3rd part of 3
Arafat's Revolving Door
Under pressure from the
Sharon's view that Arafat directed the terror was given greater credence in early January 2002, when Israeli forces stopped a ship, the Karine-A, bound for the Palestinian Authority carrying 50 tons of weapons from Iran that were paid for by one of Arafat's top aides. The shipment also marked a turning point in Arafat's relations with President Bush, who demanded an explanation for the arms shipment.
Following a new wave of terror, Israeli tanks rolled into the major cities of the West Bank on March 28, 2002, surrounding them and imposing curfews in what was called "Operation Defensive Shield." Sharon also went beyond his earlier castigation of Arafat as irrelevant and labeled him an enemy of Israel and surrounded his compound with tanks.
The fact that no Arab state came to the Palestinians' rescue, as Arafat had expected, showed how thin the support for the Palestinians really was in Arab capitals. Although he once again emerged as a survivor, avoiding deportation, which Sharon favored, and assassination, which the Palestinians feared, Arafat's prestige was also severely damaged.
Israel kept Arafat isolated in his Ramallah headquarters for the next two years. During that time, Arafat continued to rule the PA, and to receive a steady stream of foreign visitors, but he lost his position on the world stage and was rarely seen or heard from.
Reshuffling the Palestinian Deck
The decline in Arafat's popularity was reinforced by
On June 24, 2002, Bush laid out a plan that called on the Palestinians to replace Arafat as their leader, reform the governmental institutions of the Palestinian Authority, end terrorism, and adopt democratic and free-market principles. The President agreed with the Israeli view that Arafat had to be replaced, and that terrorism had to end, before they were required to act.
The Palestinians were angry and felt betrayed. They did not believe the
Despite the Palestinians' response, the Bush plan stimulated changes in the Palestinian Authority. Desperate to hold onto power, Arafat offered a reform plan and a timetable for new elections. Palestinians who had been cowed into silence by Arafat's unquestioned authority for the first time began to speak out about the Palestinian Authority's corruption and the need for changes.
Under international pressure, Arafat subsequently appointed Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) to be the Prime Minister of the Palestinian Authority. The
Arafat's Source of Power
In addition to being a symbol of the Palestinian national movement, Arafat also derived much of his influence by controlling a vast financial empire first established by the PLO through its criminal activities and later augmented by hundreds of millions of dollars siphoned from donations by the international community to the Palestinian Authority. Rather than use these resources to live the kind of luxurious lifestyle typified by other Arab despots, Arafat has used his money primarily to buy loyalty.
In 2003, a team of American accountants hired by the PA finance ministry began examining Arafat's finances. The team determined that part of the Palestinian leader's wealth was in a secret portfolio worth close to $1 billion — with investments in companies like a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Ramallah, a Tunisian cell phone company and venture capital funds in the
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) conducted an audit of the Palestinian Authority and discovered that Arafat diverted $900 million in public funds to a special bank account controlled by Arafat and the PA Chief Economic Financial Advisor. It was, therefore, not surprising when Forbes ranked Arafat sixth on its 2003 list of "Kings,
Arafat's wife Suha reportedly receives a stipend of $100,000 each month from the PA budget. In October 2003, the French government opened a money-laundering probe of Suha after prosecutors learned about regular transfers of nearly $1.27 million from
Arafat's Final Days
In 1990, Arafat, a Sunni Muslim, married Suha Tawil, a Palestinian Greek Orthodox Christian who converted to Islam before marrying him. At the time, Arafat was 62 and Suha 28. Suha's mother, a Palestinian activist and writer, introducedArafatto her daughter, who was then studying at the Sorbonne. Arafat subsequently hired Suha to work on his personal staff in
Arafat survived several assassination attempts over the years, as well as a plane crash in a sandstorm in the
The cause of death was never announced, and remains a mystery. Conspiratorial suggestions that Israel was somehow involved were quickly rejected by Palestinian authorities. Rumors have circulated for decades that Arafat was gay, and much of the speculation about his death, and the associated secrecy of the circumstances, have led to suggestions that he may have died of AIDS.
After his death, Arafat's body was flown from
For nearly half a century Arafat was the symbol of Palestinian nationalism. Though he was not a military man, he was rarely seen out of his uniform in an effort to project strength and his commitment to armed struggle. He wore his kaffiyeh in a unique fashion, draped over his shoulder in the shape of
Mitchell G. Bard, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Middle East Conflict. 3rd Edition. NY: Alpha Books, 2005
Said Aburish, Arafat: From Defender to Dictator, Bloomsbury Publishing, 1998, p. 8
The Terrorism Research Center
"Arafat's Billions," 60 Minutes
Washington Post, (November 9 & 11, 2004)