In addition to having lost cachet, Suha Arafat must be running low on cash. This is not surprising. Parisian haute couture, for which the PLO chief’s widow has always had a taste, does not come cheaply.
Nor does her silence, the commodity which has been keeping her in clover since before her husband, Yasser, died nearly eight years ago in a French hospital.
Imagine her delight, then, when a new opportunity arose this week for her to remind his former cronies in the Palestinian Authority — who treated her like a pariah from the moment she arrived on the scene — that they had better grease her palms generously if they know what’s good for them.
This opportunity took the form of findings released by the Institute of Radiation Physics in Switzerland, according to which Yasser Arafat’s clothing contained polonium-210, a lethal radioactive substance. Suddenly, all the old rumors about his having been poisoned resurfaced. Naturally, Israel was the focus of the conspiracy theories at the time, and will be blamed for the death of the “rais” (president) yet again.
It is not clear whether the polonium was planted on Arafat’s belongings for political purposes. But Suha made a grand appearance on Al-Jazeera to insist that his body be exhumed for further examination.
Her hysterical plea had nothing to do with Israel, however. On the contrary, she’s got bigger fish to fry among the Palestinians, against whom she holds a grudge that goes way back.
A Catholic Arab with an aristocratic pedigree, the young Suha — who was 26 when she started seeing the 60-year-old Yasser and 27 when she converted to Islam and married the mass murderer in 1990 — was not used to being kept out of the loop. Her mother had been a well-known journalist and Palestinian activist. Suha, too, had militant aspirations.
So she was none too happy about having wed the vile geezer with the perpetual two-day stubble, only to be snubbed, shunned and sidelined by his sycophants.
By the time she gave birth to their daughter in 1995 (an event that spawned as many “immaculate conception” jokes as Michael Jackson’s offspring), she was such an unwelcome figure in the Palestinian Authority that she went to Paris to have the baby. It’s hard to know exactly what the arch-terrorist’s attitude towards his bride was. Suffice it to say that he spent much more time at the Muqata, his headquarters in Ramallah, than in the marital bed.
Prevented from being the kind of first lady she had envisioned when she tied the knot, Suha had no choice but to settle for lots and lots of money, provided by the U.S., Europe and Israel for “Palestinian development,” but pocketed by her husband and his entourage of ministers and advisers for more personal purposes.
What she did with the millions she was paid to stay away from Ramallah and keep her mouth shut about the goings-on within the Palestinian Authority was to take her daughter to France and live the high life there.
When Arafat died, the only thing she had left to protect her was what she knew. One of things she knew, or thought she did, was that if there was any monkey business surrounding her husband’s death, it came from Arafat “loyalists” and/or oppositionists who wanted to take the reins.
Now, I’m not big on conspiracy theories. Nor do I care how Arafat died. He deserved any and all suffering he got, whether by foul play or natural causes. But I definitely enjoy watching certain members of the Palestinian Authority squirm when presented with the possibility of having to exhume his body.
Take President Mahmoud Abbas, for example. He hemmed and hawed and said that he had no objection to enabling the investigation, but that he would need consent from Arafat’s nephew, Nasser al-Kidwa. Al-Kidwa, a former Palestinian Authority envoy to the U.N., heads the Yasser Arafat Foundation. As such, he is the official custodian of his uncle’s legacy.
Interestingly, Al-Kidwa opposes exhuming the body. He told Al-Jazeera that the findings released this week prove that Arafat was poisoned (by Israel, of course) and that’s that. Since his interview, journalists have not been able to reach him for further comment. If Suha backs down from her demand for an autopsy, you can bet it will be because Al-Kidwa became available to discuss dinars over dinner with her somewhere.
Meanwhile, the black widow is probably counting her blessings now that a scientific “breakthrough” has awarded her with a win-win situation: an enhanced meal ticket or sweet revenge.
The rest of us can take a tad of comfort in the reminder that the Palestinians hate each other almost as much as they hate Israel, which makes them less formidable foes than they would like to be.
Ruthie Blum, a former senior editor at The Jerusalem Post, is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the ‘Arab Spring,’” soon to be released by RVP Press.