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Middle East

Alistair Dawber on Yasser Arafat: After so many years in power, why kill a man at the end of his career?


“Let’s get rid of him.” Those were the words of the former Israeli defence minister, Shaul Mofaz, speaking to Ariel Sharon during a public conference two and a half years before Yasser Arafat died.

Mr Mofaz thought the microphones were off and that he was merely whispering into the ear of the then Israeli Prime Minister.

Extraordinary as it was to hear a serving minister suggest that Israel at the very least expel the Palestinian Authority chairman, it was hardly a surprise. Another interpretation, of course, is that he was suggesting Mr Arafat be assassinated.

Mr Arafat spent most of his life fighting the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian Territories and was considered by many as a terrorist, even after he formally recognised Israel in 1993 as part of the Oslo peace process.

In all likelihood Mr Sharon, who deeply distrusted Mr Arafat, ignored his minister’s advice. Far better to keep the PLO leader in sight and on a tight leash.

But Mr Arafat had plenty of other enemies. He became the chairman of the PLO in 1969 and stayed in the role until his death in 2004. During his tenure, it was alleged that he ordered the exile and in some cases killing of those he was once close to.

Mr Arafat was divisive even in his private life. His wife, Suha, has described him as her “hero” but acknowledged that their marriage was not a happy one.

However, why anyone would have wanted to a kill a 75-year-old man in decline, with little opportunity to influence matters, is as much a point of debate as that of who might have been behind it. Even if it is ultimately determined that he most likely died of natural causes, it is unlikely to quell the conspiracy theories.