Palestinian Shakeup: Jibril’s Star Rises as Abbas Fades

Washington’s stern warning to Yasser Arafat to beware of toppling Mahmoud Abbas’ government at the Palestinian legislative council worked surprisingly well. The council session – called by Abbas himself to report on his first 100 days in office – was put back five days from Monday, September 1, to Thursday. The scheduled confidence vote was then cancelled in the nick of time to save Abbas. Arafat had worked the phone and managed to raise a majority for voting him down. The formal US Note delivered Thursday, August 28, by the American consul-general in Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority, the first since the body was established in 1994, stressed that if Abbas is ousted, the United State will withdraw its support for the road map and a Palestinian state, a process already stalled by the steady escalation in Palestinian violence over the past few weeks.
Arafat’s subversion campaign against Abbas aka Abu Mazen and his internal security minister Mohamed Dahlan, is clearly too far advanced to reverse. His denial of the forces needed to strike down terrorist structures has tied the two hand and foot. Now Arafat has placed a massive roadblock in their path in the burly form of Jibril Rajoub, who has been equipped with powers that duplicate Dahlan’s, namely National Security Adviser to the head of the Palestinian Authority (Arafat).
The man whom Arafat sacked as chief of West Bank preventive security in April 2002 is thus restored to favor. In order to undercut the Abbas administration, Rajoub has been granted a free hand to pick his deputies and handed a supply of ready cash. This means he can reactivate his old following, which numbered up to 20,000 men when Rajoub was at the peak of his power, and build up his support on the West Bank. He will also represent Arafat as top man on the new National Palestinian Security Council on which all the Palestinian security and intelligence chiefs will be given seats.
Rajoub and Dahlan, old adversaries, will thus jostle each other for the same terrain, both promising to consolidate Palestinian security branches under one authority, though not the same one.
Brigadier General Rajoub emerged as a local luminary of Young Fatah on the West Bank in the 1970s and 1980s when Arafat and his clique were still exiled in Tunis. He acquired a fluent command of Hebrew in the years he spent in an Israeli prison for associating with terrorists.
The 1993 Oslo Peace Framework Accords made him chief of preventive security and effective West Bank strongman; his opposite number in the Gaza Strip was Mohammed Dahlan. Unlike Dahlan, Rajoub was one of the few Fatah leaders who kept his own and his preventive force’s hands clean of terrorism – or so it was generally believed. An independent operator at times, he was brutal in repressing the extremist Hamas and Jihad Islami groups – not to rein in violence against Israel but to prevent them moving in on Palestinian political institutions. Rajoub was close to such Palestinian moderates as Seri Nusseibeh and Mahmud Abbas providing them with muscle. At the same time, in the mid-90s, he cultivated close ties with the firebrand West Bank Tanzim chief Marwan Barghouti, now facing trial before an Israeli court charged with complicity in the terrorist murders of 23 Israelis.
His career was roughly halted at the height of the most extensive campaign Israel launched against Palestinian terrorist strongholds on the West Bank in April 2002. IDF forces razed his command center in Betunya, a suburb of Ramallah, after discovering he was concealing wanted terrorists including Hamas operatives in his basement. He managed to escape the shell of his headquarters but left the fugitives behind, only to be accused of betrayal by Arafat and Hamas. Arafat booted him out as security chief and his units scattered. But meanwhile, Israeli forces who raided Tanzim command offices in Ramallah found documents implicating Rajoub in aiding and abetting the terrorists. This discovery marred the good relations he had built up with American and Israeli officials without repairing his standing with the Palestinians.
He is therefore doubly grateful to Arafat for his comeback and has gone to work with a will. While Abbas and Dahlan have got exactly nowhere in dismantling or disarming terrorists, Jibril has in a few days managed to win back most of the West Bank Fatah and Tanzim members who deserted Arafat and went over to the Abbas camp.
The Hamas, whose leaders have gone underground to escape targeted Israeli attacks, are now willing to heal their old feud with Jibril in his new guise and join forces. Jibril has thus appropriated Abbas’s option of bidding for Hamas consent to another ceasefire arrangement. Arafat’s reply to Washington’s boycott of himself is to offer a representative who is not directly tainted by terrorism as their Palestinian interlocutor.
Faced with this sort of humiliation, a steady flow of defectors heading for Jibril’s factions and no letup in terrorist violence, Mahmoud Abbas’s influence is fading. He has never really stood up to Arafat, any more than the other high-profile Palestinian leaders and has now been maneuvered into a corner with diminishing resources for making the Aqaba program come true. Arafat does not need the legislature to vote Abbas out office. He can afford to bend to the warning from the Bush administration after demonstrating that he is the real power in the Palestinian Authority. Legislative council member Mohammed Khorani, in search of some middle ground, recently proposed confirming the Rajoub appointment while assigning equal seats on the National Security Council to the adherents of Arafat and Abu Mazen.
This “compromise”, if accepted, will deprive Abu Mazen and Dahlan of majority endorsement for their policies. Arafat, the terrorist commanders he harbors in his Ramallah quarters and the Hamas have no need of majority approval to carry out their campaigns. They go forward on the West Bank and Gaza Strip without a by-your-leave from any Palestinian authority but that of its single ruler.
Despite the Israeli air blockade over the Gaza Strip, the Hamas have succeeded in launching their extended-range Qassam missiles. One reached the Israeli town of Ashkelon for the first time last week. Any Hamas activist showing his face risks being targeted by Israeli helicopter gunship rockets. In ten days, five of these airborne rocket attacks took place.
At the same time, Israeli civilians of all ages and walks of life are targeted singly by Palestinian gunmen in both territories. Friday, August 29, Shalom Har-Melekh, 25, from Homesh, died protecting his pregnant wife Limor from Palestinians shooting into their car at Alon Junction east of Ramallah. She was later delivered of a premature baby girl.
Sunday, August 30, two Israelis were hurt in separate attacks by Palestinian gunmen: a sniper poised atop a building in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah shot an Israeli truck driver; from Qalqilya on the West Bank, shots rang out against a work crew on the security fence.
There is no end in sight from any quarter to the terrorist war of attrition waged against Israelis collectively and individually while the Palestinians’ prospects of a state own recede with every additional day of violence.

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