It was Mark Twain who said of Jane Austen: “Every time I read Pride and Prejudice I want to dig her up and hit her over the skull with her own shin-bone.” Palestinians, on the other hand, are now digging up Yasir Arafat for different reasons — they want to find out if he was poisoned.
Rumours that Arafat had been murdered have been floating around since the death of the Palestinian leader in Paris in 2004. A Swiss doctor who had tested some of Arafat’s belongings — including his trademark, the famous keffiyeh — said that they contained some radioactive material. Following up on this, the French authorities launched a murder inquiry.
If this was not macabre, we could have all pulled a good laugh out of it, albeit a bitter one. This is the week when Israel and Hamas start pondering over their last round of violence; primaries in the Likud have demonstrated a shift of Israelis to the right; Egypt is in a constitutional turmoil; Palestinians are applying for a place in the UN; and, needless to say, Syrians are butchering each other in front of an apathetic world. In short, a vortex of events which calls upon any sane person in this region to focus on the future. Instead, the sounds of the hammers breaking the mausoleum in Ramallah throw us back to the past.
With Arafat, the past is not something I personally miss. In 1994, as the spokesman of the Israeli government, I watched him enter Gaza following the Oslo Accords, and my heart was filled with joy. Finally, Israelis and Palestinians were reconciling with each other. Only later I found out that on the floor of his Mercedes, he had smuggled an arch terrorist, Jamal Abu Samhadana. And the rest is history.
If there was any poison in the Arafat case, it is the lethal mix of diplomacy and terror he himself introduced into the Israeli-Palestinian relationship. He used to sit down and talk to us, while at the same time turning a blind eye to Palestinian terrorism. On the other hand, Mahmoud Abbas, his successor, is against terrorism, but now he will not come to the table.
Abba Eban, Israel’s legendary Foreign Minister, was asked once if he had heard Arafat’s last speech. To which the ever witty Eban snapped back: “I hope”.
It seems that instead of hearing from Mahmoud Abbas, we shall still keep hearing from Yasir Arafat — even from the grave.