At 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 29, a westbound luxury automobile from the Hashemite Kingdom crossed the Allenby Bridge border gateway to Israel and the West Bank. Abu Maher Ghneim, head of the Palestinian Liberation Organization's organization department, climbed out, so ending decades of voluntary exile in Tunis. He was one of Yasser Arafat's closest cronies until 1993, when he set his face against the Oslo peace framework accords with Israel which he called “a betrayal of the Palestinian people.”
He and a large group of fellow Fatah rejectionists swore never to set foot on land under Israeli rule.
He has not changed his opinions.
Abu Ghneim's first words on arriving on the West Bank were the renewal of his pledge “to continue the struggle until victory and every grain of Palestinian is liberated under the Palestinian flag.”
The substance of this pledge is contained in the rival Palestinian Hamas' charter, chapter 7.
As debkafile reported Monday, July 27, his arrival was facilitated by Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu in response to urgent appeals from Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, US Middle East envoy George Mitchell and even Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas, who has boycotted the Israeli prime minister since he took office.
They explained that Ghneim, 71, was the only figure with the clout for ensuring that the Fatah general convention takes place in Bethlehem on its appointed date, August 4, and buttressing Abbas' Fatah movement against collapse in the face of the rival Islamist Hamas' encroaching takeover of the West Bank in addition to the Gaza Strip.
Abbas had therefore summoned the PLO veteran to assume the Number Two position in the Fatah leadership and be crowned as his successor.
Unknown interlopers threaten takeover
The fall of the PA chairman, they warned, would spell the demise of president Barack Obama's Middle East plan and the prospect of Palestinian negotiations with Israel. Rather than shouldering responsibility for this string of calamities, Mitchell and Netanyahu agreed that Ghneim be allowed to enter the West Bank.
For decades, the new arrival served the PLO as director of human and financial resources for all the secular Palestinian terrorist organization. He worked out of the base set up in Tunis after the PLO's expulsion from Lebanon in 1982. All those years, he has preached “muwakama” – armed resistance to Israel, including suicide tactics.
Is Mahmoud Abbas' trust in him as a lifesaver and mainstay justified?
DEBKA-Net-Weekly Middle East sources strongly doubt it is for four reasons:
1. The teams preparing the Fatah's Sixth General Convention, the first in 25 years, report a chaotic nightmare. Bethlehem was chosen as venue after no Arab country agreed to play host to the event. With less than a week to go before the opening ceremony, no one can tell how many delegates need to be seated and no member of the Fatah leadership even knows all their identities or whom they represent.
The numbers range from 1,550 to 1,780.
2. The lists of candidates slated for election to the movement's institutions keep on growing: More than 300 are standing for 15 spots on the Central Committee and 600 hopefuls are contesting the 88 seats of the Fatah Revolutionary Council.
Abbas may well see his supporters losing their seats and control of the convention and movement as a whole to unknown interlopers. He imported Ghneim in the hope that as the Fatah organization's moneybags he knows which factions have received disbursements and can be controlled and will use this knowledge to bring some order to the convention.
Abbas' new lieutenant boasts same anti-engagement views as Hamas
3. Even if he succeeds in keeping the Bethlehem conference in line, his credentials for acting as Abbas' lieutenant and heir apparent are problematic.
Ghneim belongs to the Fatah old guard which has controlled the movement for 40 years from the days of Arafat. His appointment would block generational mobility and keep all the key positions of influence in the hands of the founding elite.
The middle generation of Palestinian leaders would be condemned to waiting on the sidelines that much longer. They include men already in their sixties, such as Muhammad Dahlan, Kadura Fares, Yasser Abd Rabo, Hikam Bilawi, Tawfiq Tirawi.
Ghneim is therefore not the man to regenerate the sclerotic Fatah movement.
4. The new arrival owes much of his popularity on the West Bank to his radical anti-Israel views. He is also esteemed for his reputation as Mr. Clean, one of the few Palestinian leaders not compromised by financial corruption. However, Abbas has not asked him to change or modify his extreme opinions or rhetoric against negotiations with Israel as a condition for his appointment.
Those opinions, our Middle East sources point out, would bring Ghneim closer to accord with Hamas than the peace track with Israel advocated by Mubarak, Mitchell and Netanyahu.
Either way, President Obama's plan to further Israeli-Palestinian negotiations has suffered another blow from Abu Maher Ghneim's arrival on the West Bank, engineered as a desperate ploy to save Abu Mazen and his Fatah regime in Ramallah.