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Opinion: Peres answers half of the dilemma of Arafat's death

Jan. 11, 2013 9:19 P.M. (Updated: Jan. 13, 2013 10:44 A.M.)
By: Abdul-Hakim Salah
Though his response is not an official confirmation that Israel was involved in the murder of late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, Israeli president Shimon Peres did not deny that the late Palestinian leader was assassinated when asked during a New York Times interview whether he thought the leader "should be assassinated."

On November 27, 2012, the body of late Palestinian president Yasser Arafat was exhumed in an investigation to establish if he was murdered by Israeli agents using the hard-to-trace radioactive poison, Polonium.

The decision to open the grave came after the Lausanne Hospital in Switzerland said in August 2012 that high levels of polonium were discovered on Arafat's clothes, supplied by his widow Suha for a television documentary.

Since Arafat's death, debate has raged about the mysterious circumstances surrounding his demise, with many Palestinians pointing the finger at Israel, which confined Arafat to his headquarters in Ramallah for the final two and a half years of his life after a Palestinian uprising erupted.

Other explanations have been put forward, with some Israeli officials suggesting he was killed by rival Palestinian factions, or even succumbed to AIDS.

In the recent interview with the New York Times, Israeli president Shimon Peres said he opposed Israel's policy of targeted assassinations as a weapon to achieve political goals. The interviewer, Ronen Bergman, an analyst for the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, highlighted that Peres had opposed Israel's assassination of the PLO's number two leader Khalil al-Wazir (known as Abu Jihad) in Tunis in 1988.

He had also opposed the assassination of Hamas' founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmad Yasin by an airstrike in 2004, Bergman said, and protected Arafat from assassination plots.

During the interview, Peres, though he is about to enter his 90s, was smart enough to tell Bergman he was "asking foolish questions" when quizzed about what attitude Israel should adopt toward the Arab Spring.

After a few questions about the latest Israeli offensive on Gaza and the aftermath, the interviewer asked him: "You didn't think that Arafat should be assassinated."

Peres, immediately answered "no," going on to say: "I thought it was possible to do business with him. Without him, it was much more complicated. With who else could we have closed the Oslo deal? With who else could we have reached the Hebron agreement?"

The fact that Peres did not comment on the assumptions of the question in the first place implies that either he failed to notice how tricky the question was or believed, somehow, that Israeli agents were involved in the murder of Arafat.

In English grammar, the modal "should" means advisability. Some readers may have understood the interviewer's question as a general one, without assigning blame to any party. In other words, Peres could have understood the question as whether it would have been better if Arafat was not assassinated by those who did assassinate him, without mentioning Israel. Fine, that may be clever.

However, one has to also agree that his answer confirmed the implied assumption that Arafat was indeed assassinated.

He could, after all, have challenged his interviewer to stop asking foolish questions as before, or at least have denied that Arafat was assassinated and firmly stated that Israel had nothing to do with it. He did neither.

Peres, nor any other Israeli leader, would ever publicly confess that Israel had anything to do with Arafat's end, even if forensic tests prove that he was killed by polonium.

The Israeli president, however, at least seems to have given an answer to one important half of the dilemma, when he failed to deny that Arafat was in fact, assassinated.
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