Arafat tests unlikely to establish who killed him

The body of Yasser Arafat (left) has been exhumed. Photo: Reuters

Whatever secrets might be revealed from the grave of Yasser Arafat, they are unlikely to answer the questions: who or what killed him.

Officially, the PLO leader died from a stroke but most Palestinians have always taken it as read that in reality he was murdered on the orders of Israel. It's a charge Israel, which has a track record of ridding itself of enemies, violently if necessary, vehemently denies.

When a TV documentary found traces of polonium on Arafat's clothes, provided by his widow, earlier this year it only fuelled the conspiracy theories.

Scientists will take samples from his remains. Their conclusions are expected in a few months. But experts warn that polonium degrades quickly and even a positive result is unlikely to point a finger of guilt in any particular direction.

What is intriguing is the timing. Surely it is no coincidence that this is taking place in the very week the Palestinian authority applies to the United Nations for recognition.

As one retired Israeli official from the time told me: "If you want my opinion they are exhuming Arafat to help resurrect his vision of a Palestinian state."

That might be an over-statement, but the symbolism is not lost of Palestinians.

"This puts the west bank back on the map, after all the focus on Gaza,' one young Palestinian told me today.

"Arafat is dead but his dream for our people is alive."