During a recent studio interview with al-Jazeera, a choked-up Suha Arafat demanded an investigation. Now, sitting in her living room, where a portrait of Arafat hangs on the wall, she feels she is finally approaching her goal. "I am very confident," she says, "that the entire case will reach a positive end in very little time and that we will finally learn the truth." This is not wishful thinking, she adds, noting that there are reasons for being so optimistic.A previous PA investigation headed by a former aide to Arafat concluded that it was thallium poisoning, although it is unclear how official that was..
Since polonium-210 has a half-life of 138 days, things need to proceed quickly. Therefore, Arafat's body will be examined in the coming weeks, believes Saad Djebbar, one of Suha Arafat's lawyers in Paris. In a television interview, he said that the French legal system has jurisdiction because the murder began in the Palestinian territories and ended in France. He then added the curious sentence that Suha Arafat wants to prevent the Palestinian Authority from obstructing the investigation.
This is a charge that enrages Tawfik Tirawi, Arafat's former intelligence chief, because it is also directed against him. For the last two years, Tirawi has headed the official Palestinian commission charged with investigating the cause of Arafat's death. Since the scandal involving possible polonium poisoning erupted, he has been repeatedly forced to explain why it was al-Jazeera, rather than him, that came up with the idea of taking a closer look at Arafat's underwear.
As Tirawi sees it, it was just an accident that al-Jazeera discovered the last missing piece of the puzzle. He claims that his commission has tirelessly investigated the case, but that its activities have been secret because such things are obviously kept out of the public gaze. Although he is either unwilling or unable to discuss the commission's findings, he will say that it has been quite successful.
Not only Suha Arafat, but also many Palestinians in Ramallah see things differently. They believe that Palestinian Authority officials never made any real effort to solve the mystery surrounding his death. The first investigative commission was dissolved six months after Arafat's death and only reappointed in 2010.That highlighted phrase is an out-and-out lie. In 2005, a PLO ambassador accused Israel of killing Arafat with secret laser device.
In all of this, the Palestinians had good cause for looking into things more closely. After all, the French clinic's 558-page report on the death of their national hero raises more questions than it provides answers. For example, why did Suha Arafat refuse to allow a liver biopsy to be taken? Why didn't anyone demand that an autopsy be conducted? How can it be that even the best doctors in France didn't find the cause of this strange infection, which caused blood to coagulate and led to a stroke? Could it be that the French government wants to keep the cause of death secret?
Moreover, why is there so much missing in the report, and why does it seem like "someone has played around with it," as Avi Issacharoff, a reporter with the Israeli daily Haaretz, says? Likewise, he also finds it somewhat odd that he, an Israeli journalist, was the only one to publish the secret French medical report, rather than Suha Arafat or the Palestinian Authority.
Suha Arafat says she is driven by the search for the truth. But it might also have something to do with the fact that, in addition to being widely despised in Ramallah, she has also fallen into disfavor in France and Tunisia, where she is under investigation for suspicious cash flows and corruption. There is also the persistent rumor that she had a hand in the disappearance of $300 million (€240 million) after Arafat's death. In any case, it would certainly seem opportune for her to now assume the role of the widow avenging her husband's death in the name of the Palestinian people.
Enthusiasm for the investigation is more tempered in Ramallah, partly because some people there suspect al-Jazeera of wanting to help topple Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. But, of course, Palestinian officials also realize that they can take advantage of the search for Arafat's alleged murderer. At the moment, there are no peace talks with Israel, the economy is in a slump and there continue to be deep divisions between Hamas and Fatah, the rival Palestinian groupings ruling the Gaza Strip and West Bank, respectively. Under these circumstances, it would be a perfect time to have news of a poisoned martyr to deflect from the political deadlock and disorientation.
For these reasons, the debate might say more about the Palestinians' situation today than about Arafat's death. "To this day, we have avoided accusing Israel of being responsible for Arafat's death," says Nimr Hamad, Abbas' political adviser. "But if we find polonium in his body, it is 99.9 percent certain that it was Israel. That would help us because it proves that Israel doesn't want peace."
In 2006, the PA accused Israel of murdering Arafat, without any disclaimers. (Hamas was the head of the PA at the time but Fatah welcomed the announcement.)
Children are taught (and music videos sung on official PA TV insist) that Jews killed Jesus - and Arafat.
And, of course, the commissions that have been set up by Palestinian Arab officials to determine the cause of Arafat's death have all assumed from the outset that he was murdered.