"Tell him to come in": Mahmoud Abbas once (twice) gave refuge to Ismail Haniya in Gaza

Today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) and the Hamas leadership are supposed to sign a reconciliation accord initialed by all 13 Palestinian factions in Cairo yesterday.

This comes after a bitter, extremely bitter, rivalry between the two largest Palestinian political factions

Here is an account — to mark this date, and “in the spirit of things”, as a colleague has written elsewhere –of the time that Mahmoud Abbas gave Ismail Haniyah, Hamas leader in the Gaza Strip, refuge to save his live when Haniyeh feared being killed in an Israeli bombing or targetted assassination.

This story was told to me in an interview in Ramallah in late 2008 by Mahmoud Abbas’ oldest surviving son, Yasser Abbas [Mazen, the first-born male child in the family, died after surgery in Qatar some years ago].

I have since been told by others that Abu Mazen often tells people this same story:
Do you know a story – it’s important, before I tell you other stories about me – that this house that they [Hamas] seized [in Gaza in mid-June 2007], that Ismail Haniyeh took refuge in it twice. When he thought that Israeli jets were chasing him, he came to my parents’ house at 3:30 in the morning. To be exact, it was 3:25, because my Mom told me the details. They were still up, and they heard the bell ringing. And my Mom told my Dad, ‘Hold on, I’ll open the door’. She went to open the door, then she saw Ismail Haniyeh in her face. And then she saw Maher, one of the guards there, and he said to her, ‘Madam, we have so-and-so coming here’. And she ran back and told my Dad,’“Ismail Haniyeh is at the door’. He said, ‘Tell him to come in. Tell him to come in’. So, she automatically puts the lights on in the living room, for him to come in. She told him, ‘Come in, come in. Mr. President will come to see you in a minute’. So he came, and he was complaining to my Dad. He took refuge at his house in Gaza, because he was afraid that the Israelis were trying to nail him. And it happened again, three days later. He took refuge there for two or three hours, and then they left in the morning“…

Quote of the day – 14th in our series: Abbas said leak of Palestine Papers is a "boring soap opera"

Today’s Quote of the Day — even though it was uttered some three weeks ago — comes from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), who “dismissed the leak of hundreds of secret files on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks as nothing but a ‘boring soap opera’.”

One place you can find this report published is here.

Abbas also said, to adoring crowds convened by his media counsellors and political advisers upon his return from one of many trips abroad: “We know how to respond to it and how to deal with it … We’re not shocked by this nonsense”.

Yes, the Palestinians know how to deal with it… by letting targeted people, who have become inconvenient, hang out to dry, and then settling scores… Done masterfully.

At a meeting of the PLO Executive Committee in Ramallah on Sunday, President Abbas received the report of the investigation committee appointed to look into the Palestine Papers — documents leaked to Al-Jazeera, which prepared a series of programmes in late January detailing shocking behavior in the until-then secret negotiations brokered by the U.S,. first under the Bush Administration in the “Annapolis process”, and subsequently under the Obama Administration.

The documents consisted mainly of staff notes of the sessions prepared by the Palestinian negotiating team, and held by the Negotiations Support Unit (NSU) of the Negotiations Affairs Department (NAD). ¨[Al-Jazeera prepared very wierd dramatic reenactments, using actors to represent the main figures, of meetings held under the Annapolis process]. But, Al-Jazeera also had documents leaked from one or more security offices, and from the office of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad…

The investigation committee report relied in part on security interviews with each and every one of the current staff members of the NSU + NAD. The finger seems to point to one or more former — now disgruntled — staff members.

The investigation committee also made a number of recommendations, including the replacement of the Chief Palestinian negotiator, Saeb Erekat — who then resigned (after it was recommended that he be replaced), as he vowed he would do on the David Frost interview program aired a couple of weeks ago on Al-Jazeera English.

“If these documents were liked from my office, I and I alone will be responsible for that”, Erekat told David Frost, “if it is proven”… By that time, Erekat was apparently very well aware that most of the documents were leaked from his office. So, he added, in his remarks to Frost, “So, I don’t think I will remain Chief negotiator forever”.

Another recommendation of the investigation committee is that the NSU + NAD be disbanded.

Staff are convinced that this will happen, and note that their contracts all end on the same date — 31 March. The current prediction is that some of them will be absorbed into the President’s office — Abbas is the person responsible for negotiations anyway. However, the royal-court atmosphere in the President’s office, and the backbiting among ambitious people already there — combined with their gross incompetence in explaining the Palestinian position on anything — do not bode well for the future.

This does signal. with yet one more masterstroke, the relentless process of collecting and centralizing all the reins of power in the President’s hands….

And, yes, it proves the sharp correctness of Abbas’ words that this really is all (just) a soap opera — but it is much more discouraging than boring.

