WASHINGTON (BP)–Yasser Arafat’s death has intensified a sea of uncertainties: a Palestinian leadership vacuum in the volatile Mideast, unaccounted-for billions in funds and a mysterious illness that claimed his life at age 75.
“The death of Yasser Arafat is a significant moment in Palestinian history,” President Bush said after the longtime leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization died in the early morning of Nov. 11.
“We express our condolences to the Palestinian people,” Bush said before looking to the future. “For the Palestinian people,” he said, “we hope that the future will bring peace and the fulfillment of their aspirations for an independent, democratic Palestine that is at peace with its neighbors. During the period of transition that is ahead, we urge all in the region and throughout the world to join in helping make progress toward these goals and toward the ultimate goal of peace.”
Whether Bush’s vision for Mid-east peace can be realized remains uncertain.
Mike Evans, a Dallas-based evangelist who heads the staunchly pro-Israel, Internet-based Jerusalem Prayer Team, recounted in a column on the organization’s website:
“On April 14, 2004, President Bush stood alongside Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and announced a dramatic change in U.S. policy regarding the Middle East peace process. This is, perhaps, the most significant and prophetic change in Middle East policy since Harry S. Truman signed the document that recognized Israel as a state on May 14, 1948.
“President Bush courageously set aside decades of liberal policies supported by six previous presidents, the State Department, the European Union and the Arab League. Mr. Bush stated that Israel would not have to return to its pre-1967 borders. He then addressed the heart of the Middle East crisis by reversing the right of return policy stating that neither Palestinians that had lost land in 1948 nor their descendants could return to Israel. They could, however return to the Palestinian territories.”
Regardless of the direction Bush takes in the post-Arafat Mid-east, Evans described what will be of key concern to evangelicals who have been longtime supporters of Israel:
“[Evangelicals] may not be united on all issues concerning Israel; they do, however strongly ascribe to the scriptural admonition of ‘I will bless them that bless thee [Israel], and curse him that curses thee.’ This promise concerning how nations treat Israel was given to Abraham thousands of years ago. Bible-believing Christians believe that God’s hand of protection over America is based greatly on how America treats Israel. ‘America’s sins can be forgiven,’ they say, ‘but, if Americans touch prophecy, there is no forgiveness.’”
Arafat’s shoes, for now, will be filled by four leaders, according to news reports:
— The Palestinian Authority will be led by Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, 67, a veteran financier of the PLO.
— The Palestine Liberation Organization’s new head will be Mahmoud Abbas, 69, former prime minister of the Palestinian Authority and former PLO secretary-general.
— The militant Fatah wing within the PLO will be lead by PLO political chief Farouk Kaddoumi, who co-founded Fatah with Arafat in 1965 but has lived in Tunis, Tunisia, for more than 10 years.
— The ceremonial role of interim president of the Palestinian Authority will be Rawhi Fattouh, speaker of the Palestinian legislature, who will carry the interim title until presidential elections for a five-year term are held within the next 60 days as stipulated in the PA constitution, called the “Basic Law.”
Among other potential Palestinian power brokers are Marwan Barghouti, 46, a popular Fatah leader in the West Bank currently in imprisoned for murder related to a series of terrorist attacks, and Mohammed Dahlan, 43, an Arafat-appointed security force commander in Gaza and former Fatah youth leader.
A pessimistic view of the prospects for stable Palestinian leadership, however, was voiced by Daniel Pipes, director of the pro-Israel, Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum and author of numerous books on the troubled region.
“There will be no successor to Mr. Arafat — he made sure of that through his endless manipulations, tricks and schemes,” Pipes predicted in a Nov. 9 column.
“Instead, this is the moment of the gunmen. Whether they fight for criminal gangs, warlords, security services or ideological groups like Hamas, militiamen grasping for land and treasure will dominate the Palestinian scene for months or years ahead. The sort of persons familiar from past diplomacy or from TV commentaries — Mahmoud Abbas, Ahmed Qurei, et al. — lack gunmen, and so will have limited relevance going forward.
“The Palestinian territories have already descended into a hellish anarchy and circumstances will probably worsen as the strongmen struggle for power,” Pipes continued. “Eventually, two of them will emerge with the ability to negotiate with the Israelis and Americans. Note, two of them [emerging from] geographic division of the West Bank and Gaza….
“Two Palestines, anyone?” Pipes asked.
YEARNING FOR HOPE
Others nevertheless yearn for a hopeful sign of Palestinian leadership.
Anis Shorrosh, himself a Palestinian and an international speaker on Islam based in Fairhope, Ala., said in a statement to Baptist Press, “So many years have characterized our people with bloodshed, brutality, bungled peaceful solutions, bitter rivalries and hopeless existence. It is time for change. The election of leaders by violence or intimidation should be over.
“Democracy will work wonders when fear is conquered,” said Shorrosh, author of a new book, “Islam, a Threat or a Challenge.”
