Analysis: Storm brewing over Arafat’s money

Claude Salhani
World Herald Peace
November 16, 2004

Washington: The question of Yasser Arafat’s enigmatic funds is now developing into a full-fledged storm, the consequences of which could have an impact on the war on terrorism and its outcome.

Initially, the mystery surrounding Arafat’s secret bank accounts might have appeared as a squabble between the Palestinian leadership and a dejected spouse. Some observers think that Suha, Arafat’s wife, was getting back at the way some of the people close to her husband had treated and sidelined her soon after her marriage to the Palestinian leader.

Since Arafat was admitted into a French military hospital on Oct. 29 only to die on Nov. 11, a dispute had been brewing over the whereabouts of the money. Regardless of the fact that Arafat sat on a considerable fortune, there is much more at stake than originally meets the eye.

“In the wrong hands, these secret funds will continue to support terrorism and will be used to undercut any effort to moderate the Palestinian position, isolate the rejectionists, or begin to restore the Palestinian economy,” wrote Edward S. Walker Jr. – president of the Middle East Institute, a former assistant secretary of state for Near East Affairs, and former United States ambassador to Israel and Egypt – in the Boston Globe.

Walker believes that it was Arafat’s money that enabled the intifada to continue. In an article published in the Globe Friday, he wrote: “According to Palestinians who sat in on decisive meetings with Arafat, it was Arafat’s design and money that triggered and sustained the intifada after the Camp David failure, not the visit of Ariel Sharon to the Temple Mount.”

Indeed, Sharon’s visit to the holy site – accompanied by about 100 armed security agents – may have offered Arafat the opportunity to launch the intifada, because it was seen as a provocation by thousands of Palestinians, who took to the streets. Naturally, the fact that Arafat had secret funds to finance the popular uprising helped.

That money, Walker believes, “is now up for grabs.”

Considering, that by FBI estimates, the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon required only about between $175,000 and $250,000 to pay for the terrorists’ flight training sessions, air fares, hotels, car rentals and other associated costs, the amount of damage that could be inflicted if the wrong people got their hands on Arafat’s millions, or even billions of dollars, is frightening.

Two primary questions that everyone is asking – including the new Palestinian leadership – is how much money was there, or rather is there, and then where is that money now?

In answer to the first question, U.S. sources believe there could be anything between $2 billion and $6 billion spread about in Swiss, Israeli, Cayman, Malaysian and other banks, not to mention stocks and shares in a number of companies that Arafat had invested in, including an airline.

In 2003, Arafat’s fortune was estimated by Forbes magazine to be at $300 million. According to the International Monetary Fund, international aid to the Palestinian Authority from donor countries – which included the United States, the European Union – hovered around $1 billion per year since Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization relocated from Tunis to the occupied territories in 2000.

Part of the problem surrounding the management of PLO funds, a number of observers say, is that Arafat bundled his personal finances with those of the organization. Also thrown into the fray were hundreds of millions of dollars Arafat managed to talk the emirs of the oil-rich Gulf states into donating to Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority. No distinction was apparently made between funds meant for Fatah or the Palestinian Authority. Add to that amount monies from taxes levied by Israel in the occupied territories which Israeli officials say were placed in Tel Aviv banks under Arafat’s name.

“While Arafat bought stability and shored up his own position of leadership, he also bought terrorism, corruption and a continuing struggle against Israel,” said Walker. As Walker points out, should Arafat’s secret money stash be discovered – and claimed – by the wrong people, it could sustain terrorism for decades to come.

The other great mystery surrounding Arafat’s death is what was it that killed him? Bound by French medical laws, the Parisian doctors who tended the ailing Palestinian leader are prevented from divulging any personal information other than to his family. And so far, Suha has been tight-lipped, refusing to as much hint at what may have killed her husband.

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia is dispatching a delegation to Paris hoping to shed some light on the Arafat mystery. The Palestinians will probably also want to talk to Suha about the money. She most likely was the last person to have had contac with Arafat before his death, and may be the only one with that information. But on both counts, it could turn out to be a wasted trip.

French authorities caught in the middle of this latest inter-Palestinian dispute may have found a diplomatic way out of the conundrum by releasing Arafat’s medical records to Nasser al-Kidwa, Arafat’s nephew and one of the Palestinian delegates to the United Nations.

However, while this might resolve the enigma surrounding Arafat’s death, it will do little to elucidate the whereabouts of the missing billions.

Categories: Asia, Odious Debts, Palestine

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