Politics & Policy

Arafat’S Seat

Power, money, and terror.

In an interesting coincidence, both CBS and the BBC carried “exposes” earlier this month of Yasser Arafat’s use and abuse of the Palestinian Authority’s monies. Among the “revelations” were the payments of $50,000 per month as “living expenses” to members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the terrorist wing of Arafat’s Fatah group.

This information has been known for the last year to anyone who follows Arafat and the deep-seated corruption in the Palestinian Authority (PA). Because of their timing, these “exposes” seemed calculated to send the message to Arafat to relinquish power so PA reforms could be accomplished. But once again, Arafat was ahead of the curve, and managed to further consolidate his power. A day before the heavily advertised programs were aired, Ahmed Qorei–Arafat’s latest appointee as Palestinian prime minister–conceded to Arafat’s demand to keep control of the security forces. Officially, the forces will be under the authority of the national-security council. But since Arafat heads the council, he remains in control.

Former Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas, who resigned because of Arafat’s refusal to relinquish power over the security forces, explained the payments to members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades as “an attempt to wean the terrorists from committing further homicide bombings.” But this money was not given to stop the Brigades’ terror activities: It went to pay the salaries of one element of the terror apparatus controlled by Yasser Arafat within the security forces.

The reports by the BBC and 60 Minutes showed how Yasser Arafat diverted $800 million of the PA’s aid money to his private accounts, including at least $100,000 per month to support his wife, Suha, so that she can maintain her standard of living in Paris. These details had already been exposed by the International Monitory Fund earlier this year, and by Palestinian documents, which showed the scope of Arafat and the PA’s corruption–and their abuses of national funds and aid money that was entrusted to them by the international donor community for the Palestinian people.

The IMF report on the PA, which was published last September, talks about Arafat’s assets, foreign bank accounts, and secret budgets fed by aid money and monopolies held by the PA (such as oil, tobacco, and alcohol). Altogether, the IMF estimated that Arafat funneled at least $900 million between 1995 and 2000 to his own bank account. Finance Minister Fayyad claimed that this money was invested on behalf of the Palestinian economy. However, the PA’s investments for that period were valued at between $300 and $345 million. Where is the rest of the money?

Prior reports included documents released in June 2002 by the Kuwaiti daily Al-Watan detailing Arafat’s deposit of $5 million into his account in a Cairo bank–money that came from aid allocated for the Palestinians. An Israeli report in August 2002 estimated Arafat’s private fortune at $1.3 billion.

But neither the IMF nor the TV “exposes” mentioned how, last August, Arafat spent more than $12.5 million, a sum that exceeded his budget by $6.5 million. This money was used to, among other things, pay for demonstrations supporting his position and to buy the loyalty of the Palestinian public by paying for the loss of income, medical treatments, scholarships, unemployment, etc., that are the result of the Intifada–the same Intifada that we now know was orchestrated by Arafat.

Clearly, Arafat does not want to relinquish control over the Palestinian security forces and their budget. Why would he? They enable him to consolidate and exercise his power over the Palestinian people. Once again, Arafat has proved that his interests come first. Besides, he made his own “roadmap” clear in an interview with Radio Palestine on June 6, 2001: “War is a dream, peace is a nightmare.” President Bush is right: As long as Arafat remains in charge, no real change or reform will be possible in the Palestinian Authority.

Rachel Ehrenfeld is the author of Funding Evil: How Terrorism is Financed–and How to Stop It, and director of the Manhattan-based American Center for Democracy. She is available through www.benadorassociates.com.

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