Arafat: They`re after Me and My Money

Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) has been engaged in a last ditch attempt to rescue the European aid program to the Palestinians from total cutoff. Palestinian Authority`s coffers, which depend on foreign handouts for 60 percent of their revenues, are depleted. American aid is already lost, since Washington vowed (as debkafile reported exclusively last year) not to give the Palestinians a red cent until they hand over the killers of three CIA security men murdered in a roadside explosion in the Gaza Strip on October 15.
Now, the Americans are pushing hard for Europe to follow suit. The European Union is nonetheless continuing to pay the salaries of about 100,000 Palestinian Authority officials and security officers, but it has posed a key proviso: donations will no longer be handed over in cash to the PA – an invitation to the corrupt practices besetting Palestinian government – but transferred directly into the individual payees’ banks accounts. Palestinian officials with no bank accounts will get no paychecks. Thus complete transparency will be assured. However, the Palestinian Authority shorn of its dollar and euro revenues cannot survive. Ironically, Israel continues to make its regular shekel remittances to the PA, a leftover from its undertakings under the defunct Oslo peace accords. This comes nowhere near covering the PA’s budgetary shortfall.
Yasser Arafat and the heads of his Fatah faction and Tanzim militia predictably turned down the European proviso, and no wonder: a) To open an account and draw funds from the bank, Palestinian security men will have to show identification; b) they can no longer be forced by their commanders and Arafat to engage in terrorists activities in order to feed their families. As PA officers, they will receive their paychecks directly from the EU.
This Europeans’ tough act, which puts the lid on many of Arafat’s financial abuses, is intended to meet one of Washington’s key demands and so test the chances of being let in on the Bush administration’s coming moves in Iraq and the Middle East.
The Palestinian prime minister when he toured Europe last week announced the new arrangement was acceptable to his government. But on his return to Ramallah, he found Arafat had put a furious stop to his first and only autonomous action since assuming the premiership last November.
“They`re gunning for me and they`re after my money,” Arafat spat out to his cronies. “And if we let them get away with it, they’ll finish me off along with the entire Palestinian resistance movement!” he said referring to the Americans and Palestinian terrorism and their efforts to extinguish his suicide terror campaign.
According to debkafile`s Palestinian sources, since 400 Fatah members handed in their cards in protest against corruption in the Palestinian leadership, Arafat has come to believe that that the Americans are using the bank account stratagem as a tool to be rid of him.
Four developments fuel his suspicions:
1. Fatah and PA intelligence bodies did not pick up the slightest whiff of a protest move in the making. Signed by Fatah rank and file activists in total secrecy, the protest petition caught Arafat’s spies by surprise. He therefore concluded it must have been the work of a foreign intelligence service.
2. The signers were sufficiently in the know about Arafat’s affairs to correctly finger at least one of his close aides as responsible for the worse excesses in the PA. One was his former financial adviser, Mohammed Rashid – whom they describe as “the Kurd who controls the Palestinian national movement”. The estranged Rashid has relocated his base from Ramallah to Cairo and London, where he is in business with another of Arafat’s rivals, Mohammed Dahlan.
The fact that Rashid was named did not bother Arafat.
But the second name was a giveaway: Kharabi Sarsur, 64, Arafat’s secret emissary, who holds the key to his personal cashbox. No ranking official in Palestinian-controlled territory dares mention this name aloud. The lowly Fatah operatives who mentioned Sarsur in their petition were hardly likely to know who he is. According to our sources, he is an important intelligence target – even more so than Arafat himself. Undercover agencies who want to find out what Arafat is up to keep an eye on Sarsur and, in particular, his disbursements of cash. Arafat is certain that only a major intelligence service had the inside knowledge necessary to “out” Sarsur.
3. French and EU authorities have started investigating his wife Suha`s money-laundering activities in Paris, where she lives a life Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza can only dream of. Six months ago, no European in authority would have dared touch Mrs. Arafat. Now, she is a liability making him vulnerable as never before.The money trail is bound to lead from Paris back to the “rais” and the secret Swiss account to which he smuggled PA funds – thence, for the last ten months, in monthly transfers of $1 million each into Suha Arafat`s Paris accounts.
Washington knows that Suha is sitting on large sums belonging to her husband and the PA, rated by financiers in West Europe as being in the hundreds of millions of dollars. Arafat believes the Americans persuaded the Europeans to open the investigation, expecting Suha to open up on his hidden wealth rather than go to jail.
4. Arafat has heard that a number of Palestinian bankers, some working within the PA and others in Arab countries, have been intercepted on recent visits to the United States with invitations for “clarification talks” with the FBI. Arafat, his money and secret accounts are the main topics of these clarifications.
Because of these developments, Arafat has come to believe that his final showdown with the United States has begun. He certainly does not propose to let either the Europeans or Ahmed Qureia get in the way of his fight for survival.

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