Ariel Cohen, a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in a Nov. 11 column in The Washington Times that Arafat “created a brainwashing machine on a scale unseen since Joseph Goebbels’ Propaganda Ministry of the Third Reich. Children as young as 2 are paraded wearing suicide belts. Youth camps for terrorists proliferate. The school system has turned into a jihad factory, and the U.S.-sponsored Palestinian version of ‘Sesame Street’ preaches murder of Jews and Israelis.
“While terrorist propaganda blurts nonsense about the 72 virgins (“houries”) young men will enjoy after blowing themselves up on buses, in markets, restaurants and movie theaters, often what it really all comes down to is cold hard cash,” Cohen continued. “Until his deposition, Saddam Hussein distributed up to $22,000 to each family of a suicide murderer, while the Saudi Arabian state-run TV raised hundreds of millions of dollars for Hamas and other terror groups in telethons presided over by members of the royal family. Mr. Arafat always encouraged such ‘charity’ -— and took a cut.
“As [Arafat’s] rule ends, Palestinians had best reassess and reject his legacy,” Cohen wrote. “Instead of the cult of death, it is time to promote the culture of peace. It is time to reject the destructive agendas of the PLO’s Syrian, Iranian and Saudi sponsors. Yasser Arafat, like Fidel Castro and Kim Jong-il, belongs to another era, that of totalitarianism and hatred. Only when Palestinians undergo this catharsis, will there be peace with their Israeli neighbors.”
Concerning PLO assets, the Associated Press recounted that Arafat “has run a murky financial empire that includes far-flung PLO investments in airlines, banana plantations and high-tech companies, and money hidden in bank accounts across the globe.”
The PLO was worth $3 billion to $5 billion during the mid-1990s, according to one former PLO finance minister quoted by the AP. Reliable current estimates are impossible to obtain, the AP stated, though some observers believe PLO assets may have dwindled to just a few million dollars. The New York Times, however, stated Nov. 11 that Arafat controlled “several billion dollars, and no one else knows where it is.”
“Palestinians fear that what’s left will disappear or be pocketed by Arafat cronies,” the AP stated, noting that at least one Palestinian legislator has called for a parliamentary investigation.
The former PLO finance minister told the AP that, while Arafat lived frugally, he used PLO finances for payments to supporters to maintain their loyalty.
Shorrosh, commenting on “the injection of billions of dollars for the Palestinians by numerous foreign countries, lamented, “The finances have been squandered on elegant homes for PLO leaders, fruitless projects and internal corruption by other Palestinian officials.”
AIDS AS CAUSE OF DEATH?
David Frum, an online columnist for the National Review and a former speechwriter for President Bush, took note of “the world media’s astonishing lack of curiosity about the nature of the disease” afflicting Arafat.
On Nov. 11, the day of Arafat’s death, The New York Times stated that Arafat died “of complications from an unknown disease.” CNN reported that Arafat “succumbed to a lengthy and unknown illness.” Fox News stated, “The Palestinian leader always said he wanted to die as a martyr, but died instead of old age and a mysterious illness.”
Frum, in his Oct. 29 column, commented that Arafat “has suffered a dramatic weight loss, memory loss and periods of disorientation, loss of muscle control and recurring nausea. His doctors tell us that his blood platelet count has dropped dramatically, but that he does not have leukemia. These symptoms sound remarkably AIDS-like, don’t they?
“An AIDS diagnosis would certainly accord with what is widely known about Arafat’s personal way of life,” Frum wrote, citing “lurid, homoerotic details” found in the memoirs of Lt. Gen. Ion Pacepa, former head of Romanian intelligence under Nicolae Ceausescu.
Excerpts from those memoirs were cited by Joseph Farah, editor and chief executive officer of the Internet’s WorldNetDaily, in a Sept. 22 column.
“Arafat is a homosexual,” Farah wrote at the outset. “There are also persistent rumors that he is a pedophile. I mean, in his private life, he is everything the Islamic culture detests -– a closet pervert.”
Citing a book by Pacepa, “Red Horizons,” published during the late 1980s, Farah excerpted a report to Pacepa from a Romanian general in charge of providing propaganda tutoring to Arafat and the PLO.
“At this very moment, the ‘Fedayee’ [Arafat’s code name] is in his bedroom making love to his bodyguard. The one I knew was his latest lover.” The general’s statement to Pacepa described what he heard while monitoring Arafat’s quarters via microphones.
Farah, at the end of his column, quipped, “Would anyone like to translate this for distribution in the West Bank and Gaza?”
Arafat, one of seven children of a Cairo family with Palestinian roots, is survived by his wife, Suha, who was his 28-year-old secretary when they married in 1991, and a daughter, Zahawa, 9.
Arafat’s funeral is scheduled for the morning of Nov. 12 in Cairo, followed by burial in the Ramallah compound on the West Bank where he had been confined for much of the last three years by Israeli forces.