The Telegraph reports:
More than $300 million (£176 million) of Palestinian Authority funds were diverted by Yasser Arafat into a previously undisclosed Swiss bank account and the money can no longer be traced, according to a damning American television report to be broadcast today...
The new report coincides with a BBC documentary, also to be screened tonight, which claims the Palestinian Authority is paying members of the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigades, an armed militia responsible for carrying out suicide attacks against Israelis, up to $50,000 (£29,000) a month.
The BBC will quote a former Palestinian cabinet minister claiming that the money was intended to wean the gunmen away from suicide bombings. But an al-Aqsa leader interviewed by the BBC said that despite the payments, the group had not declared a formal ceasefire and Mr Arafat had not asked it to stop the suicide bombings.
I watched the BBC programme this evening, and I have to acknowledge that its presenter, Jeremy Bowen, whose greatest admirers would be hard put to identify in him the sharpest of inquiring minds, didn't do a bad job. The Brigade leader was the outstanding feature of the report: asked whether he would desist from killing Israeli civilians should the order from Arafat come, he replied 'of course' - but that no such order had ever been issued. This being the BBC, Jeremy predictably concluded ex cathedra that Arafat had to be part of the solution and the programme's interviewees declared that Israel was the source of the problem by denying hope to the Palestinians, but by that point in the programme the damage had been done.
No one watching the programme will have learned this information from it, so it bears repeating. In July 2000 the Palestinians - on their own account - were offered by the then Israeli prime minister an independent and territorially contiguous state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on nine-tenths of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip. Arafat not only rejected the offer, as was his prerogative, but also declined to make a counter-proposal: he merely abandoned negotiations and initiated a campaign of demagoguery, arms smuggling and collusion with terror. It is absurd to suppose that the man has been politically constrained in apprehending the terrorists who organise on the Palestinian Authority's territory. The PA's supposed security forces at one point numbered 45,000 men - double the size allowed under the Oslo accord - and a dozen intelligence services reporting directly to Arafat. I continue to believe that Yitzhak Rabin was right to negotiate directly with Arafat a decade ago in order to align a nascent Palestinian polity with Israel in the struggle against terrorism, but it is beyond argument that that principle has been traduced and betrayed by Arafat ever since.
Moreover, dishonesty in dealings with Israel has been mirrored in Arafat's corrupt and autocratic administration of the PA. Under the 1994 Paris agreement between Israel and the PA, Israel is meant to remit directly to the PA the tax receipts she collects on imports intended for the Palestinian territories. The scheme in fact takes a peculiar form on the insistence of Arafat himself: the revenues are deposited in a Tel Aviv bank account that can be accessed only by Arafat and his economic adviser Muhammad Rashid. In the following six years around $2.5 billion was deposited in the account - sums that have not obviously been expended in alleviating economic hardship in the territories.
There's not much that can be said to those poor deluded souls who believe the fashionable campaign for divestment from Israel is analogous to the anti-apartheid campaign of the 1970s and 1980s, but they might at least consider this. When a moral hero of the anti-apartheid struggle, Rev. Allan Boesak, was found to have corruptly appropriated for his own use donor funds intended for his aid organisation, he was gaoled by the commendably impartial judiciary of the new South Africa. In the Palestinian Authority, according to a new biography of Arafat by Efraim Karsh of London University, the misappropriation of donor funds is built into the system: $1.8 million went into Swiss and Austrian bank accounts belonging to the late Faisal Husseini, $70 million has gone into European bank accounts belonging to the former prime minister Abu Mazen, and there is ample proof of the corruption of Arafat himself, who used $5 million of aid money to maintain his wife in Paris in the style to which she had become accustomed. (The last-named instance was too much for the Gulf States, who temporarily suspended contributions to the PA last year.)
Arafat has been a moral, political and financial disaster for the Palestinians. The elements of an equitable territorial accommodation were set out a generation ago in UN Security Council Resolution 242, carried after the Six-Day War. The evidence is overwhelming that such a settlement will never be reached while Arafat is in place. It's time Europeans treated him as we do Robert Mugabe: by leaving him to the hospitality of President Chirac of France, who shares Arafat's sense of financial propriety.