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Arafat has Escape Deal with Saddam
An Israeli official confirmed Monday that PLO chief Yasser Arafat has salted away $20 million in pilfered funds in a Swiss Bank account, a nest egg that Israeli security believes he has offered to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in exchange for a safe haven if forced to leave Gaza.
Rumors of such a deal have been circulating for several weeks now on the Internet, but this marks the first time the essence of the reports have been confirmed by an official Israeli source to a mainstream media. The information contained in a report by THE JERUSALEM POST on Tuesday further corroborates evidence that an alliance between Saddam and Arafat has survived intact over the decade since the Gulf War.
The Israeli security official said that Arafat began preparing his latest fallback plan shortly before the outbreak of the uprising last September and sent a delegation, headed by Fatah leader Abbas Zakki, to Baghdad to clinch the deal. The $20 million is only a fraction of the billions of dollars in other funds and investments worldwide he is believed to control.
"He wanted to ensure his future before initiating the violence," the source said. "[Arafat] continues to portray the Palestinians as the victims of Israeli occupation, and yet a lot of the funds received have gone into his own pocket, instead of to his people."
"Arafat is a very good actor but, at the same time, he is a cool calculator and realizes that he has to prepare for all scenarios," the official told the POST, noting that many Arab countries refuse to assist Arafat. "Tunis has already distanced itself from him."
In the ten years following the 1991 Gulf War, evidence of a robust Saddam-Arafat alliance has surfaced from time to time. Iraqi dissidents reported in November 1997 that Arafat's private mansion in Baghdad, which serves as the PLO embassy to Iraq, was being used to hide secret documents relating to Iraq's buildup of unconventional weapons. The site's diplomatic immunity kept the documents beyond the reach of UNSCOM inspectors.
At about the same time, Arafat also reportedly met with senior Iraqi intelligence officers at the Iraqi embassy in Amman, Jordan to discuss Iraqi military capabilities and other matters.
Saddam is now the foremost champion of the Palestinian cause among the Arab world. He has funneled nearly $1 billion into PLO hands during the uprising and recruited millions of volunteers willing to launch "a jihad (holy war) to liberate Palestine." Saddam has also moved troops towards the borders of Jordan and Syria to threaten Israel. And just last week Arafat sent a letter to Saddam seeking more help and assistance for the Palestinian people.
Israeli security officials are closely monitoring Palestinian ties with Saddam, but admit they are powerless to stop it. Other recent reports claim that the PLO has finalized secret agreements with Saddam's regime that run into billions of dollars, and provide that Baghdad will become the control center for all of Arafat's activities should he leave Palestinian areas. These plans supposedly include provisions for a network of terrorist activity and even missile strikes on Israeli cities.
Widespread corruption within the PLO and Arafat's secret personal wealth - assessed by Israeli security officials at tens of billions of dollars - have been a matter of growing concern, especially since the US, European Union and other states began donating aid to the Palestinian Authority under the Olso accords. At one point, the entire PA cabinet resigned in protest of rampant corruption among Arafat and his top cronies. Arafat ordered a study of the problem, which was conducted by his own nephew and concluded that nearly half of foreign donor funds were unaccounted for.
A 1995 study on PLO assets and income conducted by the GAO, a research arm of the US Congress, was classified top secret, but a congressional source said it confirmed Arafat had hidden away $10 billion in one private Swiss bank account alone. A few years ago, former PLO staff members reportedly hacked into the organization's computer records and also verified billions of dollars in assets and investments. In another recent instance, Israeli officials acknowledged they were complying with Arafat's orders to deposit tens of millions of dollars in tax rebates owed to the PA in a private account he holds in a Tel Aviv bank.
A number of other books and reports over the years have documented the heavy PLO investment in real estate and factories in Europe, Canada, and Australia, in airlines and other businesses, and in stock in international companies.
Israeli officials charge that despite the hardships faced by Palestinians today, Arafat prefers to portray his people as victims of Israeli policies so as to gain world sympathy and funds, rather than dipping into his own deep pocket.
While one PA source confirmed yesterday's report that Arafat has a slush fund which he has offered to Saddam in case he needs to leave Gaza, other Palestinians denied it. Fatah militia leader Marwan Barghouti said the time of exile is over for the PLO. He believes Arafat and other PA officials would stay and fight for their rights. "It is better to be imprisoned here than to return to exile," he said, adding, "Believe me, no one except Arafat can unite and lead the Palestinians in these difficult times."
In response, the Israeli security official recounted Arafat's track record, adding, "He hasn't been described as sitting on suitcases for no reason."
Used with Permission from International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.