Scandals, Assassination Plan Rock Palestinian Authority

RAMALLAH — The Palestinian Authority (PA) in Ramallah is fighting a tidal wave of fresh allegations, including sexual harassment, an internal power struggle and embezzlement.

But the arrest of a cell of Fatah members, including officials working for the PA’s security forces, by their PA colleagues on the grounds that they planned to assassinate members of the PA leadership has sent shock waves through this central West Bank city. 

Security around the PA government headquarters in Ramallah, the Muqata, has been tighter than usual over the last few days. 

IPS saw additional members of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ prestigious presidential guard taking up sniper positions on the walls surrounding the presidential compound 

A high-ranking police officer, and former commander, Mujahed Nimer was arrested in his home near the Qalandia refugee camp, north of Jerusalem, several days ago on suspicion that he headed the Fatah cell which was allegedly planning the assassinations. 

Palestinian security forces arrested four other suspected members of the cell over the last two-weeks. 

Previously the PA has only had to worry about assassination attempts from its bitter rivals in Hamas which controls the Gaza Strip. 

The arrests of the four Fatah members followed the stabbing death of an Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldier by another high-ranking Palestinian police officer near the northern West Bank city of Nablus last week. 

Muhammad Khatib, the head of bureau of the Ramallah police chief’s office, was dressed in civilian clothing as he waited for an Israeli military target to attack near an Israeli settlement. 

A number of Israeli settlers in close vicinity were ignored by Khatib until a jeep with an open window stopped nearby. An Israeli officer was stabbed several times in the chest and died as he tried to escape. 

Khatib was overpowered and arrested by Israeli security and is currently being interrogated. 

PA prime minister Salaam Fayyad condemned the attack on the IDF officer and apologized profusely to the Israelis saying he would prevent future such attacks occurring. 

The PA is concerned, and justifiably so, that its tenuous hold on power and prestige in the West Bank could be reversed by Israel in the event of more attacks on Israelis in the territory. 

Meanwhile, in a separate but possibly related development Israeli forces detained the head of the Palestinian Authority’s preventative security services in Jerusalem Muhammad As-Sayyad on Monday. 

The fact that these appeared to be planned and calculated attacks carried out by individuals in positions of power, unlike previous attacks which have often been acts of desperation perpetrated by poor refugees with little hope for the future, is significant. 

Analysts are debating the motives behind the sudden upsurge in attacks by individual Palestinian security men, with apparently a lot to lose, on Israeli and Palestinians targets. 

Some argue it is a power struggle within the PA as different vested groups with differing goals jockey for power. But others have stated that this is but one motive amongst many as growing dissatisfaction within the PA’s ranks piques. 

The Fatah-affiliated Al Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades released a statement shortly after the killing of the IDF officer confirming revenge as a motive. The group further warned of more serious attacks to come in revenge for IDF assassinations of its men. 

An IPS source from the Brigades added that the rank and file within his military organization were sick and tired of the PA’s ineptitude, cronyism and corruption. 

"Something is going to explode and soon. The autocratic PA has achieved nothing for the Palestinian people through peace negotiations with Israel other than lining the pockets of the PA puppets and tightening their grip on power," the source told IPS. 

In a parallel development, the attempt by a senior PA official to seek sexual favors from a young prospective female employee is just proof for many Palestinians of more of the same when it comes to the West Bank leadership. 

A video on Israeli TV allegedly showing the chief of staff to President Abbas, Rafiq Husseini’s, sexually predatory behavior in a local hotel caused the president to dismiss him and call for an investigation. 

Husseini responded with the customary rhetoric of regional officials caught with their hands in the cookie jar and claimed the allegations were "false, a conspiracy. I was framed." 

The story, however, becomes more convoluted when the man responsible for giving the Israelis the video, former Palestinian intelligence official Fahmi Shabaneh, was allegedly dismissed by the PA on allegations he was involved in illegal land sales to Israeli officials. 

Furthermore, the team which will investigate the sexual bribery allegations, comprises an individual whom Shabaneh further accuses of embezzling more than two million US dollars in international aid provided to the PA. 

Academic Samir Awad from Birzeit University near Ramallah says that the PA’s credibility has reached a historic low. 

"Although not much appears different on the surface, seismic changes are taking place underground. The recent scandals are not in themselves important but the timing of the exposures is of the essence. They are symptomatic of a much larger problem and how immoral the PA has become," Awad told IPS. 

"The combination of a stalled peace process, increased Israeli military raids, delays at checkpoints and a self-serving Palestinian leadership is forcing individual Fatah members to take the law into their own hands. All options are now on the table."

(Inter Press Service)

Author: Mel Frykberg

Mel Frykberg writes for Inter Press Service.