Thursday, August 04, 2005

Yasser Arafat Still Dead

Some Palestinians marked Yasser Arafat's 76th birthday by visiting his grave in the parking lot of his former headquarters in Ramallah, the Muqata, nine months after he finally died.

David Samuels takes a dimmer view of Arafat's legacy in "In A Ruined Country: How Yasir Arafat destroyed Palestine" in the current edition of The Atlantic Monthly. Samuels finds that the young Palestinians of the 1970s and 1980s who worshipped Arafat from afar as a hero found him something less than they imagined close up when the Oslo Accords of 1993 made him chairman of the Palestinian Authority. Arafat created a corrupt and disorganized environment that treated ordinary Palestinians as subjects to be fleeced with the proceeds going to buying the loyalty of his cronies instead of building up Palestine. Arafat was supposedly the chairman of the Palestinian Authority but the PA is nothing more than a hodge podge of independent ministries, security services, and prisons headed by people personally beholden to Arafat, not to a Palestinian state.

Samuels writes:

The amounts of money stolen from the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian people through the corrupt practices of Arafat's inner circle are so staggeringly large that they may exceed one half of the total of $7 billion in foreign aid contributed to the Palestinian Authority. The biggest thief was Arafat himself. The International Monetary Fund has conservatively estimated that from 1995 to 2000 Arafat diverted $900 million from Palestinian Authority coffers, an amount that did not include the money that he and his family siphoned off through such secondary means as no-bid contracts, kickbacks, and rake-offs. A secret report prepared by an official Palestinian Authority committee headed by Arafat's cousin concluded that in 1996 alone, $326 million, or 43 percent of the state budget, had been embezzled, and that another $94 million, or 12.5 percent of the budget, went to the president's office, where it was spent at Arafat's personal discretion. An additional 35 percent of the budget went to pay for the security services, leaving a total of $73 million, or 9.5 percent of the budget, to be spent on the needs of the population of the West Bank and Gaza. The financial resources of the PLO, which may have amounted to somewhere between one and two billion dollars, were never included in the PA budget. Arafat hid his personal stash, estimated at $1 billion to $3 billion, in more than 200 separate bank accounts around the world, the majority of which have been uncovered since his death.

The missed opportunities are enough to make the angels weep.


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