The Arabs, as the late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban famously said, never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Last week’s furor over allegations that Yasser Arafat may have been poisoned shows that Eban’s words are as true today for the Palestinians as when they were first uttered in December 1973.
The story broke when Al-Jazeera ran an “investigative” piece claiming that above normal traces of polonium-210 had been found in some of Arafat’s clothes. This suggested he may have been poisoned before his death in a Paris military hospital in 2004.
Al Jazeera was careful not to pin blame on Israel but the Palestinian media had no such qualms, jumping all over the story. Residents of the West Bank and Gaza are electrified by the emergence of so-called “proof” that the Israelis killed their late beloved leader.
The Swiss lab that examined the clothing, made available by Arafat’s widow Suha, stated clearly that its finding were inconclusive. And experts from Israel and elsewhere quickly came forward to poke some major holes in the story.
Some of these include the fact that the signature symptoms of polonium kill, including hair loss and bone-marrow deterioration, were not observed in Arafat’s body..
Blogging for Foreign Policy, Hussein Ibish writes: “Arafat’s symptoms are well documented and completely inconsistent with 210PO (polonium) poisoning … He also staged at least one brief recovery, which wouldn’t be possible in the case of polonium poisoning.
“The provenance of the items in question is not well-established, and therefore the relationship between the 210PO levels discovered on them and Arafat’s condition is very much in doubt. Even an exhumation of the body may not prove conclusive, as 210PO has a very short half-life of 137 days.”
Politically, an Israeli assassination also make no sense. Israel’s Prime Minister at the time, Ariel Sharon, repeatedly rejected the idea of killing Arafat because he did not want to turn the corrupt Palestinian leader into a martyr.
The decision to allow him to leave Ramallah and seek medical treatment in Paris was based on the fear that he might die under Israeli siege and Israel would be accused of hastening his death.
Arafat’s widow refused to allow a liver biopsy in his final days or an autopsy after his death but a full medical report was compiled including toxicity tests which showed nothing. Le Monde reported last week that French officials scanned Arafat’s urine for radioactive particles at the time and found none.
The bottom line is that this story is yet another red herring designed to embarrass Israel and draw attention away from the real issue.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, his support shaky and slipping, has talked himself into a corner. He knows the only way to achieve Palestinian statehood is through direct negotiations with Israel – but he refuses to engage in negotiations. Abbas is sticking to his demand that Israel stop all construction over the Green Line as a condition just for sitting down and talking. Israel, quite properly, refuses to accept preconditions
Instead of talking, Abbas engages in fruitless maneuvers at the United Nations, UNESCO and any other forum he can find. He’s planning a trip to Tehran next month. And now we have this Arafat story.
If he were still here, Abba Eban would no doubt take no pleasure in being proved right yet again. The more things change, the more they remain the same.