Arafat: A Hidden Warchest And A Mystery Illness

A shroud of secrecy seems to have been thrown around both Arafat’s condition and the tense behind-the-scenes jockeying inside the PLO hierarchy to fill the looming vacuum in power.

However, much of the current power struggle likely has to do with gaining control over the estimated $800 million to $1 billion in slush funds that Arafat personally maintains in secret bank accounts in order to buy loyalty among disparate Palestinian elements.

There is little question that Ahmed Qureia and Mahmoud Abbas will head some type of “collective leadership” in the event of Arafat’s demise or incapacitation, so the real prize right now is control over the PLO chief’s huge slush fund.

For decades, Arafat is known to have funneled substantial portions of PLO assets and income into private Swiss accounts. When his plane went missing and he was presumed dead in Libya in 1992, many in the PLO leadership publicly voiced fears over how his death could affect the entire organization and in particular demanded certain immediate financial reforms.

According to knowledgeable sources in Congress at the time, the real concern within the PLO was whether anyone besides Arafat had been entrusted with the access codes to these Swiss holdings. Apparently, Arafat kept the secret codes in a notebook that he carried in the top-left pocket of his trademark military uniform, and it was feared that the only set of codes may have disappeared in the vast Libyan desert.

Thereafter, Arafat increasingly relied on ‘financial adviser’ Mohammed Rashid, an Egyptian businessman viewed with suspicion by many Palestinians, to handle his personal finances. Interestingly, just days before Arafat took ill Arab media reports claimed that Rashid had handed in his resignation, but latest reports have him still in contact with Arafat.

A report in the London Times on Sunday suggested that “[w]hile fighting for his life in a French military hospital, Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, was engaged in another, secret battle last week as he tried to keep control of bank accounts that are central to his survival in power.”

Israeli press reports noted the anger of some PA officials at Suha Arafat’s rare appearance in Ramallah to visit her ailing husband, sniping that she was just after his money.

The Times article said that Abbas and Qurei asked Arafat for the account codes before he left Ramallah on a Jordanian helicopter last week, but were rebuffed. The report also speculated that Arafat might be ready to hand control over the money to Mohammed Dahlan, his estranged former security chief in Gaza who was nonetheless invited to join Arafat on the flight to Paris. Some media have quoted Dahlan in recent days as speaking to their reporters in Paris.

Equally murky is the nature of Arafat’s illness. So far, PA officials say medical tests in Paris have eliminated leukemia and other types of cancer, but they admit he has a “viral” blood disorder that is causing “digestive malfunction.”

The mystery surrounding his illness has now invited speculation on the Internet that Arafat may have HIV/AIDS. Low blood platelets indicate a weak immune system, while weight loss, flu symptoms and recurring mental collapses also signal AIDS.

The Percy military hospital southwest of Paris also is reported to have some of France’s best HIV/AIDS doctors.

National Review diarist David Frum touched on the taboo subject in a column this week, pointing to the memoirs of Ion Pacepa, a Romanian intelligence officer under the Ceaucescu regime who defected to the West in 1978. In his book “Red Horizons,” Pacepa claimed the Romania government had secretly recorded audio and videos tapes of their guest Arafat in orgies with members of his security detail.

Meantime, among the rumors circulating among Palestinians is one insisting that Israel has poisoned Arafat.