More than 13,000 Palestinians gathered in Ramallah on Wednesday to mark the fifth anniversary of the death of former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat.
Large crowds packed into the Presidential Compound to hear a memorial from President Mahmoud Abbas, who donned a white ball cap emblazoned with the flag of Palestine and a black and white kuffeyeh as he addressed the crowd for what many anticipated to be a historic speech. Rumors spread before the event that Abbas would announce his resignation, precipitating the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority.
"Today we commemorate anniversary of our historic leader Arafat. He planted the seed which became the tree to provide shadow for us.
We have reached the last quarter of our run for statehood, and thus we shouldn't give up hope," Abbas began, with hundreds of thousands watching from home and listening from the compound.
"It is out of the question that our occupation will eventually end," Abbas continued, noting "our historic leader managed to balance armed struggle and political talks," while Abbas himself set out a strict political program demanding movement from the United States and Israel.
Addressing allegations of repeatedly bowing to US pressure, Abbas said "We have paid a heavy toll to protect our independence in decision making, and to promote the PLO, and we will never allow anybody to destroy our achievements," though he did not lay out a plan for the continuation of Palestinian achievements.
"Our revolution is the longest in history, and it might be the last revolution in the world. We want to get rid of occupation, and we want a just solution for refugees' problem in accordance with the UN resolution 194. As long as 1967 territories are occupied, we have the right to demand removal of settlements because they are illegal," he said.
The speech left some disappointed, though spirits at the rally seemed high, as Fatah party flags waved across from the twenty-foot tall banner of Arafat's side profile, across from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.
In Gaza, Fatah accused the Hamas de facto government of banning activities marking the anniversary. Government officials in Gaza say Fatah did not apply for the proper permits to hold commemorative ceremonies.
In 2004, while besieged by the Israeli military in his Ramallah headquarters, he fell ill with flu-like symptoms and was flown to France for treatment. He died in at Percy military hospital outside of Paris on 11 November 2004.
The BBC reported at the time that the ultimate cause of death was multiple organ failure. According to a comprehensive article in the UK’s The Guardian newspaper, French doctors produced a 558-page report stating that Arafat died of a complex disorder known as disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC).
Israel denied his wish to be buried in Jerusalem and was instead laid to rest in a “temporary” tomb in the Muqata, in Ramallah.
Five years on, the exact cause of Arafat’s death remains a mystery, and there is no shortage of rumors. DIC, the cause identified by the French physicians, is a secondary condition, and the ultimate cause was never revealed. Popular belief among Palestinians holds that Israel, with the permission of the US, poisoned their leader.
Months before his death when Arafat was surrounded by the Israeli military in his Ramallah compound, Israeli officials publicly contemplated assassinating the leader.
Then Israel’s deputy prime minister, Ehud Olmert told Israel Radio on 14 September 2003, "Arafat can no longer be a factor in what happens here.
“Expulsion is certainly one of the options," he added, in remarks recorded by The Guardian newspaper. "Killing [him] is also one of the options."
Arafat’s nephew Nasser Al-Qudwa, who also served as Palestine’s representative to the UN, summarized the ambiguity surrounding the death: “Each expert we consulted explained that even a simple poison produced by an average scientist would be difficult to identify by the most experienced scientists. I can’t tell for sure that he was murdered by the Israelis. I can’t refute that hypothesis because doctors couldn’t refute it.”
Further adding to speculation of a poisoning plot, Al-Qudwa says Arafat did not take safety precautions in his last months under siege in Ramallah. Arafat never refused a visitor, his nephew says, and would accept gifts, including sweets and medicine, without testing them.