Breaking a lengthy silence, Suha Arafat, wife of former PLO terror leader Yasser Arafat, denied charges that she had embezzled millions of dollars from the Palestinian Authority. “I did not take money from Palestine,” Suha told an Egyptian journalist.
Several weeks ago Tunisia issued an international arrest warrant for Suha, who is wanted for questioning for allegedly absconding with Tunisian government and PA funds that had been meant to be used to build a school. She had been been a Tunisian citizen during the period when the corruption reportedly took place. In 2007, her Tunisian citizenship was removed by the same administration that was toppled from power earlier this year, partly due to similar charges of corruption.
In the interview, Suha said that some of the money in question had been used to build a playground for her and Yasser's daughter, Zahwa. “After 50 years of working for Palestine, does Arafat not deserve to have a playground for his daughter? He didn't buy jewelry or build factories for her. All he did was build a little playground in Tunisia. This is the only time he used money for Zahwa, and I can prove it,” she said.
The interview, broadcast on an Arab satellite channel, was the first time Zahwa Arafat appeared in public. Suha said she was planning to become a lawyer. “She has no interest in politics, after seeing what has happened to me.” Suha blamed most of her problems on unfounded accusations made by Leila Ben-Ali, the wife of the former Tunisian president. “I was her first victim, and she took revenge on me,” Suha said, discussing the falling out she had with Ben-Ali and how her new enemy spread rumors about her corruption, culminating with her being stripped of her Tunisian citizenship.
Suha is a French citizen, and Zahwa was born in Paris. When asked why her daughter was not born in Ramallah, where Yasser Arafat controlled the PA, Suha said she had decided against that, because she did not want her daughter to have anything to do with Israel. “I told the Israelis, you are the ones who destroyed Gaza, you destroyed our hospitals,” she said. PA Arabs, while not Israeli citizens, need an Israeli permit to travel abroad.
Suha added that she had been against the Oslo Accords and developing relations with Israel, and that she had turned down numerous invitations by Lea Rabin, deceased wife of former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin, to visit Israel. “I said how can I visit Tel Aviv when our prisoners are still in prison,” she said.