Marc Lynch

PLO official: did Abu Mazen conspire to kill Yasir Arafat?

  During a meeting with journalists in Amman, Fatah veteran and head of the PLO’s political bureau Farouq Qaddoumi accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of conspiring to kill Yasir Arafat.  The PLO has lashed back, denying the allegations and accusing Qaddoumi of inflaming fitna (divisions, internal strife). The Jordanian and Palestinian press is certainly aflame, ...

  During a meeting with journalists in Amman, Fatah veteran and head of the PLO’s political bureau Farouq Qaddoumi accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of conspiring to kill Yasir Arafat.  The PLO has lashed back, denying the allegations and accusing Qaddoumi of inflaming fitna (divisions, internal strife). The Jordanian and Palestinian press is certainly aflame, as is al-Jazeera and a bunch of the Palestinian-oriented forums. What’s really at stake is not so much the truth about Arafat’s death, but the future of Fatah and the PLO and the internal opposition to Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan. 

 According to press accounts, Qaddoumi claimed to have evidence that Abbas conspired in early 2004 with Mohammed Dahlan, Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz, and an American delegation to assassinate the aging Palestinian President, then-Hamas leader Abd al-Aziz al-Rentissi, and other leaders.  The goal of these "liquidations" was to destroy Palestinian resistance and pave the way for a restoration of the Palestinian Authority.  Arafat, of course, died in late 2004 of mysterious causes.  These are obviously incendiary charges, which Abbas and his defenders can hardly afford to ignore — especially when coming from such a pillar of the PLO establishment. I’ve heard so many conspiracy theories about Arafat’s death (poison?  AIDS?) that I wouldn’t even venture a guess as to the truth. 

 Nor do I need to, because the facts surrounding Arafat’s death aren’t the point in this controversy.  It’s about the power struggle inside of Fatah and the PLO, which has been brewing for a long time and which seem to be rising to a crescendo with the long-delayed 6th Fatah conference finally scheduled for August.  As the well-connected Palestinian analyst Yasir al-Za’atra argues, Qaddoumi’s bombshell reflects the growing internal resistance within Fatah to the "Abbas/Dahlan faction". The growing tension between Fatah and the leaders of the Palestinian Authority has been apparent for some time, one more element of internal division and fragmentation which has plagued Palestinian politics.  Recognizing that those who wanted to preserve Fatah as a resistance movement were losing the internal battle to the Palestinian Authority leaders, the argument goes, Qaddoumi felt that this was now the time to play all the cards available to discredit them before it was too late. 

 Expect these internal battles to continue as the Fatah conference approaches, and as the pressures to achieve a Palestinian national unity government continue.  How those battles are resolved will matter a lot for those who want to see a push towards a two-state solution, of course, since the absence of a legitimate and effective Palestinian leadership is a serious obstacle to such negotiations.  More on that soon…. but for now, I’m just watching the pyrotechnics.  

  During a meeting with journalists in Amman, Fatah veteran and head of the PLO’s political bureau Farouq Qaddoumi accused Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of conspiring to kill Yasir Arafat.  The PLO has lashed back, denying the allegations and accusing Qaddoumi of inflaming fitna (divisions, internal strife). The Jordanian and Palestinian press is certainly aflame, as is al-Jazeera and a bunch of the Palestinian-oriented forums. What’s really at stake is not so much the truth about Arafat’s death, but the future of Fatah and the PLO and the internal opposition to Mahmoud Abbas and Mohammed Dahlan. 

 According to press accounts, Qaddoumi claimed to have evidence that Abbas conspired in early 2004 with Mohammed Dahlan, Ariel Sharon, Shaul Mofaz, and an American delegation to assassinate the aging Palestinian President, then-Hamas leader Abd al-Aziz al-Rentissi, and other leaders.  The goal of these "liquidations" was to destroy Palestinian resistance and pave the way for a restoration of the Palestinian Authority.  Arafat, of course, died in late 2004 of mysterious causes.  These are obviously incendiary charges, which Abbas and his defenders can hardly afford to ignore — especially when coming from such a pillar of the PLO establishment. I’ve heard so many conspiracy theories about Arafat’s death (poison?  AIDS?) that I wouldn’t even venture a guess as to the truth. 

 Nor do I need to, because the facts surrounding Arafat’s death aren’t the point in this controversy.  It’s about the power struggle inside of Fatah and the PLO, which has been brewing for a long time and which seem to be rising to a crescendo with the long-delayed 6th Fatah conference finally scheduled for August.  As the well-connected Palestinian analyst Yasir al-Za’atra argues, Qaddoumi’s bombshell reflects the growing internal resistance within Fatah to the "Abbas/Dahlan faction". The growing tension between Fatah and the leaders of the Palestinian Authority has been apparent for some time, one more element of internal division and fragmentation which has plagued Palestinian politics.  Recognizing that those who wanted to preserve Fatah as a resistance movement were losing the internal battle to the Palestinian Authority leaders, the argument goes, Qaddoumi felt that this was now the time to play all the cards available to discredit them before it was too late. 

 Expect these internal battles to continue as the Fatah conference approaches, and as the pressures to achieve a Palestinian national unity government continue.  How those battles are resolved will matter a lot for those who want to see a push towards a two-state solution, of course, since the absence of a legitimate and effective Palestinian leadership is a serious obstacle to such negotiations.  More on that soon…. but for now, I’m just watching the pyrotechnics.  

Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).

He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark

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