Tuesday, November 09, 2004

November 9, 2004

As A Godfather Dies

The death of a Godfather is a Family crisis. The scene is almost always the same. By his bed the Boss’ wife maintains a possessive deathwatch as a stubborn life struggles for one last hold on the physical world. Downstairs the Family’s veteran lieutenants and soldiers gather to discuss life after the boss. Who will step into his shoes? Who gets control of which rackets? How do they split up the booty from decades of thievery and corruption?

And what about the Boss’ wife and kids? What does she know? Can she hurt us? Should she be kept on the payroll, cut loose or – just to be safe – taken for a ride?

That’s exactly the drama playing out at a Paris hospital right now. Suha Arafat, the wife of the PLO’s long-serving chairman and Yassar’s former top lieutenants are treating the world to precisely such a macabre Kabuki dance of co-conspirators.

The stakes are high. Some estimates put Arafat’s cache of booty at near a billion dollars. Suha, who did not even bother to visit her husband for the past two years, has been living in luxury in a Paris penthouse. She had one child by Yassar – a daughter, now 9 years old. This was pre-Viagra and apparently Yassar’s last shot at producing a male heir. Having failed in that mission Suha was relegated to a simple line item in the Palestinian Authority’s budget -- a tidy $150,000 a month -- nearly $2 million a year.

But with Yassar about to take a long overdue dirt nap, the fight over his power and money is in full swing. Watching the drama play out at the Paris hospital is like viewing a foreign language episode of "Growing Up Gotti" with the gutsy Suha hitting the mattresses. She holed up in her dying husband’s hospital room making hysterical phone calls back to the old neighborhood, claiming disloyal gang members were trying to bury the Boss alive and take over the Family.

While it’s great to know the world will soon be free of this human tumor, those vying to succeed him are only a marginal improvement. Some Middle East analysts are hopeful that his passing will finally break the deadlock with Israel. Mabye. But I doubt it. That conflict is a cash cow for the PLO. Why would they want to end it?

Instead I see something familiar happening. I used to write about American mobsters, not the Al Capone variety, but the smart mobsters who abandoned the streets in favor of executive suites. They discovered violence was bad for their business rackets. So, they went “legit,” at least on paper and morphed into some white-collar criminals.

And it is that process that is about to repeat itself in Palestine. Pick any one of the men likely to replace Arafat and you find someone who has been enjoying a tidy income off Arafat’s aggressive PLA embezzlement operations. After one of them wins power he will buy the loyalty of the others, just as Arafat had bought his. After that we wil hear less colorful saber-rattling from the new PLO, as it appears to go “legit” so as to attract more international funds for the PLA. The U.N. and Europeans are perennial suckers for pitches to help poor Palestinians, so they will gladly cough up hundreds of millions of dollars more.

And at the new PLO, the good life will roll on.

Those will be the winners. The losers, as always, will be the Palestinian people who are not unlike snookered fundamentalist Christian voters in America. Their leadership keeps promising them things they have no power or intention of providing. Their leaders never come through, but the hopeful/foolish always take the bait. It reminds me of Charlie Brown always falling for Lucy’s pledge that this time she won't pull the football away before he kicks it. She always did and he always believed she wouldn’t. It’s a flat learning curve.

In the case of the Palestinians their corrupt leaders keep them compliant by leading them to believe they can force unrealistic concessions from Israel. That keeps them on the hook. Meanwhile the PLA continues as little more than a Hollywood prop of a government. Look behind the facade and there's nothing there. Stealing is a whole lot easier than governing, and more lucrative too.

So, once Arafat is really dead, expect only a shuffling of the deck at the PLO. The fat hog will be gone and the lean-hogs-in-waiting will step up for their turn at the trough.

And what of our little Palestinian princess Suha? I would suggest that, since she is clearly in possession of embezzled international funds, French authorities slap the cuffs on her the next time she leaves the Boss’ bedside to go to the ladies room.

And please, take away her pre-paid calling card while you’re at it.

Knuckle-dragger Watch
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Quote of the Day

"A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to its true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt.... If the game runs sometimes against us, at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake."

--Thomas Jefferson, 1798, after the passage of the Sedition Act

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