The Kaddumi bombshell
Accusations of conspiracy to murder continue to reverberate across the Palestinian arena, threatening to break the Fatah movement in two, writes Khalid Amayreh in the West Bank
Farouk Kaddumi’s recent bombshell accusations that Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and his aide, former Gaza strongman Mohamed Dahlan, had connived with Israel to murder late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat continue to reverberate throughout the Palestinian arena.
The allegations made by the second highest-ranking leader of the Fatah organisation during an impromptu press conference in Amman last week, have overshadowed the Hamas-Fatah rift and even the standoff over Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank. The increasingly ugly showdown between Fatah’s two divergent camps is already polarising the group at all levels, including the grassroots level, with activists pointing fingers of accusation at either Kaddumi or Abbas.
Last week, the PA government decided to close down the West Bank offices of Al-Jazeera TV after the Qatari-based satellite channel carried live Kaddumi’s press conference from Amman. The Western-backed Ramallah-based government accused Al-Jazeera of “broadcasting false news, bias, incitement and fostering division and disunity in the Palestinian arena”. The decision drew mostly negative reactions from several quarters, especially Palestinian civil society and the journalistic community, prompting Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to rescind the decision a few days later.
Clearly disquieted by the accusations, Palestinian leader Abbas lashed out at Kaddumi, accusing him of spreading cheap lies in order to abort the convening of Fatah’s long overdue Sixth Conference, slated to take place in Bethlehem in the first week of August. Similarly, Abbas allies have been attacking and fulminating against Kaddumi, calling him names such as “senile”, “liar”, and “saboteur”. The West Bank Fatah leadership has asked the movement’s Central Council to discuss Kaddumi’s “canards” and “eject him from our ranks”.
Unfazed by the sabre rattling from Ramallah, Kaddumi reasserted the “veracity and authenticity” of the minutes of the March 2004 meeting in West Jerusalem during which the alleged plot to poison Arafat was discussed. Kaddumi has also reportedly hinted that he possesses further incriminating evidence against Abbas and Dahlan that further corroborates and consolidates his earlier charges. The secretary-general of Fatah also challenged Abbas and his allies to prove their loyalty to the group.
“You don’t own Fatah, you have hijacked Fatah for the purpose of amassing wealth and stealing money. You have swerved off the true path of Fatah, the path of resistance and liberation, and chosen to be a pawn in the hands of our enemies,” Kaddumi said.
As the two contentious camps within Fatah continue to trade recriminations, former political advisor to Arafat Bassam Abu Sharif reasserted charges he made shortly after Arafat’s death in November 2004. Abu Sharif claimed that Arafat was killed as a result of a chemical substance provided by Israeli intelligence.
Abu Sharif argued that Israeli soldiers manning a roadblock outside Ramallah stopped the Palestinian ambulance that had regularly brought food and medicine to the besieged Palestinian leader. “When the soldiers were searching the ambulance, while its Palestinian staff was kept away, they substituted a medicine which Arafat had been taking with an identical substitute containing a chemical poison. This is how Arafat got sick and eventually succumbed to his illness.”
Hamas’s politburo chief Khaled Meshaal almost died in Amman in 1997 when Mossad agents disguised as Canadian tourists smacked a chemical substance into his ear. The two agents were captured and then-King Hussein of Jordan threatened to sever ties with Israel, forcing the Israeli government, headed at the time by Binyamin Netanyahu, to provide the antidote that saved Meshaal’s life.
On Arafat, while Abu Sharif’s hypothesis is mostly speculative in nature and may prove impossible to verify, the fact that the life of the leader of the Palestinian people is entrusted to Israeli soldiers manning roadblocks and checkpoints speaks volumes about the nature of the PA and its near total subservience to Israel.
Meanwhile, Arafat’s widow, Suha, has been quoted as saying that “Israel was the only suspect in the death of my husband.” Suha cleared Abbas and Dahlan of any wrongdoing, saying that they were Arafat’s comrades. Most observers in occupied Palestine find it hard to rely on Suha’s remarks, on the grounds that she often appeared detached from political realities in Palestine, living a lavish lifestyle in Paris while her husband was languishing under Israeli siege in Ramallah.
This is not to say that Kaddumi’s accusations ought to be given the benefit of the doubt. But there is little doubt that the Kaddumi bombshell will cast a dark shadow on deliberations at Fatah’s Sixth Congress when — and if — convened. It is expected that Abbas will try to take advantage of the charged atmosphere and the fact that anti-Abbas delegates are largely based outside occupied Palestine or in the Gaza Strip and are unlikely to attend the conference in Bethlehem.
However, a conference at which Abbas and his allies enjoy absolute hegemony will only deepen and widen the existing chasm between various camps within Fatah. More to the point, Kaddumi might resort to holding a rival Fatah conference of his own, possibly in Damascus or Beirut. If this were to happen, Fatah would disintegrate into two camps, one based abroad and enjoying “revolutionary legitimacy” and backed by Syria and Iran, and probably Qatar, and the other coalesced into the PA and enjoying “international legitimacy” and backed by the US, EU and the so-called moderate Arab regimes.
Finally, the success of the Bethlehem conference will also depend to a large extent on the cooperation of the Hamas movement. Hamas, which has so far opted to remain outside the Kaddumi-Abbas confrontation, has hinted that it may not allow Fatah delegates from the Gaza Strip to leave for the West Bank if PA security agencies continue to round up and persecute Hamas leaders and activists and if hundreds of Hamas detainees are not released. Since the PA is unlikely to release these detainees, mainly because there is a strong lobby within Fatah against rapprochement with Hamas, it is probable that very few Fatah delegates from Gaza, if any, will make it to the West Bank.
The “Israeli factor” is also relevant. Israel has an established policy of barring Gaza residents from entering the West Bank as a matter of principle. Undoubtedly this, too, will be an important factor militating for or against the convening of the conference, as well as its success.