Secret Arafat Diaries Allegedly Detail How PLO Leader Accepted Bribes From Berlusconi

Left-wing weekly claims that, in the diaries written until a month prior to his death, Italy and PLO had secret non-aggression pact in 1980s

A woman holding a poster of the late PLO leader Yasser Arafat during a rally marking the 13th anniversary of his death, in Gaza City, November 2017.
Khalil Hamra/AP

An Italian magazine published excerpts from the alleged secret diaries of the late Yasser Arafat on Sunday, including details of how the PLO leader accepted bribes from Italian tycoon Silvio Berlusconi in the late 1990s.

The left-wing weekly L’Espresso said the diaries were written by Arafat between 1985 and 2004, until about a month prior to his death in a Paris hospital, although their authenticity has not been confirmed.

As well as supposedly showing how Arafat accepted bribes from the former Italian prime minister to cover for him in court, the diaries also have Arafat referring to late President Shimon Peres as “a piece of nice furniture.”

The magazine says that in his diaries Arafat never admits ordering a terror attack. According to the anonymous sources quoted by L’Espresso, Arafat simply replied “Up to you” when members of the PLO asked him to green light an attack, without ever explicitly approving the action. When he heard the attack had been carried out, he reportedly smiled and said “Good, good.”

L’Espresso claims the diaries are in the hands of a “French foundation,” after having been handed to it by two Luxembourgers on the condition that they be used “for research purposes only.” Neither of the sources are named in the Italian press, and neither are details of any attempts made to certify the diaries’ authenticity. The 19 alleged volumes were all written in Arabic.

The L'Espresso story on Yasser Arafat's secret diaries.
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The timing of the alleged revelations about Berlusconi and Arafat has aroused suspicion in Italy. The next general election is due to be held on March 4 and Berlusconi’s coalition of right-wing groups is currently leading in the polls. This despite Berlusconi himself being banned from running or holding any public office due to a fraud conviction in 2013 that would make his candidacy illegal under Italian law.

Berlusconi’s lawyer and right-hand man, Niccolò Ghedini, expressed doubts about the diaries’ authenticity, saying they were being published now in an attempt to damage the right-wing coalition.

“This material has been around for a while and was never considered of real interest,” Ghedini said in a statement on Sunday. “It is not surprising that it eventually appeared on L’Espresso only days before the election.”

Ghedini also implied he had been blackmailed by the people holding the diaries. “I was offered to buy them for a rather considerable amount of money. They insisted it could be bad for Berlusconi’s electoral campaign if details from the diaries were to emerge,” he said.

According to the diary excerpts quoted by L’Espresso, Berlusconi sought Arafat’s help in the 1990s after he was accused of funneling 5 million euros ($6.2 million) to the Italian Socialist Party led by a former close ally, Bettino Craxi, between 1991 and 1992.

The funds were seen as part of a mutual-interest deal between Berlusconi and Craxi. The funds were illegal because they came from untaxed profits and because private donations to political parties must be made with full transparency.

Berlusconi said during the trial that the 5 million euros were destined for the PLO as a donation. However, according to L’Espresso, Arafat wrote in his diaries that he had never received or heard of the money when Berlusconi’s defense team made the claims in court. Baffled and intrigued at the same time, the alleged diaries say Arafat agreed to meet Berlusconi at a secret location in 1998. At the meeting, Arafat allegedly agreed to confirm the false claim that he had received the funds from Berlusconi through a Tunisian businessman. In exchange, Berlusconi allegedly paid Arafat a large amount of money whose sum is not specifically mentioned in the L’Espresso report but is contained in the alleged diaries.

The journalist who wrote the article, Lirio Abbate, is a renowned Mafia expert who also covers Italian domestic affairs. In the article, he states that he himself has not seen the actual diaries, only spoken to people who claimed to have seen them.

In other volumes, Arafat reportedly called Peres “a very good person but just a nice piece of furniture” – seemingly meaning the onetime prime minister and president was unable to accomplish much.

Arafat also allegedly wrote about his strong relationship with Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, as well as his attempts to stop Iraqi President Saddam Hussein invading Kuwait in 1990.

The alleged diaries also cover the Achille Lauro incident of 1985 – when four Palestine Liberation Front terrorists hijacked the Italian cruise ship off the coast of Egypt with hundreds of passengers onboard – and the secret deal between the PLO and the Rome government that meant no Palestinian terror attacks would take place on Italian soil after 1985.

Following negotiations involving Muhammad Zaidan (aka Abu Abbas) – the Achille Lauro attack’s alleged mastermind and an Arafat confidant – an agreement was reached whereby the four terrorists would be allowed to go free. The Americans, however, refused to accept the deal after it emerged that a wheelchair-bound American-Jewish citizen, Leon Klinghoffer, had been murdered and his body thrown overboard by the terrorists. The Americans forced the plane carrying the four terrorists, as well as mastermind Zaidan, to land in the NATO air base of Sigonella, Sicily.

The four terrorists were arrested, but the Americans insisted that Zaidan must also face trial. Eventually, however, the Italians decided to respect the purported agreement with Arafat and let Zaidan go.

The revelation contained in Arafat’s alleged diaries is that it was then-Foreign Minister Giulio Andreotti, and not then-Prime Minister Craxi as believed until now, who decided to defy the Americans for the sake of upholding the deal with Arafat. Andreotti is also believed to have negotiated a non-aggression deal with the PLO, which is also detailed in the alleged diaries.

If the diaries are authentic, they could potentially include dramatic insights from Arafat’s years as Palestinian leader. The 19 volumes, if genuine, would cover such momentous events as the Oslo Accords and the two intifadas.

However, Italian weeklies have fallen prey to fake diaries before, hence the skepticism about the L’Espresso “exclusive.” When the fake Hitler diaries emerged in the 1980s, L’Espresso rival Panorama published extracts, alongside a number of other international publications, before the diaries were revealed as bogus.