Trump speeds up race for PA’s top office

February 6, 2020 by Aryeh Savir - TPS
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Fatah and Palestinian Authority (PA) senior officials are gearing up for the race to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) top office, sources in Ramallah have said in recent days.

Thousands of people holding flags and chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s portraits, participating in a rally in Gaza City, marking the 55th anniversary of the Fatah movement foundation. Gaza, Jan 1, 2020. Photo by Majdi Fathi/TPS

These sources say that the senior officials understand that the US is not only preparing for the end of the Mahmoud Abbas era but is accelerating the process.

“You will not find many agreements today in Fatah’s top, but about the fact that Abbas is going to go, no one will argue,” a PA source close to the leadership told TPS on Wednesday.

The official, who has met in recent days with senior PA officials, says that since the US released the Deal of the Century peace plan the buzz has grown tremendously in Ramallah and the Fatah leaders’ are making an effort to “take a good place in the arena,” ahead of the start of the run for the top.

Three camps have formed within Fatah, each headed by a senior duo.

The first pair includes Jibril Rajoub and Tawfik Tirawi. Rajoub is the secretary general of Fatah’s Central Committee and previously headed the preventive security service. Rajoub has recently strengthened his ties with Tirawi, another member of the Central Committee, a refugee camp leader who previously headed the PA’s General Intelligence. Tirawi had great power in the refugee camps in the Shechem (Nablus) area and in the past has also had a good relationship with Muhammad Dahlan, which kept him away from Abu Mazen.

This alliance is primarily intended to counterbalance the rising power of the duo that includes Colonel Majd Faraj and Hussein A-Sheikh. Faraj, the current intelligence chief, has strong ties with the CIA and the Israeli Shin Bet. A few days he was visited by the CIA’s Director Gina Haspel, which was considered in Ramallah to be a demonstrative measure of support from him by the US, and some claim she regards him as the proper heir to Abbas. This assessment is also shared by senior officers in the PA, and the issue surfaced in discussions with TPS.

A-Sheikh, the PA’s Minister of Civil Affairs, is fully trusted by Abu Mazen and his standing in Fatah is strong, even though he has been facing strong accusations of his involvement in corruption and his financial benefiting from economic projects in the PA.

The Faraj-a-Sheikh axis enjoys a number of significant benefits, most notably from its direct proximity to Abu Mazen. While a-Sheikh manages all civilian affairs in the PA, Faraj is responsible not only for intelligence activities but for controlling the rest of the security forces. Senior officials say his control is guaranteed as long as he receives aid money from the CIA every month.

The two are also closely aligned with Abu Mazen through the most important contact link, Abbas’ bureau chief Intisar Abu Amara, who is known in Ramallah as “the strong woman and the beating heart of the Palestinian Authority.”

This alliance is further strengthened by reports, not all of which are fully verified, on events indicating that Abu Mazen is not at his best. Officials who have recently visited the Muqata headquarters told TPS that Abbas in recent times often arrives at his office and requests to speak with the now deceased Libyan ruler Muamar Gaddafi, and sometimes his aides are required to whisper in his ear during his speeches, as did Saeb Erekat during Abu Mazen’s appearance before the Arab League on Saturday.

The 84-year-old Abbas uses medical equipment and takes medication daily.

While these two first groups are part of official Fatah institutions or PA officials, the next pair is considered to be Fatah’s disadvantaged wing: the new-old alliance now commanded by Marwan Barghouti and Muhammad Dahlan.

Barghouti, the head of the Tanzim who is imprisoned in Israel, is raising concerns in the Muqata because of his popularity in many public opinion polls, mainly because he dared to challenge Abu Mazen and announced that he would contest the presidency, head on with Abu Mazen.

Dahlan, who is considered Abbas’ arch nemesis, has also strengthened his standing with some of the Hamas leaders, and it is widely believed that he has strength in the refugee camps and in Jerusalem. This camp is already coordinating its preparations for elections, if they are ever held in the PA.

Ramallah says that Faraj is trying as hard as he can to convince Americans and Israelis not to allow Barghouti’s release from prison, a move that could affect the future of the PA and drag it to extremes. Faraj’s people find it difficult to understand why Israel recently allowed Barghouti’s wife to visit him after a three-year ban.

Abu Mazen’s well-publicized visit to the new Palestinian intelligence headquarters on Monday was intended to express clear support for Faraj, and to signal his lack of support for the Rajoub-Tirawi axis.

On the other hand, Ramallah sources report that Rajoub was not in the city at the time when Abbas visited his rival, Faraj, and was in a meeting with Israeli activists and gave a heated speech against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The source told TPS in conclusion that Fatah leaders are now allowing the US to remove Abu Mazen through a slow and silent process, as everyone is now dependent on his decisions.

“They depend on each other and will not act until after Abbas has gone. Deterrence plays a major role in the stability of the PA, and only after his death will the knives be pulled out, “he said.

“In Ramallah, it is suspected that the Deal of the Century, which was drafted in a way that does not allow anyone in the leadership to accept it, was intended to result in Abu Mazen’s departure to allow negotiations for another solution. For this reason, the security forces are in no hurry to announce the cancellation of security coordination [with Israel], and the US is not allowing the annexation of the territories [by Israel],” he said.

These moves, he believes, are waiting for the period following the Abbas era.

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