Who might have poisoned Arafat?

Although Arafat had many enemies in the Palestinian camp (and was notably unpopular with many Arab leaders), speculation about a culprit has naturally centered on Israel. The spokesman for the Israeli foreign ministry, Yigal Palmor, disparaged the claim today, saying that it is “more soap opera than science.” He cast doubt on the neutrality of the examining scientists, and also raised a legitimate question about whether they had access to all of Arafat’s medical records. In Buzzfeed, Sheera Frenkel reports that Israel is bracing for a wave of criticism. She quotes Ran Cohen, a left-wing politician, saying that, “most Palestinians believe that we were behind his death, now their anger will be renewed.”

Israeli anxiety about such accusations, arising at a sensitive time in the negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, is understandable, but the Israeli government should remember that it was the official policy of several past Israeli leaders to try to kill Arafat, who was the head of a terrorist organization that had murdered many Israeli civilians. I had several conversations on the subject of assassinating Arafat with his principal Israeli nemesis, Ariel Sharon, and today’s report sent me back to a profile I wrote of Sharon that appeared 12 years ago in the New Yorker. The profile was published just as Sharon was running, successfully, for prime minister. Here’s what I wrote directly on the subject of assassination:

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