Friday, October 29, 2004

After Arafat

Yasir Arafat is dying, and the end appears to be near, if not imminent. Both Tel Aviv Ha'aretz columnist Danny Rubinstein and the World Tribune report that the present Palestinian prime minister, Ahmed Qurei (aka Abu Ala), and his predecessor, Mahmoud Abbas (aka Abu Mazen) will share substantive power after Arafat goes.

But they are old men, and control will soon pass, as Rubinstein put it, to "members of [a] younger cadre, among them Jibril Rajoub and Mohammed Dahlan, [who] will lend their support to the two veterans, [and] who will divide up the governing authority between themselves."

Will control pass to a "younger cadre"? Certainly. But will it go to Rajoub or Dahlan? Perhaps not. Four weeks ago, on September 28, I posted this

Marwan Barghouti
A significant development buried in
Mark Lavie's Associated Press piece about the latest carnage in the Middle East:

"The wife of jailed Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti said her husband will run in Palestinian parliamentary elections expected next year."

Until he was captured in Ramallah by an elite Israeli commando unit in April 2002, Barghouti was the area chief of the "Tanzim," an Al-Fatah offshoot that Yasir Arafat ordered established after the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993. Arafat needed the Tanzim because he was too closely identified with Fatah and required plausible deniability for future terrorist actions that he might personally order. Barghouti also founded the notorious Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, another terrorist group responsible for dozens of murderous attacks.

Before the newest Palestinian terror campaign started in 2000, Barghouti got along well with the Israelis and gained their respect. He speaks fluent Hebrew (he did time in Israeli prisons) and is regarded to be an opportunistic moderate. The Israelis believe that Barghouti helped to plan terrorist actions--including suicide bombings--during the two years before his capture primarily to maintain his position within the Palestinian hierarchy.

The word is that the Israelis captured and jailed the charismatic Barghouti to protect him from jealous rivals who wanted him dead--a list which included Arafat. Had Israel intended to eliminate Barghouti, it would have killed him in a targeted attack with little potential risk to the Israelis. Instead, the Israeli generals sent an elite "Duvdevan" unit deep into the West Bank to snatch him.

Then the Israelis broke with longstanding practice and held Barghouti's trial in open court--not in the closed military court where Palestinian terror suspects are usually tried. And in his trial, with the world media watching and reporting, Barghouti offered a spirited and colorful defense that in practical terms kicked off his political campaign: he shouted his defiance; he characterized himself as a patriot in a kangaroo court; he denied that the Israelis had any jurisdiction to try any Palestinian for any act committed on his own land. The performance was a great hit in the Palestinian-controlled areas.

There is talk that Israel took great care to provide Barghouti with this forum for the purpose of building his street cred among the Palestinian public. And there are whispers that Israel and the US are carefully grooming Barghouti to succeed Arafat--and that Arafat knows it.So yesterday, safely ensconced in an Israeli prison, Barghouti kicked off his formal campaign ...


UPDATE: From the Great Minds Dept., this paragraph appears in Rubinstein's Friday column, titled "Don't interfere, they're looking for an heir":

"The feeling in the Palestinian territories today is such that only a man who is seen as a bitter enemy of Israel may gain popularity. Palestinian Council member Marwan Barghouti, for example, enjoys an especially high status in public opinion polls in the West Bank and Gaza only because Israel sentenced him to life imprisonment. He is called 'the engineer of the intifada,' a title seen as a great honor in the territories."