November 12, 2013 | Quote

Yasser Arafat Poison Report Opens Old Wounds

It was a crucial decision that could have triggered the assassination of Yasser Arafat. Early in 2002, the charismatic chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation was sitting in his headquarters in Ramallah, wearing his combat uniform, a handgun on his lap.

Arafat wondered aloud whether it might be possible to smuggle arms into Gaza, taking the fight for a Palestinian state to a new level. “Can we bypass the mighty Israeli army in the Red Sea and the Mediterranean?” he asked, his small, piercing dark eyes twinkling, before barking at one of his aides: “Bring me a map!”

The aide returned with a map of the Mediterranean, marked with childish drawings showing the location of Israeli battle ships. It was a daring but seemingly impossible mission.

For Jonathan Schanzer, an American academic and author of a new book about Arafat, the “recycling” of the idea that he was murdered could be aimed at fomenting unrest at a “critical” time in talks between Palestinians and Israelis under the auspices of John Kerry, the US secretary of state.

Frustration over “diplomatic inertia” was mounting in the West Bank, said Schanzer, vice-president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington think tank. “It’s possible that the release of this report was intended to spark a new intifada, a new round of violence against Israel. It may also have been aimed at provoking an ‘intra-fada’, unrest and discord among the Palestinians.”

Schanzer believes Al Jazeera’s owners, wealthy patrons of Hamas, the rival to President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party, would benefit from a report that “whips up emotions . . . in the West Bank”.

Arafat’s widow believed the polonium must have been placed by someone “in [Arafat’s] close circle”, Schanzer added. “An assassination carried out by someone within the political elite would seriously damage the credibility of the Palestinian Authority.”

Read the full article here.


Palestinian Politics