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April 26, 2003

DEBKA: and the winner is....Arafat

Real Arafat- Abu Mazen Power Struggle Is Just Beginning – Terror Will Go on

Only one man is smiling in the group photo of Yasser Arafat, incoming Palestinian reform prime minister Mahmoud Abbas and Egyptian intelligence chief Osman Suleiman, who brokered an accord on the makeup of the new government. That man is Arafat. The rest were grim.

In the current round of the Ramallah power struggle, Abu Mazen with massive international backing may have forced Arafat to accept former Gazan security chief Mohammed Dahlan as internal security minister, but in the process he has fallen back on home ground and Arafat has come up smiling. Uneasy over Dahlan’s empowerment, the Fatah leadership and Palestinian institutions which first granted majority backing to Abu Mazen’s premiership has reverted to support of Arafat. This gives him the power to have every policy decision by the first Palestinian prime minister (who also holds interior) and his internal security minister overturned by a majority vote. Palestinians sources told DEBKAfile that next week, when Abu Mazen puts his cabinet to the vote at the Palestinian Legislative Council, pro-Arafat lawmakers may prove this point by forcing separate votes of confidence for every minister and rejecting them all one by one, thus stripping Abu Mazen of his cabinet.

To further limit Abu Mazen’s powers, Arafat sold his last-minute concession in exchange for an Egyptian guarantee of his personal authority as Palestinian president. Since he views the presidency as an executive function on the French model, he will not only curtail the new prime minister’s powers but, when the time is right – say, in a couple of months - sack him together with Dahlan. That threat will hang constantly over both their heads.

A binding though unwritten Palestinian law is the West Bank’s traditional refusal to accept a Gazan in authority. This goes for all the local factions, including the Fatah of which Arafat and Abu Mazen are founding fathers. West Bankers are further upset by discovering Dahlan’s plan to appoint his henchman Bashir Nafa to head the resuscitated Palestinian preventive security services (set up under the 1993 Oslo accords and non-functioning since Arafat launched his “Intifada”). West Bankers say that he is not only unqualified for the job and a Gazan but also a “shady” character.

In any case, it is inconceivable that terrorist bodies subject to Arafat, the Tanzim, the al Aqsa Martyrs (Suicides) Brigades and Palestinian intelligence, will defer to the authority of Abu Mazen, Dahlan and their government. The Hamas, Jihad Islami and Damascus-based terrorist organizations will certainly have no time for the “reformists”.

It is therefore hard to understand the rejoicing in so many places over the Arafat-Abu Mazen “accord”, especially in Europe. France appears to be consoling itself for being confronted with payback time by Washington for opposing America’s Iraq War. Israeli circles closely aligned with the European Union echo their pleasure. Egypt, increasingly pushed to the sidelines of inter-Arab politics in the past year, can boast of the compromise pulled off by its intelligence chief, although Omar Suleiman does not have enough fingers to count the number of times he has been two-timed by Arafat.

The timing too is in Arafat’s favor. He will win the approval of the Palestinian street by standing against a Palestinian government headed by a man tipped by the “conquerors of Iraq”.

While most accounts separate the jockeying for top Palestinian position from the relentless Palestinian campaign of terror against Israelis, it is worth mentioning that both emanate from the same address: Arafat’s government compound in Ramallah. This campaign, often running to 50-60 alerts per day, ties Israeli military forces down in constant counter-terror operations in Palestinian areas and keeps security forces on high alert month after month. But, whenever peacemakers come on the scene, the two manifestations are removed to separate spheres. This device often fostered the illusion of approaching peace in the past, such as the 2000 negotiations at the Camp David and 2001 Taba talks, both of which attempted to engage Arafat and both signaled fresh spirals of Palestinian mass murder.

This time too, DEBKAfile’s counter-terror sources reveal that while engaged in his one-upmanship game with Abu Mazen, Arafat sent a generous sum of money to the Nablus Al Aqsa Suicide Brigades branch with instructions to step up their suicide campaign inside Israel, either directly or through the suicide killers available from the Hamas and Jihad Islami.

Those sources have heard of new plan hatched in Ramallah for the approaching summer: to send boats loaded with explosives zooming out of the sea to explode among the bathers crowding Israel’s Mediterranean beaches. It is therefore clear that even if the Palestinian institutions confirm Abu Mazen next week as first Palestinian prime minister with Dahlan as his minister of internal security, the hopes pinned in their power to curb terror, purge corruption and institute authentic reforms in the Palestinian administration are pipedreams. Once Abu Mazen is installed and the road map to Palestinian statehood three years hence is released, President Arafat in his capacity of Palestinian President will carry on exactly as he has the last four decades. He has no intention of abandoning the wholesale confrontation he launched in September and neither Abu Mazen nor Mohammed Dahlan will have the power to stop him.