- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 9, 2004

TEL AVIV — Anxious Palestinians turned their anger on Yasser Arafat’s wife, Suha, after she made an emotional outburst early yesterday, accusing her of keeping information about the health of the ailing Palestinian Authority leader from the public.

“It’s chutzpah. Yasser Arafat isn’t the private property of Suha Arafat,” said Sufian Abu Zaydeh, a Fatah official in Gaza. “I haven’t heard one Palestinian who has justified what she said.”

One official even accused Mrs. Arafat — long dismissed as a spoiled socialite who fled to Paris when conditions worsened in the West Bank — with using exclusive access to her husband to secure a slice of more than $1 billion in assets thought to be controlled by the Palestinian leader.

In a brief interview with Al Jazeera television from Mr. Arafat’s bedside early yesterday, the blond, 41-year-old Mrs. Arafat accused her husband’s top aides of conspiring against him and seeking to “bury” him “alive.”

Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia, Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Secretary-General Mahmoud Abbas and Foreign Minister Nabil Shaath briefly delayed a visit to Paris after the outburst but set out for the French capital later yesterday.

Mrs. Arafat also is said to have banned visitors from the room in the French military hospital where Mr. Arafat reportedly has been in a coma for several days on life-support systems.

She also has placed a virtual gag order on hospital officials, who have yet to announce what is ailing Mr. Arafat. Christian Estripeau, the chief doctor at the Percy hospital, yesterday said only that Mr. Arafat’s condition remains stable.

The Al Jazeera interview dismayed many Palestinians, who note that Mrs. Arafat has lived lavishly in Paris for years while her husband was confined by Israeli authorities to a half-ruined compound in Ramallah.

“We express our utmost regret at the comments made by sister Suha,” Mr. Qureia said in Ramallah yesterday.

Mrs. Arafat, never popular with Palestinians, was born a Christian in the West Bank city of Nablus and became secretary to the PLO leader while he was living in exile in Tunisia. She converted to Islam when she married Mr. Arafat — who was 34 years her senior — in 1991.

She came to live in the impoverished Gaza Strip in 1994, annoying residents with her expensive European clothes, luxury BMW and long blond locks that she refused to cover with a scarf or headdress.

There was widespread speculation yesterday that Mrs. Arafat was seeking either to gain access to her husband’s financial assets or to secure a political role in determining his successor.

The Associated Press yesterday quoted unnamed Palestinian officials as saying that Mrs. Arafat had aligned herself with the PLO’s hard-line foreign affairs chief Farouk Kaddoumi, who opposed the 1993 peace accords that led to the creation of the Palestinian Authority.

Arafat aides in Paris distanced themselves from his wife yesterday, with financial adviser Mohammed Rashid criticizing her remarks to Al Jazeera.

“She appalled everyone by such statements,” said Palestinian analyst Said Zeydani. “People are wondering what she’s up to, and there’s no answer. People are very angry. Nobody knows the truth of [Arafat’s] situation.”

Unwittingly, Mrs. Arafat may have bolstered the claims of Mr. Abbas and Mr. Qureia to succeed Mr. Arafat — at least in the short term. Israel Radio quoted Palestinians who criticized Mrs. Arafat by noting that the two Arafat deputies are his legal successors.

But other analysts say Mrs. Arafat’s broadside may be indicative of the weakness of the would-be successors in the medium to long term.

“A woman in the Arab world never dares to talk that way to her husband, and a leader,” said Hillel Frisch, a political science professor at Bar-Ilan University. “These people are doomed.”

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