Jaweed al-Ghussein: PLO treasurer kidnapped by Arafat
Wednesday 27 August 2008
Jaweed al-Ghussein was for 12 years the treasurer of the Palestine National Fund (PNF), the financial arm of the PLO, but later had a dramatic falling out with Yasser Arafat that led to his kidnapping and a high-profile international campaign to secure his release.
He was born in Gaza in 1930, the son of Yacoub al-Ghussein, a wealthy landowner and president of the Palestine National Party. Jaweed attended the Friends School in Ramallah before the family became refugees in Egypt as a result of the 1948 war. He read economics at the American University in Cairo, where he met Arafat in the Palestinian students' union and the two became friends.
After graduation, Jaweed al-Ghussein became a civil servant in Kuwait, and in 1955 he married Khalida Nusibeh, who came from an old and prominent Jerusalem family. He left for Abu Dhabi in the 1960s, where he set up Cordoba, a construction firm. Within a few years, the business was succeeding and Ghussein started to contribute money to the Fatah movement. "It was essential to have financial security before joining the struggle," he once told me.
In 1984 Ghussein was elected by the Palestinian National Council (PNC) to head the PNF, which guaranteed him a seat on the PLO Executive Committee. Under his leadership the PNF financed several projects to help families of "martyrs", and to educate refugees, as well as funding Palestinian media organs, including a London-based Arabic daily.
However, Ghussein fell out with Arafat over the latter's lack of transparency about donations received, and over Arafat's support of Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait (Fatah had received unlimited Kuwaiti support while the movement was being set up in the 1960s). In 1983, during a visit to Baghdad, Ghussein criticised Saddam's aggression towards Iran, prompting a row with Arafat, who had received two donations of $50m each from Saddam without informing Ghussein. "Billions of dollars of Arab donations never appearing on the records of PNF", in Ghussein's words, were what led him to resign in 1996.
In April 2001, while attending a wedding in Abu Dhabi, he was kidnapped by PLO henchmen and flown to Gaza in Arafat's private jet where he was detained for several months. He was not given insulin for his diabetes, and finally pressure from the Middle East Quartet (the UN, EU, Russia and USA) forced Arafat to allow him to go to Cairo for treatment in November 2001.
Three months later, while still in Cairo undergoing treatment for cancer, Ghussein was snatched from hospital and once again taken to Gaza. A high-profile campaign by his daughter, the London socialite Mona Bauwens, led to his rescue. Ms Bauwens persuaded Palestinian doctors to defy Arafat by releasing her father's medical reports, and pressed the Palestinian leader by addressing him as "Amu" Yasser ("uncle" in Arabic). Months of covert moves by British, Jordanian, Israeli, American and Belgian secret services culminated in a section of the Palestinian security, disillusioned by Arafat's increasingly autocratic ways, being persuaded to secure Ghussein's release from Gaza to Israel in a convoy of guarded European diplomatic vehicles.
Ghussein was uncomfortable with violence and always saw armed struggle as a temporary phase. His preferred method of solving disputes was through dialogue and mutual understanding. In 1987, during afternoon tea in the garden of his Hampstead home, he and his guest Claude Morris (the journalist and writer, who died in 2000), came up with the idea of the Next Century Foundation for Peace (NCFP), an independent think-tank promoting peace and dialogue among adversaries. The NCFP hosted dialogues and meetings between Middle East opponents at a time when appearing at the same event with an Israeli journalist, let alone an official, was taboo for most Arab diplomats. The foundation was met with resistance from Arabs, but received great support from King Hussein of Jordan and the older generation of British diplomats known in the Foreign Office as the "camel corps".
Ghussein was a philanthropist and benefactor of many Palestinian causes. He personally funded the education of many Palestinians and supported many others, ensuring they had health care and hope for the future. Until his death, he remained committed to the creation of a Palestinian state through peaceful means. A gentleman of the old school, he belonged to a vanishing generation of leaders who learnt the art of politics during the fading light of the British Empire's friendship with the warriors and statesmen of Arabia.
Jaweed Yacoub Al-Ghussein, politician, philanthropist and businessman: born Gaza 18 July 1930; married 1955 Khalida Nusibeh (one son, one daughter); died London 1 July 2008.
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