Yasser Arafat’s widow lashes out at PA over criticism of UAE-Israel deal

The widow of late Palestinian President Yasser Aafat lashed out at the Palestinian Authority, accusing it of threatening her because of her position on the UAE-Israel normalization deal.

al-monitor Yasser Arafat's widow, Suha Arafat, attends a press conference in Paris on Dec. 3, 2013.  Photo by PATRICK KOVARIK/AFP via Getty Images.

Sep 7, 2020

RAMALLAH, West Bank — Suha Arafat, the widow of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, has become a part of the mounting crisis between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the United Arab Emirates after Abu Dhabi reached an agreement to normalize ties with Israel. The deal resulted in the first official Israeli flight landing in the UAE on Aug. 31.

After the UAE announced Aug. 13 it was establishing full diplomatic relations with Israel, marchers denouncing the deal roamed the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, where photos of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan and dismissed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, who resides in the UAE, were set on fire

On Aug. 21, Suha Arafat posted an apology to the UAE on Instagram, triggering a crisis with the PA. “On behalf of the honourables among the Palestinian people,” she apologized “for the burning and defamation of the UAE flag in Jerusalem and Palestine and insults of the UAE symbols.” Her remarks came although she has no official capacity neither at the PA nor Fatah movement.

Suha Arafat also attached a photo of her husband with UAE ruler Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan (both died in November 2004) to her Instagram post, adding that such practices do not reflect Palestinian morals, customs and traditions, and that “disagreements should not ruin amicability.” She called on the Palestinian “generations to read history well to learn how the UAE has always and continues to support the Palestinian people and cause.” 

Egyptian TV host Wael al-Abrashi hosted Suha Arafat on Aug. 25 on his show “al-Tasi’a” where she recounted that she was subject to a harassment campaign by some Fatah leaders — whom she did not name — and troll-like accounts accusing her of treason for supporting the UAE-Israeli deal. Arafat stressed that President Mahmoud Abbas has been an exception.

Arafat told Abrashi that the UAE is an independent state and has its own interests, and said talk that Dahlan, who serves as adviser to the Abu Dhabi crown prince, stands behind the deal with Israel is ridiculous.

Arafat further escalated the tone against the PA on Aug. 27 when she appeared again with Abrashi. She said the PA drove her brother, Palestinian ambassador to Cyprus Jubran Taweel, into retirement because of her remarks. 

She also told the Israeli state-owned TV channel Kan that day that she has been threatened by PA officials who harassed her family members, including her brother for refusing to organize activities hostile to the UAE at the embassy campus in Cyprus.

Arafat threatened to open the gates of hell on PA officials if they continued to target her by making public what her husband wrote about them in his diaries. “Publishing just a little bit of what I know would be enough to burn them in front of the Palestinians,” she added in her statement to Kan.

She further warned the PA against withholding her financial allocations, which amount to 10,000 euros ($11,830) per month. Arafat accused Intisar Abu Amara, the head of Abbas’ office, of being responsible for the campaign launched against her.

The PA and Fatah remained out of the media fuss and refrained from issuing any official media remarks on the dispute with Arafat, save a brief release by Fatah on Aug. 28 calling on Arafat not to delve into policy details. 

Several Fatah affiliates lashed out at Arafat on social media, perceiving that her position is in line with that of Dahlan and his Democratic Reform Current. They republished old photos of her and Dahlan when he had hosted her along with her daughter, Zahwa, at his residence in the UAE.

Muwaffaq Matar, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Council, told Al-Monitor that even though she is Yasser Arafat’s wife, she is not entitled under the PA Basic Law and PLO regulations to speak or give any statements on behalf of the Palestinian people. He added that the one who is entitled to do so is Abbas by virtue of being elected by the people and being the PLO president.

Matar added, “Suha had to show respect to the Palestinian leadership’s position and Palestinian national consensus, as all factions that are and are not represented in the PLO have affirmed that the UAE-Israel deal is a stab in the Palestinian cause’s back.”

He said, “We believe that Suha is free to express her own opinion, but she is not free to apologize to the UAE on behalf of the Palestinians, just to win Mohammed bin Zayed over.” Commenting on the UAE leaders, Matar said, “They betrayed the Islamic and Christian sanctities and Palestinian cause. Should they want to normalize with Israel, [so be it], but they do not have the right to ride the Palestinian cause. The Palestinian people have a leadership that speaks on their behalf and takes the decisions.”

Matar also said, “We believe that Suha’s remarks on the normalization are more like propaganda and directives by Dahlan, who is wanted by the Palestinian judiciary and dismissed from Fatah.”

Matar further stated that Suha Arafat “has committed a crime under the law by speaking to an Israeli media outlet and threatening officials of publishing [official] documents. She is not allowed to keep and use official documents against people, as a late president’s wife and former official secretary of his.”

“Such remarks are part of the campaign that started a month ago against the Palestinian leadership and climaxed with the [UAE-Israel] deal,” Matar said.

Commenting on Suha Arafat's threat to publish excerpts from her husband’s diaries, Matar said, “I know well that President Arafat did not write any diaries. Rather, he had someone to document his national duties and meetings for him. Suha Arafat wanted to please Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed with her remarks.”

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