The wife of President Arafat, Suha, is understandably anxious. Next week, after nine years, she may finally learn whether her husband was assassinated. It will be hard to overestimate the consequences of that knowledge for the Middle East.

In 2004, whilst under siege in his Presidential compound, Arafat succumbed to a mysterious illness and was flown to a French military hospital where he died. Much to the frustration of his personal doctor, and despite allegations ranging from an HIV-related disease to Israeli poisoning, no autopsy was ever requested (under French law only Suha could give permission), and the cause of death remains unsolved.

I interviewed Suha alongside the Palestinian leadership for a new documentary series, The Price of Kings, where they reveal why her husband’s death became shrouded in secrecy, and why that’s changed. It was Suha who agreed to conduct tests last year after being approached by Al Jazeera:

‘I gave them a small holdall of Yasser’s with some of his belongings from the hospital for testing. The results showed there was a chance of poisoning because of the higher than normal level of Polonium.’

But they weren’t conclusive: ‘to prove poisoning they needed to exhume my husband’s body and carry out more tests, I thought we must find out the truth.’ But if the truth’s important now, why wasn’t it in 2004? Why wasn’t an autopsy requested at his death?
3But what of the political dimension? Wasn’t there any pressure from the Palestinian leadership to request an autopsy? Suha’s response is unequivocal ‘No. None whatsoever’ — as unequivocal as the Palestinian leadership in their belief at the time that President Arafat was poisoned. Nabil Shaath, Arafat’s foreign minister, told me:

‘I have no doubt that he was assassinated. The French said that whatever toxic material was in his body did not test positive in their toxicology table, saying in plain words this was a poison we did not have in our laboratories.’

Yet in public, the very day after Arafat’s death, Shaath was reported as saying after talks with Arafat’s French doctors that they had ‘ruled out completely poison.’

So what was the reason for that barefaced lie?  From the very beginning there was a theory going around that this is a case of poisoning” said the Palestinian envoy to the UN and Yasser Arafat’s nephew, Nasser Al Qidwa, but no country wanted to take the political responsibility.

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