It has just been announced in Ramallah that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) has apparently suspended (not fired) his Chef de Cabinet Rafiq Husseini, and established an investigation committee headed by the Fatah No. 2, Abu Maher Ghneim, in the wake of the all-too-public release of a “sex + corruption” videotape featuring Husseini. (Azzam al-Ahmad is a second member … Rafiq an-Natshe is the third.)

UPDATE: Husseini apparently intends to hold a press conference at 7:30 pm Sunday evening at the Palestinian Red Crescent building …

UPDATE TWO: Despite the interest, this press conference does not appear to be on television — it is neither on Al-Jazeera mubashir (live), which is running only program announcements, or on Palestinian television, which is doing a lottery-style program …

UPDATE THREE: Husseini told journalists that the videotape shown on Israel’s Channel 10 television — “Israel’s“, he stressed — was dubbed and falsified (i.e., he is claiming that he did not say bad things about Yasser Arafat, President Abbas, or Abbas’ two sons.  He made a short statement, with his voice betraying anger, and then did not answer any questions.) He said that the episode shown in the videotape happened a year and a half ago. And he said he would cooperate with the investigation committee set up by President Abbas

UPDATE FOUR: Palestinian TV played it straight.  The top story was the presidential decision to suspend Husseini and establish an investigation committee, then Husseini’s brief, angry, statement to journalists was aired in its entirety.

UPDATE FIVE: Al-Jazeera TV did it’s first report on the matter tonight. It showed a brief excerpt from the Husseini remarks to the press. Then an anchor in Doha quizzed first Palestinian presidential aide Nimr Hammad in Ramallah, then the disgruntled Palestinian security agent who had also been shown on the videotape, Fahmi Shabaneh, was interviewed from his home in East Jerusalem. There was a brief mention of the role of Shabaneh’s former boss, Tawfik Tirawi who was moved to another job (supervision of the Palestinian Police Academy in Jericho) after the videotape entrapment, but who was subsequently elected to the powerful Fatah Central Committee at elections last August in Bethlehem. None of the Al-Jazeera correspondents in the West Bank were put on the story, and bureau chief Walid Omary instead did a report focussing on Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu from West Jerusalem.

UPDATE SIX: AP reported that “Husseini told a news conference that he was the victim of a conspiracy aimed at deterring him from fighting for Palestinian rights in Jerusalem … ‘I was ambushed by a gang that works for Israeli intelligence’, Husseini said. “This gang used the tape to blackmail me financially and politically, which means that I (should) abandon my work in Jerusalem and leave the homeland. I did not submit to it’.” This AP report can be read in full here.

It’s too bad that Husseini himself did not resign, and apologize. But, like many others, he seemed to think that he might not have done anything wrong…

And, it took Abbas too long. The incident that the Israeli media began to expose at the end of January, with a crescendo of articles and TV reports including very embarassing videotape footage of Husseini sitting (like King Farouk, according to my friend Mohammad) on a sofa in a living room having a bizarre discussion with two women (one of them either his secretary or a secretary working in another office in the Palestinian Presidential headquarters in Ramallah’s Muqata’a), and then in a bedroom (perhaps not in the same place at the same day or time, but still absolutely embarassing) getting completely undressed, rolling into bed, between the covers, and calling out to a woman who remained offscreen (because she was aware that it this episode was being filmed by Palestinian security officials…).

It seems that Husseini was not fired because he did what is shown on the videotape + possibly more — but because it became public in the way that it did.

For the past week, people have spoken of little else here.

Rafiq Husseini being interviewed on television in better days – Ma’an News Agency photo

Rafiq Hussein in television interview - Ma'an photo

Palestinian politics wonks will have a field day analyzing all the conflicting internal rivalries that finally lined up to create a critical mass of consensus forcing this decision… One hint of this was the participation by former West Bank Preventive Security Chief Jibril Rajoub in the discussion on Palestinian TV (in which Husseini himself was supposed to participate, but didn’t) two nights ago.

Probably the threats of the disgruntled Palestinian security officer who revealed the videotape to the Israeli media, to hold a press conference by 28 February if Husseini were not fired before hand, probably that did not enter into the equation at all…

As to the investigation committee — well, the Palestinian leadership has been aware of this videotape for over a year, and nothing happened. And, there have been many of these in these parts, concerned with many matters, with few results…

The three-member investigative committee is to present its findings in two weeks, according to the official Palestinian news agency WAFA.

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