While the world’s attention was briefly focused this week on the first suicide bombing by an Islamic Jihad terrorist since the terrorist organizations declared a “ceasefire” the week before, the great hope of the Bush administration was busy resigning from his position as Yasser Arafat’s deputy.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas submitted his resignation from the Fatah Central Committee and threatened to resign as premier unless he received some backing from Arafat, his mentor for the past several decades. The Fatah committee refused to accept Abbas’s resignation, but it is clear Abbas was more interested in delivering a message about his growing frustration than in actually looking for a new career. For while Abbas is struggling to put the Palestinian house in order, Arafat is utilizing all the power he still retains to thwart him.
An ominous example of just how much power Arafat still wields came late this week, with news the master manipulator has begun to overhaul his Fatah movement in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. PA officials in Ramallah said the changes are aimed at “reorganizing” Fatah. What they mean is that Arafat is purging his home base of anyone who has begun to shift his loyalty to Abbas and his most vital appointee, State Minister for Security Muhammad Dahlan.
A key step in this Stalinist ploy was Arafat’s appointment of veteran terrorist Jibril Rajoub to be in charge of the district governors in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Since each governor is in charge of the local police – which amounts to the PA armed forces – Arafat has thus prevented Dahlan from extending Abbas’s control of security.
This does not bode well for what may happen when the ceasefire expires in another three months. The Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Branch said this week that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are exploiting the truce to rearm and reorganize, specifically to manufacture and stockpile Kassam rockets. Arafat has just set up a mechanism to block Abbas from fighting terrorism.
Arafat no longer controls the PA’s finances or peace negotiations, but he does control Fatah and the PLO. When these bodies meet, he sits back and lets members criticize Abbas – as they did last week to the point where Abbas felt himself forced to resign. The main criticism by Arafat’s loyalists: Abbas is too soft on Israel. They accuse him of accepting dictates from Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and U.S. President George W. Bush.
Perhaps the best indicator of how desperately Arafat is still fighting to exert control behind the scenes is the fact that the great power broker, Egypt, is intervening once again in an effort to resolve the crisis with Abbas. President Hosni Mubarak is sending his intelligence chief, Gen. Omar Suleiman, to the Gaza Strip this weekend to try to patch things up between Abbas and Arafat. Three months ago, Suleiman stepped in to resolve a dispute between them over the makeup of Abbas’ cabinet. Clearly, Arafat is still playing a spoiler’s role and has the power to do so.