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April 10, 1992 - Image 31

Resource type:
Text
Publication:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1992-04-10

Disclaimer: Computer generated plain text may have errors. Read more about this.

DOUGLAS DAVIS

Foreign Correspondent

T

he personal and pri-
vate lives of PLO offi-
cials "have come to
resemble the smell of an
open sewer running through
a refugee camp on a hot
August day." There is
"rampant corruption,"
entertainment so lavish that
it rivals "the embassies of
the richest states" and Pa-
lestinian officials "who have
lost count of the number of
rooms in their houses."
The script could have come
from the disinformation sec-
tion of Israel's Mossad intel-
ligence agency and the
characters from Central
Casting. Except they did not.
They came from the pen of
Paul A. Ajlouny and they
appeared in the paper he
publishes, Al-Fajir, flagship
of Palestinian dailies in east
Jerusalem and the most
faithful mouthpiece of the
mainstream PLO and its
leader, Yassir Arafat.
In a full-page article, Mr.
Ajlouny ticks off the short-
comings of high-living pro-
fessional Palestinians-in-
exile who are, he writes, now
passing on their worst ex-
cesses to their brothers liv-
ing under Israeli occupation.

First on Mr. Ajlouny's hit-
list is corruption, a habit
which he asserts was de-
veloped by "Palestinians
revolutionaries" abroad and
acquired by their brothers in
the territories who have
learned to "skim money off
the top to build or purchase
palatial homes."
Second, he writes, Pales-
tinian leaders "seem to have
studied the Marcos regime
for tips on nepotism," with
Palestinian representatives
putting their wives on the
payroll "as an indirect route
to the family bank."
Third on the list is waste.
The article said that only the
most expensive computer
equipment is purchased and
public relations consultants,
"some of whom are related
to the leadership," are re-
membered more for their
lavish entertainment than
the cause they promote.
According to Mr. Ajlouny,

Blowing The Whistle

An Arab newspaper describes moral and
financial corruption among the PLO leadership.

comrades in the West Bank
and Gaza Strip have been in-
fected by the specter of high
living abroad and are now
seeking a slice of the good
life themselves.
The publisher took the op-
portunity of his extraordin-
ary outburst to invite
readers to contribute docu-
mented cases of corruption
to the New York address of
his newspaper.
He pledged that Al-Fajr
(The Dawn) would then do
"what all good newspapers
have done through the cen-
turies and report fairly
about those leaders who
have taken upon themselves
the mantle of leadership."
The article has caused a
sensation in the Arab world,
where no such free expres-
sion is permitted, and it has
been cited as a further ex-
ample of Palestinian du-
plicity and licentiousness.
Mr. Ajlouny insists the ar-
ticle was not intend to feed
the appetite of Palestinian
enemies, but rather was in-
tended for consumption in
the territories, where a stiff
dose of "moral fiber" is seen
as the most effective an-
tidote for the growing trend
to fundamentalism.
Indeed, it is widely believ-
ed that the purgative effects

of the article were carefully
calibrated in advance by
none other than PLO leader
Yassir Arafat himself,
whose call for a bout of belt-
tightening has been im-
posed on the rank-and-file
but has not, apparently,
touched his most senior
lieutenants.
According to one Palestin-
ian source, the senior eche-
lons of PLO leaders have
simply ignored Mr. Arafat's

The established
PLO leadership in
Tunis now appears
to be increasingly
irrelevant.

appeals for austerity after
the PLO ran into tough
economic times following the
Gulf War.
They continue to indulge
their first-class, jet-setting
lifestyles, they have not lost
their taste for five-star ho-
tels and Johnnie Walker
Black Label, and they con-
tinue dipping into PLO
coffers to pay for medical
bills and their children's
university fees.
Mr. Ajlouny, 58, who is
based in New York, re-
portedly met with Mr.

Arafat last week and reports
that he received an official
blessing for his crusade:
"His first words to me were
that he supports press
freedom and that the PLO
welcomes self- criticism."
Mr. Arafat is thought to
have reasoned that he had
nothing more to lose by
hanging out his dirty
washing in the Arab world,
which turned off the aid tap
after the PLO sided with
Saddam Hussein's Iraq dur-
ing the Gulf War.
His folly is estimated to
have cost the PLO some
$100 million from Saudi
Arabia alone, provoking the
most serious internal
challenge since the PLO was
expelled from Beirut in
1982.
Work at PLO head-
quarters in Tunis is reported
to have virtually ground to a
halt, many of the PLO's 90
"diplomatic missions"
abroad have been drastically
reduced or closed down and
its presses have been all but
silenced.
Salaries for PLO officials
and payments to "victims of
the uprising" have been
slashed by 30 percent over
the past year and while some
2,000 PLO staffers remain
on the payroll, albeit in

reduced circumstances, most
do not have the money to
function and will be laid off
unless the Gulf aid gusher is
turned on soon.
An emergency meeting of
the PLO's executive com-
mittee is expected to be con-
vened in Tunis next week to
consider the desperate plight
of the organization and to
appeal to the Arab world,
notably the Gulf states, to
bury the hatchet and resume
their largess.
No one is writing off Mr.
Arafat as a symbol of Pales-
tinian nationalism, but the
balance of power now seems
to have shifted irreversibly
to leaders inside the ter-
ritories — Hanan Ashrawi,
Sari Nusseibeh and the less-
polished but more powerful
Faisal Husseini — who ap-
pear to have won the hearts
of the Bush administration
and the international media
since the start of the peace
process five months ago.
True, they are regarded
with contempt by the fun-
damentalists and the young
radicals who are contemp-
tuous of their "moderation"
and suspicious of their
"respectability" in Western
capitals, but the established
PLO leadership in Tunis
now appears to be increas-
ingly irrelevant, a chapter in
the annals of Palestinian
history that now has been
closed.
Mr. Arafat's role as
"Mister Palestine" remains
unassailable, but the
pressures on him to devolve
power to the leaders in the
territories are now becoming
irresistible.
The Al-Fajr publisher ap-
peared to confirm the trend
when he revealed this week
that he had been inundated
with responses from Palesti-
nians in the territories to his
appeals for evidence of cor-
ruption in high places.
Such revelations will sully
the reputation of the PLO,
but Arafat, the master of
survival, may be hoping that
although he personally con-
trols the organization's
purse strings, his endorse-
ment of the crackdown on
corruption will assure him of
a place of honor by future
generations of Palestin-
ians. CI

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