In 1994, the blond, chic Suha Tawil married a wealthy man 34 years her senior, urged by her mother, the sophisticated West Bank journalist and Palestinian Christian activist Raymonda Tawil: “Marry the Revolution.”
But Suha Arafat never fit the role of bride of the revolution and never assumed the part of Palestinian First Lady. Paris, where she grew up, rather than Gaza, is where she feels at home.
Now, according to DEBKA-Net-Weekly‘s Palestinian sources, Suha has taken over $3 billion of the secret funds, estimated at $20 billion, that Palestinian Authority Chairman salted away in Swiss, French and Canadian banks while soliciting the European Union, the US and Arab oil emirs for funds to fill the 120,000 wage packets of Palestinian Authority bureaucrats, policemen and security officers.
She helped herself to the nest egg Yasser deposited under her name in French banks some years ago, the only person he ever allowed access to his hidden funds and his only co-signatory.
Since she refused to part with the money, the two are not on speaking terms. They were virtually separated anyway, as Yasser, 70, travels most of the time in between short stops at Gaza City, while Suha, 34, lives in Paris, with their 4-year old daughter, Zahwa, named after Arafat’s mother.
The last time the Arafats were seen together was at Xmas 2000 midnight mass in the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. Not a word passed between them and, most significantly, Suha crossed herself, giving the lie to claims in Arafat’s circle that she had converted to Islam.
Suha has never been popular in that circle, repeatedly accusing its members of corruption, while they charge her with using her position to develop business opportunities and her mother of cashing in on her son-in-law’s name. But the breach came last June, after Arafat made Mohamed Rashid his financial affairs manager and asked Suha to release to him the $3 billion banked in Paris. The Palestinian uprising against Israel was then in preparation. Nonetheless, she refused to hand over the money. This was taken very badly. Rashid is the PA’s supreme financial authority and ever movement of moneys and financial transaction goes through him, making him the richest member of Arafat’s administration.
In the same period, Suha also got into a fight with another senior PA member Muhamed Zoheidi Zouabi, who was then PA finance minister. He thereupon stopped the subsidies to Palestinian institutions run by Suha, her mother and the rest of the Paris-based family. Raymonda, settled in Paris since her banker husband died, runs a worldwide network of Palestinian information organs, including in the US, as she once did from Ramallah. Much of her work dovetails with the diplomatic efforts of her other son-in-law Ibrahim Sous who is supported by the PA and is married to her older daughter, Diana.
Since Suha’s falling-out with her husband and the PA’s financial leaders, the present Palestinian finance minister, Nashashibi, has continued to starve the Tawil and Sous operations of funds, forcing them to find their own financing.
No one will admit to outsiders that anything is amiss in the Arafat-Tawil clan, but their quarrels are the talk of the moment in Palestinian Authority circles and Arab capitals.