Current affairs, via a friend in Ramallah who loves the pointed political satire of the Palestine TV Program “Watan 3ala Watar” (“Homeland on a Shoestring”) – which is posted on Youtube here:

We also learn today that Abbas issued a Presidential decree Sunday (yesterday), in which it has now been ordained that “Targeting Qatar over leaked papers over” in response to the Al-Jazeera programs, as reported here.

Oh, and by the way, this Presidential decree also reportedly bans “local media” from insulting Qatar, too… The “local” journalists — and the international ones, too — have been silent so far…

And, today, Prime Minister Salam Fayyad tendered the resignation of his cabinet … expecting to be asked to form a new and more convenient one.

The Al-Jazeera programs on the Palestine Papers ran for five days — the first three days were hard-hitting, then, once it became apparent how seriously the situation was imploding in Ramallah, with some Al-Jazeera staff saying they feared for their lives — days four and five really pulled punches, and withdrew from more explosive revelations.

Almost all these revelations had been already revealed over the past year in the Israeli media.

All a resourceful journalist, like Al-Jazeera’s Clayton Swisher, had to do was to follow the leads, to track down documents that he knew must exist somewhere. He had the financial backing and the resources of Al-Jazeera to do it, and he had the willing and interested cooperation of disgruntled former staff in Palestinian offices and institutions to do it.

However, it has to be said that for a journalist trying to cover all this, it has been very hard indeed. The Al-Jazeera programs ruined any social life and kept one awake late into the night for over a week. Then, this segue-ing badly right into the Egyptian protests centered on Cairo’s Tahrir Square, which confined journalists their computer screens and keyboards for an additional 18-19 days. The effort required endurance, and caused real physical pain, and exhaustion. We badly need a break, some relaxation, a vacation…

Personally, I found then rather reminiscent of the Fahmi Shabaneh expose [about corruption, targetting Abu Mazen’s then-chief of staff Rafiq Husseini] that was only reported because an Israeli TV channel broke the story…

Obama + company get four more weeks to try for Israeli-Palestinian talks

Arab League Foreign Ministers meeting yesterday [Friday] a day ahead of an Arab summit meeting of heads of state, decided (1) to support Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] in his resistance to continuing “direct” talks with Israel that restarted, sort of, in September, under the auspices of the Obama administration, and (2) to give the whole thing one more month [that is, until after the American mid-term congressional elections].

The U.S. has welcomed this decision.

In the meantime, Arab League Foreign Ministers [the Follow-up Committee] will meet again in about two weeks to discuss proposals that Abu Mazen is expected to present.

Several reports in the Palestinian media today — now picked up by the international news agencies and the Israeli media — suggest that Abu Mazen + company will suggest either (1) requiring U.S. recognition of a Palestinian State within the borders that existed on the eve of the June 1967 war, or (2) going to the UN Security Council to seek UN membership for such a Palestinian State.

The Jerusalem Post has just published an AFP report saying that “Another option was to demand that the United Nations place the Palestinian territories under an international mandate”… This is posted here.

Meanwhile, a marked construction boom has begun (or resumed) in East Jerusalem [particularly since the end of Ramadan].

Continue reading Obama + company get four more weeks to try for Israeli-Palestinian talks

Abu Mazen: Focussed + on story

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post today, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) told one of the official Palestinian daily newspapers, Al-Ayyam, that in last weeks resumed “direct talks” with Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyanu and company in Washington that ” ‘We clarified that [the Palestinian Authority] would not agree to continued Israeli presence, military or civil, within a future Palestinian state,” Abbas said … Abbas continued, ‘Borders is the topic most important to us, security is the topic most important to them’. He went on to explain that the issues of borders and security would be discussed first and that “right of return” of Palestinian refugees was of lower importance and would be dealt with later on in the talks”. This story is posted here.

In this account, AbuMazen seemed to be echoing some of the sentiments expressed by Fatah’s Mohammad Dahlan in an interview published yesterday in the Egyptian paper Al-Masry al-Youm, here.

In the interview, Dahlan said: “We support president Abu Mazen’s positions, and there are no differences within the Palestinian leadership over the methods to be adopted. I contributed to the Camp David negotiations, and I believe we do not need more talks as much as we need political decisions. Abu Mazen has already made historic moves, but Netanyahu is not mature enough to take another step. Rather, he is rather working to sabotage the two-state idea. That being said, we support President Abu Mazen in principle since he is representing the entire Palestinian nation. But the way the US convened for the negotiations, ignoring the EU and following conditions set by Netanyahu, represents an unhappy start. I am totally convinced that these talks will not prove fruitful, and I am sure the Palestinian people would agree with me”.

Here are some further excerpts:
Al-Masry: Netanyahu is adamant on the “Jewish identity” of Israel and on the issue of Israeli security. He has also challenged the right for return for Palestinian refugees. Can peace be realized in these circumstances?

