About once a decade, Yasir Arafat's loot is counted. I myself made a preliminary totting up of the PLO's assets in 1983 in "How Important is the PLO?" where I quoted Time magazine to the effect that the PLO is "probably the richest, best-financed revolutionary-terrorist organization in history." I did a more thorough accounting in a 1991 article titled "PLO, Inc.," where I quoted a Jordanian official to the effect that, "The PLO isn't a revolution. It's a corporation."
The topic has come up again, and again the amounts being attributed to Arafat are in the billions of dollars. CBS's "60 Minutes" finds that "U.S. officials estimate Arafat's personal nest egg at between $1 billion and $3 billion." Question: Will we still be assessing Arafat's fortune in 2013? (November 9, 2003)
Dec. 22, 2004 update: Answer: No, we won't, for Arafat died in November 2004. One consequence of his demise are the first facts coming out about his fortune, starting with a highly informative article today by Vernon Silver, "Arafat's Investments Included Dotcoms, New York Bowling Alley," in Bloomberg news. It asserts that Arafat had US$799 million in investments and that it mostly came from Palestinian Authority tax money that he and his main aide collected from the Israelis and did not turn over to the PA. One wonders how much more the coming months will reveal.
Dec. 30, 2004 update: Bloomberg continues its reportorial prowess on this issue with another article by Vernon Silver, indicating that Citibank Account #7/306579/007 belonged to Yasir Arafat in the guise of his wholly-owned subsidiary, "Palestine Commercial Services." As of Jan. 1, 2003, it was worth $6.8 million. Citigroup appears to be in denial; Leah Johnson, a spokeswoman, flat out asserts that "Citigroup does not have any accounts for Yasser Arafat, and we never have."
Nov. 8, 2006 update: Two years after Arafat's death, his fortune continues to raise questions. Joseph Braude takes up the topic in "Gaza Stripped: Whatever happened to Arafat's billions?" and traces the "international scavenger hunt [that] continues for the revolutionary leader's far-flung riches." It's a sleazy story.
Dec. 20, 2006 update: Asharq al-Awsat devotes nearly 3,000 words (in English) to an analysis by Munir Abu Rizq of "The Secret World of Arafat." It provides a profusely detailed account of Arafat's strange and unique system of keeping special blue notebooks, measuring 10 cm by 15 cm and containing no more than 40 pages, squirreled away in pockets, envelopes, and strongboxes to keep himself informed. In convoluted English, one sentence suggests it will be a long time until their contents is made known, as these have the potential to be too explosive:
The agreement of those close to the late President Yasser Arafat on the importance and seriousness of the contents of Abu Ammar's writings is apparently what prevents his successor, President Mahmoud Abbas, from issuing a decision to reveal the content of these notebooks, particularly as the latter inherited an Arafat-tailored political system that is unlike any other political system in the world and which is furthermore difficult for the new president to run, therefore, he needs no other issues that may explode.
July 24, 2014 update: With Arafat gone nearly a decade and his PLO in probably terminal decline, it's time to "Meet the Hamas billionaires," as an article in the Israeli business publication Globes puts it. Relying on the work of Moshe Elad of the Western Galilee Academic College (and previously in the government), it estimates that Ismail Haniyeh is worth about $4 million, Khaled Mashaal $2.6 billion, and Musa Abu Marzook US$2-3 billion. Also, there are reputedly at least 600 millionaires living in Gaza.