The Palestinian Liberation Office, Tunis, published the following communique on November 3:
“The Palestinian Authority closed the headquarters of the Palestinian National Fund which is located in Tunisia since 1982, the year of the fateful exit of the Palestinian resistance from Lebanon. The closing down of the Palestinian National Fund prompted concerns among Palestinian refugees temporarily living far from their homeland that the head of the Palestinian National Authority might try to close down the Palestinian Liberation Organization in favor of boosting his own authority.”
An essential fact is missing from this notice.
It is that Washington is leaning hard on Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen to make him not just close down the Palestinian National Fund, but to empty it out and transfer the contents to the Palestinian finance minister Salim Fayed. According to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources, the fund holds assets valued at $2 billion, most invested in oil stock, gold and real estate holdings.
Four years ago, the Bush administration told Mohammed Nashashabi, who was then finance minister, to transfer the PNF from Tunis to Ramallah. He issued a directive in the same vein as Abu Mazen’s, but it was countermanded by Yasser Arafat. Even today, it is not sure that Abbas will be obeyed.
After Arafat’s death exactly a year ago, his former bureau chief Ramzi Khouri took charge of the fund. Now Khouri and Abu Mazen’s rival, Farouq Kadoumi, who is chairman of the Fatah Executive Council, have come up with a new dodge for hanging on to Arafat’s loot. They claim the PNF is the property of the PLO and not the Palestinian Authority. Only the PLO central committee is competent to release its assets.
What Washington is after is to see the fund reposing in the Palestinian Authority’s coffers and used to give Abu Mazen’s standing a lift and his government the wherewithal for developing the Palestinian economy.
But that is only a small part of a well-hidden picture.
More importantly, the Palestinian National Fund yields the monthly allocations handed out to overseas Palestinian organizations. Among the recipients are the Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas, Jihad Islami and the various radical Fronts including Ahmed Jibril’s PFLP-General Command, whose members are suspected of abetting the Rafiq Hariri assassination in Beirut last February.
The fund was also structured by the late Arafat as the main source of sustenance for Palestinian paramilitary organizations in Lebanon. The Americans are demanding that these militias be disarmed as the prelude to the disarming of Hizballah.
These groups would cease functioning if their monthly remittances were cut off.
The PNF also pumps lifeblood into Palestinian international campaigns and missions as well as payouts to tens of thousands of Palestinian pensioners scattered around the Arab world.
It remains to be seen now if Abbas has the strength and craft to lay hands on this rich cornucopia and put it to the use of his government.
That will be one of the first questions put to him by US secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who has been keenly following the fate of this fund, when she arrives in Ramallah and Jerusalem on Nov. 14.