 2004.

Inevitably, the Israelis have denied responsibility and a foreign ministry spokesman dismissed the report as “more soap opera than science”. If it was polonium poisoning, was Russia involved? It is the only nation that is known to make the chemical element in any significant quantity and is accused of using it to murder dissident Alexander Litvinenko in London in 2006.

Israel reputedly has a murky history with polonium: a leak in 1957 at a research facility in the country is reported to have resulted in the premature death of at least one worker. The lab was subsequently shuttered for several months. Separately, a biological research institute sited a short distance from Tel Aviv is alleged to handle polonium. The highly fissile isotope has a known role in the detonation of atomic weapons, so it is likely that Israel has continued to research and produce the element.

The only way the freewheeling speculation will ever be put to rest is via a full and authoritative investigation, conducted by a credible and international body. Only then will the many questions that surround Arafat’s death be answered properly. Only then might we even start to know the truth, although the fact that polonium decays so quickly makes even that possibility a subject for further speculation.