The Trendy New Center of Palestinian Intrigue

Suddenly, in recent weeks, Amman has been filling up with Palestinian politicians from Ramallah. Watchers of the Palestinian scene and the unrest against Yasser Arafat staged by an assortment of rivals found themselves heading for the Jordanian capital instead of Ramallah to pick up the latest twists and turns of the story. A senior Palestinian confided to DEBKA-Net-Weekly: “All those reconciliations and dramas you see televised in Ramallah were all in fact cooked up in Amman.”

The current Palestinian leaders’ memories have been wiped clean of the images of Black September 33 years ago, when Jordanian forces were ordered by King Abdullah‘s father Hussein to smash Arafat’s revolt against the crown and toss him out on his ear with his men. The only absentee was Mahmoud Abbas aka Abu Mazen, the first Palestinian prime minister forced on Arafat. He stayed in Ramallah hoping that Ahmed Qureia would hold to his resignation and give Abbas a second chance at the job.

The fact that none of the media, foreign or regional, noticed where the Palestinian notables were heading enabled them to meet off the record, swap notes, strike deals, and return to Ramallah with no one the wiser.

Another feature not seen for years was the participation of Jordanian Palestinian leaders in the secret conclaves, often running around as mediators among the feuding factions.

King Abdullah is quoted as confessing to being taken by surprise by the Palestinian get-togethers in his capital. He was far from sure that he wanted to see a nest of Palestinian conspirators continuing to perch under the palace windows. He most certainly objected to Jordanian Palestinians getting involved in the skulduggery of their brothers west of the Jordan River.

At the same time, the king could not conceal his satisfaction that, after Jerusalem and Cairo tried and failed to take a hand in shaping Palestinian affairs, Amman ended up as the real center of events. Free of the oppressive presence of Arafat and away from Ramallah, Palestinian officials were able to agree on two key points:

  1. In view of the weakness of the Qureia government, which is riddled anyway with Arafat’s pawns, the Chairman must be bent to the will of the Palestinian legislative council rather than the government.

  2. Arafat must be forced to ratify bills of reform approved by the council on May, 2002, and held in abeyance for lack of his signature.

Those bills are important because they spell out the conditions of service for officers in the Palestinian security and intelligence services. Officers are barred from party membership, meaning Arafat’s Fatah and all its branches. Another draft limits an officer’s term of duty to four years. Therefore, the moment Arafat signs these drafts into law, every single officer serving in the security services will be disqualified on either of the two counts, or both – a neat and elegant way of removing the services from Arafat’s control.

Will he sign? For the first time he faced a battery of all the Palestinian leaders united against him in a determined front when they returned to Ramallah this week. Instead of standing against them, he agreed to sign if they promised to continue to honor him as the father of the Palestinian nation. His consent is there but, up until this moment, no signature.

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