Dahlan: “This is not peace, this is surrender. Not a single Palestinian will agree to Netanyahu’s conditions. The Israeli PM is a liar–he is not seeking peace. He will maintain his habit of ruining the peace process and will eventually bring destruction down on the whole region. As for us, we will keep adhering to our longstanding principles, spelled out by former president Yasser Arafat in 1988, which were re-emphasized at Camp David. If Netanyahu is seeking surrender, let him look for it elsewhere”.

Al-Masry: Can a disarmed Palestinian state ever emerge in this context?

Dahlan: “That’s a precondition we refuse. But at the same time, we are not seeking a state saddled with tanks and aircraft. We will invest in the Palestinian people after they endured 60 years of hardship by improving education, upgrading infrastructure, caring for the youth, developing the economy, and adopting a health system capable of handling the catastrophes wrought by the occupation. But we will not accept a state according to Netanyahu’s terms”.

Al-Masry: As for the direct talks now unfolding in Washington, what do you expect in terms of the post-negotiation stage?

Dahlan: “I do not hold high hopes for these talks. They are more like a party than a political process. We will argue again about all the same issues that we have always wrangled over. No doubt the same differences will emerge: over final statues issues, time schedules, deadlines and references for negotiations”.

The bottom line is, nonetheless: what can appear to be disparate Palestinian voices are actually all saying more or less the same things.

Ramallah analysts say if Abu Mazen caves in to U.S. pressure on direct talks, he will further undermine his credibility – by Ben Lynfield

From Ben Lynfield in Jerusalem — Left in the lurch by his Arab League brethren, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is under enormous Amercan pressure to unconditionally renew direct peace negotiations with Israel.

Analysts and politicians in Ramallah believe he will cave in, thus undermining his credibility for tough concessions that will be needed further down the line.

Mr Abbas had hoped the Arab League, which met in Cairo on Thursday, would back up his refusal of direct bilateral talks unless Israel first commits to borders for a viable Palestinian state and halts its expansion of settlements in the occupied West Bank.

But the League, which is dominated by Egypt and Saudi Arabia, calculated that it is more important to please Barack Obama than Abbas. It backed a resumption of direct Israeli-Palestinian talks, even though it said the timing and conditions should be up to the Palestinians.

Continue reading Ramallah analysts say if Abu Mazen caves in to U.S. pressure on direct talks, he will further undermine his credibility – by Ben Lynfield

What does this mean?

Ma’an News Agency has reported that “President Mahmoud Abbas [Abu Mazen] issued a decree on Sunday banning all violations of privacy and personal freedoms, following the results of a Palestinian Authority inquiry into corruption allegations against his former chief of staff. ‘In light of the report handed over by the inquiry commission into the Rafiq Al-Husseini case, and reiterating previous instructions, the minister of interior must inform security services that any violator of the law of private freedoms will be called into account’, the presidential decree read”. This report can be read in full here.

What does this mean?

Is this another rebuke to Tawfik Tirawi (who reportedly previously lost his job as head of Palestinian General Intelligence because of this very scandal)? Tirawi was then apparently rehabilitated when he easily won a seat, in elections in Bethlehem in August, on the powerful Fatah Central Committee, and he now holds the portfolio on that body of Palestinian labor unions and syndicates (in which capacity he has been instrumental in changes affecting the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate)

Ma’an says: “Legal experts interpret the decree as signaling the need for court approval before recording private acts, such as phone tapping and video surveillance”.

We are still waiting for news about the recommendations made by the Commission of Inquiry that Abu Mazen set up to look into this whole affair … As Ma’an reported, the Commission of Inquiry completed its investigations — Ma’an says this happened on Monday, and the members handed their report over in a meeting with Abu Mazen on Saturday.

Biden meets Abu Mazen in Ramallah

American Vice-President Joe Biden was received with red carpet treatment at the Palestinian Presidential Headquarters in the Muqata’a in Ramallah today — by polite and mildly-friendly Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and an irritated and angry, even sullen, Palestinian negotiating team.

Continue reading Biden meets Abu Mazen in Ramallah

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”…

Abbas suspends Rafiq Husseini for "sex + corruption" affair – orders "investigation".

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.

Meanwhile, Mitchell visits Abu Mazen in Ramallah

This is technological innovation, which we would wish to encourage — adopted by a new team of media advisers working for the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah — showing (on Youtube!) Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) receiving U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell not very long ago in the Muqata’a presidential headquarters in Ramallah:

Now that my iffy satellite receiver is working again, I can report that Palestinian television is running cartoons. (The Mitchell visit was, however, at the top of an earlier news bulletin…)

It would be great if we could only get some real information — in English, please — of what actually happened in the meeting…

Continue reading Meanwhile, Mitchell visits Abu Mazen in Ramallah