Captain Moonlight: But all that was before Palestine became fashionable

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The Independent Online
MONA AL-GHUSSEIN is sitting in her Palestine Room pondering ironies. The room, near Hyde Park, is decorated in her lost country's colours (black sofas, red cushions, green plants). A year ago Mona's Palestinian connections proved fatal to the desperately faltering career of David Mellor, the then Minister for Fun. Now, as she notes, not unwryly, Palestinian connections are 'most fashionable'. Next month, Yasser Arafat, late of the White House Lawn, arrives to be feted on his first visit to Britain. Mona, much mocked and mauled by the press for her part in the Mellor affair, is likely to be in Mr Arafat's party, helping with his media relations. Let us hope David Mellor is smiling, too.

Mona was better known as Mona Bauwens, then, after the first of her two former husbands, a Belgian. She is the daughter of Jaweed al- Ghussein, chairman of the Palestine National Fund, the bursary and exchequer of the PLO. Educated in Britain, she set up here in theatre and film production. She met David Mellor at a Palestinian charity dinner and subsequently invited him and his family on holiday. The People newspaper was outraged that a government minister should consort with such a Palestinian person. Mona, equally outraged, sued.

The case came to court soon after vivid revelations about some of Mr Mellor's other leisure pursuits. George Carman, QC, went to work. Mona's blonde looks did not go in her favour. Mr Carman was particularly interested in whether she had taken tea with Mr Mellor, not so much with her work for Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation. It emerged that she had paid for the Mellor holiday. Mr Mellor was dished. The jury couldn't decide if Mona had been libelled; the matter was later settled, with an apology.

But that was then. Now Mona doesn't want to talk about it. She wants to talk about Palestine. In the matter of the peace accord, she is, she says, a pragmatist. Insistence on ideals, demands for the return of more land, are 'easy for those outside the occupied territories and the refugee camps, easy for those with passports'.

Her concern now is for aid, not ideals. Arafat's visit, she says, will 'stress that we need economic aid immediately, because without it, we are finished. It is the economic factor that will make the peace a success or a failure. We need massive funds to put an infrastructure in immediately because if it doesn't happen the cynical extremists will ridicule the peace. They will turn round and say, 'What have you achieved? The people are still living in poverty, and for what?' '

Mona is not without her own cynicism. She sees the accord as a triumph for the new geopolitical reality rather than any new-born impulse for peace. Listening to this cogency and fluency, you wonder how on earth such a clued-up woman ever let herself in for George Carman, QC; particularly when there was all that ammunition lying round: her penchant for publicity, her links, for example, with the celebrity fixer Liz Brewer.

Well, she says, she had been 'nave'. 'I was under the illusion that you had rights in England if you were not part of the Establishment and didn't have influence. Because if you don't, you haven't a chance in hell. And I'm not just talking about a libel action, I'm talking about any kind of action.'

As for Liz Brewer, she was her friend, and she didn't give up friends. As for publicity, 'let's just accept I like publicity,' she says, posing attentively for photographs, 'but I'm not insane enough to want negative publicity.' Or publicity without a purpose.

Her father and mother joined us. Mr al-Ghussein, just back from Tunis, was optimistic, if careful. He, too, talked of the need for a new Marshall plan for the Palestinians, but was less ready than his daughter to condemn a lack of British enthusiasm. They talked of the inevitability of Western rapprochement with Iraq, of Western speculators buying up Iraqi debts.

Mr al-Ghussein, a deeply tailored man, told of the horror in Tripoli when he turned up as the PLO representative for a meeting with Colonel Gaddafi wearing a tie. Everybody laughed at the ironies.

(Photograph omitted)