Polonium and the Palestinians
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
What a mystery is erupting over the possibility that Yasser Arafat died of polonium poisoning. It began after Al Jazeera published a report saying that tests have disclosed “that Arafat’s final personal belongings — his clothes, his toothbrush, even his iconic kaffiyeh — contained abnormal levels of polonium.” It says the terrorists “personal effects” were analyzed at the Institut de Radiophysique at Lausanne, Switzerland. The effects were, it reported, “variously stained with Arafat’s blood, sweat, saliva and urine.” It says the “tests carried out on those samples suggested that there was a high level of polonium inside his body when he died.” So now, at the request of Arafat’s widow, Suha, the body of the late chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization may be exhumed from its grave at Ramallah.
The first person of whom we inquired when we heard this news was Edward Jay Epstein, the reportorial genius who covered for us the death of the former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko, who was killed by polonium poisoning in 2006 at London. It is the modus operandi of Mr. Epstein to step back from the mysteries he investigates to consider all the possibilities, even one’s that might not assert themselves at first blush. It would be inaccurate to suggest that he has launched any formal look at the death of Yasser Arafat. But he did send a quick wire in response to our inquiry to say that there are “many possibilities.” Only the first is that he was poisoned, a possibility that he says “seems unlikely since it would have shown up in his bone marrow.”
Another is that Arafat was involved in supplying Polonium 210, which is one of the theories that Mr. Epstein explored in respect of Litvinenko. The element was used for nuclear devices in 2004 by both Iran and North Korea, Mr. Epstein reminds us. A third quick possibility on Mr. Epstein’s list is that polonium was used by an intelligence service to track Arafat. We don’t have a bias toward any one of these theories. And how he died is not a matter over which we’ve lost sleep. We never bet on his so-called conversion to a peaceful resolution of the war the Arabs launched against Israel; it is hard to think of a single positive element to Arafat’s career. By the end of his life he had made far more enemies than Israel, and we have no doubt that the mystery of his death will have many more half lives than the one that has been advanced by Al Jazeera.