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Between money keeper and policy maker

January 25, 2014 at 4:02 am

Once again Muhammad Rashid has returned to the forefront of the political scene, first through programmes on satellite television under the title “political memory”, and second through the Palestinian Authority’s request for Interpol to arrest the man on charges of corruption. That request has been ignored, perhaps because the PA is not a sovereign state; perhaps because it did not provide sufficient evidence; perhaps because the request was not serious; or perhaps because the man known as Muhammad Rashid carries five different passports. The latter is not surprising, as money knows no national boundaries, and multi-millionaires can buy citizenship through their investments relatively easily.

In the TV programmes, Rashid presented himself as one of the most important pillars of the Palestinian leadership for many years. This Iraqi Kurdish man’s story with the PLO began with his work with Abu Jihad as a media consultant in Beirut in the early eighties. He was then attached to Yasser Arafat (Abu Ammar, may God bless his soul) who was adept at attracting people who were close to his rivals in the Fatah movement and other groups. Rashid became Abu Ammar’s adviser with responsibility for managing his relations and interviews with the media.

When the PA was created by the Oslo accord and Arafat returned to the occupied Palestinian territories, his media consultant somehow became an economic adviser and “keeper of the purse”. Those close to Arafat claim that Rashid was given such responsibility because he believed that he was easier to control than his Fatah rivals. Post-Camp David, Rashid turned against his benefactor and allied himself with Muhammad Dahlan and Mahmoud Abbas to take part in a coup attempt, with support from Israel and the Americans. The coup’s failure led eventually to Arafat’s death, especially when Hosni Mubarak fell in with US wishes in this respect.

Muhammad Rashid does not hesitate to talk about his intimate relationship with ex-Israeli leader Ariel Sharon. He also boasts about his relations with the Americans; he and Dahlan were very close to them at one stage. He is very open about his willingness to compromise with the Israelis, saying, for example, that the Palestinians’ right of return is “impossible” to achieve (although in this he is no different to many other PA leaders).

So what has provoked the PA to send the arrest request to Interpol? On the face of it, it seems to be Rashid’s comments about the wealth of the PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, and his sons. Questions arise about his trial in absentia and the timing of the Interpol approach. Did the PA really need 8 years since Arafat’s death to know that Rashid stole money from the Palestinian people? He claims that clearance came from the president in person after returning $600 million of the money that he used to manage. We need to ask those who gave the clearance, or at least kept silent, how he has come to be in possession of hundreds of millions of dollars even though he arrived in the occupied Palestinian territories with next to nothing.

Muhammad Rashid is part of a long story concerning leadership selection and the money of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, which was “lost” after Arafat’s death. Where has the vast personal wealth of PA officials and their sons come from post-Oslo? We will probably never know unless and until legal charges are levied against such people and the evidence is brought into the open. In the meantime, the situation leaves people prone to blackmail and threats. And for the ordinary people of Palestine, there is likely to be no consolation whatsoever. Nothing changes.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.