Wednesday, 30 May 2001

Rajoub vs Arafat

Palestinian leaflet may reveal rift

Statement accuses security chief of U.S.-endorsed plot to oust Arafat

By Matthew Kalman

30 May 2001 - Page 7A

JERUSALEM -- The powerful Palestinian security chief in the West Bank was accused late Wednesday of heading a U.S.-Israeli plot to overthrow Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

Col. Jibril Rajoub, 54, commander of the Palestinian Preventive Security force in the West Bank, was denounced in a signed leaflet issued by a faction of his own political group, the Fatah movement, which reports to Arafat and has the loyalty of most Palestinians.

The leaflet could be the first sign of a serious split within the highest ranks of the Palestinian Authority, which governs some parts of the Palestinian territories and seeks an independent Palestinian state.

The leaflet alleges that there is an ''Israeli plan based on assassinating brother Abu Amar (Arafat) or deporting him from the homeland to create an alternative leadership that would be prepared to succumb to America and Israel.''

It names Arafat's deputy Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) as a co-conspirator with Rajoub in the alleged plot to overthrow Arafat, citing ''the recent visit of Abu Mazen to America and his meeting with (Secretary of State) Colin Powell, who proposed to him the American plan.''

The statement calls on Rajoub's estimated 10,000 armed loyalists to rise up against him. The men who back Rajoub represent a significant portion -- perhaps as much as 20% -- of the armed Palestinian forces in the West Bank and Gaza. Rajoub's men are the only Palestinian security agency that has not been accused by Israel of participating in the current uprising, which has claimed more than 550 lives. Contacted by telephone late Wednesday, Rajoub called the leaflet a ''shameless forgery.''

He said, ''Fatah has nothing to do with such a big lie. It's not published by Fatah.''

But sources within Fatah, which is divided among various factions, confirmed the leaflet's authenticity.

Some Israeli politicians have openly talked about the need to replace Arafat with a more pragmatic leader willing to sign a peace deal.

This is not the first time Rajoub has been mentioned as a potential successor to Arafat, 72. Four years ago, the Palestinian leader formally dismissed Rajoub after the younger man made a high-profile visit to the USA and was touted as a possible heir to Arafat. But Rajoub was soon reinstated.

Since then, Rajoub's power has grown and he has played a central role in diplomatic negotiations and security coordination with Israel and the United States. Many of his men have received CIA training as part of the CIA's security coordination effort.

Analysts were surprised that such a document would surface, and some expressed doubts about the leaflet's authenticity. They agreed, however, that many Palestinian activists are concerned that a deal to end the eight-month intifada, or uprising, without tangible gains is in the works.

''There are certainly fears that Israel and the United States are trying to undermine Arafat, but I would be extremely surprised if these fears would be expressed in a document like this,'' said Shibley Telhami, a Middle East expert at the University of Maryland.

David Schenker, an expert on Palestinian politics at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, also expressed caution about the document.

If it is authentic, however, the leaflet reflected ''splits that until now have been below the surface,'' Schenker said.

Meanwhile, Israeli and Palestinian security commanders met in Gaza late Wednesday for the second time this week to discuss security. Both sides said the meetings would continue next week.

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