Tel Aviv Carmel Bombing Tells Abu Mazen: Moderates Stand Aside
Although Yasser Arafat’s French physicians at the Percy military hospital near Paris have yet to come up with a definitive diagnosis of his condition, the Palestinian succession struggle has begun. The warring factions are acting on the assumption that he will not return to Ramallah and are fighting to fill the power vacuum. This premise is shared by Israel.
The Carmel street market bombing Monday, November 1, claimed by the ultra-violent Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestinian, is seen by debkafile‘s Palestinian experts as an opening shot in the contest. The camp supporting Arafat sought to demonstrate that no leader as soft on Arafat’s war of terror against Israel as is former Palestinian prime minister Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) would be allowed to step into the ailing leader’s shoes. By striking in the heart of Tel Aviv for the first time in a year, the terror chiefs also left no doubt that while they might exercise a measure of restraint in the battle for the Palestinian succession, there would be no letup in their campaign of violence against Israel.
The blast which killed four Israelis and injured more than 30 must also have echoed in the ears of US secretary of state Colin Powell a day after he urged Abbas to get moving and assert control of the Palestinian Authority. Abu Mazen was already in receipt of a flood of threats from the absent leader’s supporters, who showered the West Bank with leaflets vilifying him and accusing his son, Yasser Abbas, of corruption. The writers asked: “Would you want the man who raised this son to lead and educate the rising Palestinian generation?”
As part of their campaign to prevent Abu Mazen’s takeover, the ailing leader’s close advisers, from the base they established in Paris, pumped out optimistic reports suggesting he was on the road to a miraculous recovery. This group is led by Arafat’s close aide Nabil Abu Rodeina, his financial adviser Mohammed Rashid and his wife, Suha Arafat. They described him Sunday as spending a whole hour reading the Koran, talking on the phone to President Mubarak and ordering finance minister Salim Fayyad to pay out October paychecks to Palestinian Authority personnel and security officers.
It is common knowledge that the PA’s coffers are empty.
Abu Mazen is struggling to overcome these obstacles. He wants to go to Paris and has proposed that if Arafat is doing so well, he should be there to see him in person and collect instructions on the management of Palestinian affairs during his absence. He also hopes to judge Arafat’s condition for himself without the filter laid down by his hangers-on in Paris. So far he has not received permission for a bedside visit. If he does go, he will need to break through the cordon blocking unsupervised access to the Palestinian leader. These doorkeepers will have to come up with an convincing excuse to keep him out.
Abu Mazen may be trying to call his enemies’ bluff so as to break out of his rivals’ campaign of intimidation. It would be an extreme step for the mild official who served Arafat as PLO deputy for decades with scarcely a murmur. He will not take any incautious steps, particularly after the Tel Aviv bombing, for fear of bringing down on himself a swarm of Palestinian terrorist chiefs. To be on the safe side, he sent messengers to al Jazeera Arabic TV with an urgent request to desist from calling him in their bulletins “Acting Chairman of the Palestinian Authority.”
His former willingness to engage in diplomatic talks with Israel under Washington’s aegis after the Aqaba June 2003 summit discredited him in their eyes for good.
The incumbent Palestinian prime minister Ahmed Qureia (Abu Ala) is carefully avoiding the fray. When Arafat fell seriously ill, he willingly joined Abbas in attempting to take charge of Palestinian affairs. But when he saw the opposition led by Arafat’s heavies polishing long knives, he stood aside to wait and see who came out on top before committing himself finally to an alliance with Abu Mazen.