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Arafat’s illness pits wife against his aides

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi is a long-time confidant of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who now lays comatose in a French hospital. On Wednesday, Ashrawi spoke with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about the disputes Arafat’s incapacity has spawned within the Palestinian Authority.

Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi is a long-time confidante of the Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, who now lays comatose in a French hospital. On Wednesday, Ashrawi spoke with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews about the disputes Arafat’s incapacity has spawned within the Palestinian Authority. Ashrawi spoke via satellite in Ramallah on the West Bank. The full interview will appear Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET on “Hardball with Chris Matthews” on MSNBC.

CHRIS MATTHEWS, 'HARDBALL' HOST: Hanan, how do you explain to an American audience the relationship between Mrs. Arafat and the other Palestinians, what is the relationship?

HANAN ASHRAWI, PALESTINIAN LEGISLATOR: Well, Suha Arafat is a Palestinian, she is the wife of the president.


What authority does she have?

ASHRAWI: According to law she doesn’t have any political authority. Like any wife of head of state, she may engage in civil society activities and charitable activities, and even in women’s activities, but at the same time she has no political role within the Palestinian structure.

MATTHEWS: Does she have any fiduciary responsibilities for the Palestinian state? Any financial authority at all over Palestinian funds?

ASHRAWI: No, no, she doesn’t at all. I mean she probably will have an income or she has an income, the president used to supply her with a very generous income, but in terms of any type of responsibility, or rights, or powers, in relation to the Palestinian state or authority, no, she has none.

MATTHEWS: As far as you know, is she holding any money for the Palestinian people, any public money in France, in the banks over there?

ASHRAWI: I’m afraid I have no idea, I am not, and I have not intended to be involved in any financial activities, but it is clear that President Arafat never had money in his own name. He’s held money in different people’s names, different organization’s names. And now the PA money itself, the budget is in the name of the Minister of Finance, and with very clear regulatory procedures. But other funds I have no idea about and some of his financial advisors have stated clearly that he didn’t have any money registered privately in President Arafat’s name, he may have had accounts in other people’s names.

MATTHEWS: Are the Palestinian people concerned that some of the money that was coming into the Palestinian authority either from government or private organizations has found its way into banks in France or elsewhere, that only Arafat knows about that only his wife Suha knows about and may be lost by the Palestinian people?

ASHRAWI: Well, right now this is not the main concern of the Palestinian people, everybody is concerned about President Arafat’s health and everybody here is also concerned about succession and maintaining institutional and constitutional work. There will be monies who will be lost, I’m sure, but recently there has been a strong reform movement to try to make all the institutions transparent and to try to have a full proof system of accountability. So the recent funds are accounted for, but if there are private funds and private investments and so on, monies that were earlier on places in other accounts we do not know, as financial advisors, we will be looking into this.

MATTHEWS: What kind of Constitutional reforms would make that possible, would make transparency required by the Palestinian authority?

ASHRAWI: Well our constitution, the basic law, does demand transparency. We do have a three tiered system of reform now whether at the national level dealing with administrative or financial reform, or at the legislative level dealing with legal and constitutional reform, or even at civil society when we have a coalition for accountability and integrity and I am a member of all three, so there is a an active and vibrantly formed movement, the thing is we need to adhere to the existing laws, we need to respect the basic laws. Recently there was an attempt to try to change or amend the basic law and particularly on the issue of the speaker taking over for 60 days as president for the PA until we have elections. Some people started talking about the difficulty of having elections under occupation. This move has been defeated fortunately, the basic law will not be changed we will adhere to the provisions of the law we will have a transition when President Arafat passes away, and that transition will be headed by the speaker of the Legislative Council, and we need to have free and fair elections for the president, this means we need third party assistance to insure this freedom and make sure that an occupation will not interfere with or distort the results of the elections,

MATTHEWS: Do you have any hope of confidence that the prime minister of Israel, Mr. Sharon, will be helpful, to this transition?

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MATTHEWS: When Yasser Arafat passes away, are you confident that the Israelis will let the Palestinian people bury their leader in Ramallah at least temporarily?

ASHRAWI: We have had that assurance, as it stands now, there will be two sort of services. One that will be under Arab will be held in Egypt, in Cairo. The Egyptians have an announced this so that President Arafat will be lying in state, in Egypt and all of heads of states, officials, Arabs and so on will be able to see him there. He will sort of be embraced by the Arabs. Then he will be brought in and there will a lying in state at muqata just behind me at his ruined headquarters where the people, the Palestinians will be able to come and see him. We are worried that they will impose a closure so that not all the people from outside Ramallah will come because we are fragmented and we are in a state of siege, but they have agreed that they will allow him to come back, there will be a public viewing and public farewell, and he will be buried right here in the muqata but only temporarily, because ultimately and when we have final peace agreement and east Jerusalem is no longer under occupation he will be buried at the Haram Sharif, which was his only wish actually.