(JTA) – The leader of Israel’s Joint Arab List party has accused the Israeli government of murdering Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004.
Ayman Odeh, who has been championed as a moderate and spoken about the need for Jews and Arabs to work together, said in an interview Monday that the Shin Bet domestic intelligence service was responsible for the Palestine Liberation Organization founder’s death at age 75, the Times of Israel reported.
Odeh made the allegation during an interview on Israel’s Channel 2, saying that when Avi Dichter, now a Likud Knesset member, was head of the Shin Bet, he “sent the people” who murdered Arafat.
A panel of French judges in September closed a case pressed by Arafat’s widow, Suha, that accused Israel of poisoning Arafat. The French court ruled there was “a lack of sufficient evidence to continue the investigation.”
Arafat died in a hospital near Paris soon after falling ill in the West Bank. Traces of radioactive polonium were found on his belongings, which French experts later ruled were environmental in nature.
The medical report published after Arafat’s death listed the immediate cause as a massive brain hemorrhage resulting from an infection. Doctors ruled out foul play; some contended that Arafat died of AIDS.
After the opening of the inquiry, Arafat’s tomb in Ramallah was opened to allow teams of French, Swiss and Russian investigators to collect samples.
Odeh was being interviewed following a heated Knesset committee session about proposed legislation that would empower Knesset members to expel colleagues for “inappropriate” behaviour.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proposed the legislation after three Arab members of the Knesset outraged many Israelis by visiting with the families of Palestinians killed while committing terrorist attacks.
Asked about the allegation that members of Joint Arab List supported terrorism, Odeh said: “People who murdered Arabs with their own hands are sitting in the Knesset.”
Asked at the end of the interview if he wanted to withdraw the allegation, Odeh said, “They sent the people to murder the leadership of the Palestinian people … Take Dichter, for instance,” he said. “He sent the people who murdered Arafat and Sheikh Ahmad Yassin and Abdel Aziz al-Rantisi.”
Yassin and Rantisi were two leaders of the Islamic terrorist group Hamas who Israel killed in separate raids in Gaza in 2004.