Abu Mazen is back in Ramallah

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) is now back in Ramallah after a visit to several Asian countries.

President Abbas presided over a government meeting this morning which ratified the new program by the new Palestinian Authority (PA) Minister of Economy, Haasan Abu Libdeh (who was in charge of the Palestine Investment Conference held in Bethlehem in May 2008), and backed by PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, to boycott products made in Jewish settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which most of the world regards as Palestinian territory.  The Palestinian government meeting also reduced import tariffs on automobiles — a move with wide-ranging but not-easily-grasped implications.

Abbas returned to work in Ramallah a day after he resolved by long-distance (before his return) a mounting crisis concerning world-wide media reports on a “sex + corruption” scandal in which his Chief of Office, Rafiq Husseini, was shown on videotape with two Palestinian women, then one, and then alone in a bedroom taking off all his clothes and rolling into bed between the covers, before calling out to a woman offscreen whose company he was clearly awaiting.  Instead, Husseini was surprised by four Palestinian intelligence agents (who had organized the videotape session reportedly upon the complaint of the woman offscreen who accused Husseini of asking for sex in exchange for a job offer).

Though he was reportedly aware of this videotape a year and a half ago, Abbas yesterday ordered the suspension of his top aide, after a shocked public reaction, and formed an investigative committee to report back in three weeks.

When the Palestinian President moves around, his security entourage is impressive.  In his 15-car convoy, there are vehicles carring high-tech electronic gear that is apparently responsible for the disruption in  satellite television reception, and sometimes even the internet, when it passes.

Palestinian Presidential security forces, in green camouflage uniforms and wearing burgundy-red caps while carrying big black guns, are deployed on foot and in black security vehicles along the President’s planned route.  Soldiers preparing for the Presidental passage make a lot of noise, shouting and waving their guns at cars and pedestrians alike, and their black security vehicles beep their loud electronic-sounding horns.

Sometimes, lately, the Presidential guard also deploy on one or two other possible routes, just as decoys  — but today they seemed rather relaxed… maybe it is the warm and pleasant weather.   On other occasions in the recent past, when it was later or there was darker winter weather, big black Palestinian security vehicles have parked with their headlights on, brightly illuminating civilian houses on either side of the road.  And soldiers have stood with their guns pointing at those houses…  All traffic anywhere near the President’s route is stopped until the convoy passes.  Palestinian citizens are not very pleased with this ostentious security.  Some scoff at the display, and others express doubts that there are the constant threats of assassination by “Muslim fundamentalists” that are used to justify these highly-wraught security measures.  One Fatah offical smiled as he remarked wryly, recently, that “Abu Mazen would be safe even if he walked from the Muqata’s to his home”…

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