Mohammed Rashid, secret man of affairs to Yasser Arafat, was in Ramallah Sunday, August 15, on a highly discreet flying visit, the first since turning his back on the Palestinian hub town more than two years ago. Then, he was hustled out of the country in the middle of Israel’s April, 2002 Operation Defensive Shield operation on the West Bank against terrorist strongholds. It was claimed that Arafat whisked him out of the way for fear he might fall into Israeli hands together with all the confidential information in his head on the whereabouts of the Palestinian leader’s multi-billion dollar assets and investments.
The true amount is estimated by some as $3 bn, by others as high as $12 bn.
This pretext never washed with those familiar with Rashid’s relations with the Israeli business men who partnered the joint Palestinian-Israeli monopoly system he created. They cannot imagine Rashid being scared of Israelis. Indeed, he used their help to make sure that the financial empire he created was kept ticking over smoothly in his absence.
Then, several months after his departure, towards the end of 2002, rumors were put about that Arafat had quarreled with Rashid and fired him from the management of his investments. To substantiate the rumors, there were further reports that Arafat had blocked his bank accounts to Rashid. The missing financier was accused in the souks of embezzling some of Arafat’s deposits and would be putting his life in his hands if he ventured to return to the West Bank.
However, DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s intelligence sources have traced these rumors to Arafat himself. There never was a break in their relations. The stories were trumped up because the Palestinian-Israeli war was hotting up and Arafat preferred his business wizard, fortune and connections to be removed as far as possible from Israel’s reach. While the unsavory rumors abounded, Rashid was ordered to find sound investments for Arafat’s money in the Arab world.
His success elevated Arafat’s fortune to the role of key player in the Arab world of finance.
The canny and inventive Rashid, who is of Kurdish origin, gave the traditional Arab markets in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf a wide berth. In any case, the royal family in Riyadh is far from keen on doing business with the Palestinian leader. In search of new and greener pastures for Arafat’s business investments, Rashid came to Tripoli.
In the past year, Rashid’s Libyan business interests, based in London in partnership with Seif al-islam, Muammer Qaddafi’s son, have ballooned to the point that they are an integral part of the relationship between London and Washington and Qaddafi. They were also influential in no small measure in the Libyan ruler’s decision to forego part of his nuclear, chemical and biological weapons arsenal.
The money is Arafat’s. Rashid works on commission. Therefore, the powers-that-be in Washington and Jerusalem may protest very loudly that they want no truck with the man who leads and funds Palestinian terror, but they are nonetheless willing to do business with Rashid, the man responsible for generating and multiplying those funds.
The most intriguing question now is what brought the financial wizard to Ramallah after all this time when to all intents and purposes he had broken with Arafat and was working closely with his rival, Mohammed Dahlan.
Out of the 24 hours he spent in Ramallah, he was closeted for 20 with Arafat, mostly alone.
DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s sources at Arafat’s Ramallah headquarters offered two suggestions. One, that Arafat finds Rashid useful close at hand and in fact consulted him on the speech he delivered to the Palestinian legislative council Wednesday, August 18, in which he confessed to having made mistakes, without backtracking on a single one of his objectives.
The second, Rashid came for a failed attempt to make peace between Arafat and Dahlan.
Our Palestinian experts find both these explanations, even if true, of marginal relevance. It is far more likely that business questions had cropped up that needed decisions by the boss and a consultation at the top level – and in private. As soon as these questions were cleared up, the day after he arrived, Rashid was gone.