Yasser Arafat, his wife admits, doesn't have a family life.

When he isn't traveling, the Palestinian leader often leaves for work before his 2 1/2-year-old daughter wakes up and returns after she goes to sleep, Soha Arafat said. She sometimes sends Zahwa to Arafat's office or keeps the child up past midnight to see her father, a notorious night owl.He travels so much that Zahwa - who speaks Arabic and French - says "Papa" when she sees an airplane and "Goodbye" when she sees him, her mother said.

"I try to be a mother and father to my daughter," the 34-year-old Soha Arafat, stylish in a velvet-striped black pantsuit, told The Associated Press on Sunday. "It's not easy. . . . But I chose this life. I knew it was going to be like this, and I accepted it. I'm proud of him."

In an exclusive interview with AP at the family's spacious two-story home a few blocks from the Mediterranean, Soha Arafat shared her thoughts on her marriage, Mideast politics, and trying to give her daughter a normal upbringing.

The house is filled with pictures: Arafat in fatigues, Arafat with an automatic rifle, Arafat and the Pope, Arafat and Clinton, Soha with Hillary Clinton and Tipper Gore, and baby pictures of Zahwa.

A series of black-and-white photographs on the wall behind the red-and-gold living room couch gives a rare glimpse of Arafat as a young man. In one, he is dapper in a pin-striped suit, dark hair parted at the side; in another, he has the air of a camp counselor in Bermuda shorts and a short-sleeved shirt.

Zahwa's bronzed baby shoes have a place of honor. An exercise machine, a wide-screen television and a pile of remote controls suggest the startling notion that the Arafats might be regular people when they're at home, as does the plastic slide and swingset inside the Arafat's heavily guarded front gate.

Soha Arafat said she does not see her husband, who is 68, ever retiring and dismissed persistent rumors that his health is failing.

"So what if the mouth is trembling from stress? So what? So what?" she said. Nor is Arafat depressed, despite the discouraging political situation.

"He is never depressed. He believes in destiny, and he believes so much in God. I envy him. He believes that this is his mission - he has to go on with it."

In her husband's absence, Arafat has developed a public life of her own. Touched by the line of supplicants that forms each day outside her house, she has opened institutes for sick and disabled children in the West Bank and Gaza.

"We have inherited a lot of problems, and we are not doing enough," she said. "The Palestinian Authority is not doing enough."

Her passion for making social and economic improvements stems from her pessimism about the peace with Israel, she said.