Palestinian Authority official television this evening issued a denial regarding news reports of the death of Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary Saeb Erekat.
Ali Erekat, the son of the Saeb Erekat, told Al Arabiya that his father’s health condition was critical but stable, also denying earlier reports of the official’s death due to coronavirus.
Asharq al Aswat News deleted earlier tweets reporting that Erekat had passed away.
The string of reports and denials recalls the 2004 death of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat. Holed up in his Ramallah compound, the Mukata, IDF intelligence received reports that his health was deteriorating.
Initially, it was assumed that Arafat was suffering complications from the flu virus. The IDF planned to follow its usual protocol: allow food and other vital supplies to reach Arafat, but do not by any means release the PA Chairman. Arafat’s continued isolation was seen as vital to the battle on PA terror, which had begun to see dramatic results just months earlier.
However, Israel then got a phone call from Spanish diplomat Javier Solana, who was responsible for the European Union’s foreign affairs. Solana contacted Attorney Dov Weissglass, the head of the Prime Minister’s Office, and asked that Arafat be released in order to seek medical care in Europe.
General Aharon Zevi-Farkash, then-head of IDF intelligence, strongly objected to the request, based on the appraisal that Arafat's life was not in danger. Arafat had been seen by medical experts from various Middle Eastern countries, and the IDF feared that the real goal of asking for new medical care was to allow Arafat to escape – which in turn would allow him to add fuel to the fire of the dying “intifada” terror war.
Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was conflicted. A second phone call tipped the scales: a senior PA official called Weissglass and warned, “Arafat has only a few weeks to live. If he dies in the Mukata, you will be seen as responsible for his death, and the death will pursue you, like Christians have been blaming you for 2,000 years for the killing of Jesus.”
Sharon ordered Arafat released despite IDF commanders’ objections. The PA leader reached France in serious condition on October 29.
Reports that reached Israel stated that the PA leader was suffering complications of leukemia. Whether Arafat also had AIDS, as has been rumored, remains unclear.
Arafat’s condition began to improve under French care. However, Israeli sources report, French doctors then tried a dramatic procedure – a total blood transfusion, in which all of Arafat’s blood was replaced with donor blood. Arafat went into a coma during the procedure and never woke up. He died on November 11, 2004, and was buried in Ramallah.
The first-hand testimony from Israeli officials disproves reports in Al-Jazeera stating that Arafat died of polonium poisoning. The Al-Jazeera report has also been criticized by experts due to the claim of high polonium levels found in 2012, years after Arafat died, something deemed highly unlikely given the element’s short half-life.
The testimony also indicated reasons why the story was not revealed until later. Israel had no reason to disprove reports that the Mossad had been involved in Arafat’s death, as the reports added to fear of the Mossad and hence to Israel’s power of deterrence. France had no reason to make the truth public due to fear that French doctors could be blamed for Arafat’s passing.
The PA and Suha Arafat, Arafat’s widow, had no reason to make the truth known because Arafat’s death of natural causes was unlikely to serve the PA cause.