Friday, July 24, 2009

Golden Oldie: Watch out for Kaddoumi

Several years ago, when I spent a lot more time following Palestinian politics I wrote an op-ed about the machinations of Fatah chief Farouk Kaddoumi. Since he is back in the news, in an odd little spitting match in which he accuses Mahmoud Abbas of killing Arafat (in conjunction with Israel and the U.S., of course), I thought it would be useful to re-post the piece for background.

Arafat's health had been in pretty obvious decline since the late 1990s, video footage (which I watched a great deal of at MEMRI) showed he had obvious palsies and the stress of the siege and Intifada could not have been good for him. He was 75 years old when he died, so it doesn't seem that a conspiracy doesn't seem necessary to explain the demise of Abu Ammar.

The current spat has led the PA to shut down al-Jazeera's West Bank office for airing Kaddoumi's accusations, in the West Bank. One of Fatah's original members, and a long-time friend of Arafat, Kaddoumi leads the Fatah hardliners and has always opposed any kind of recognition of or agreement with Israel. He has long been close to Damascus and has made many visits to Tehran. (Back in 1996 Middle East Quarterly published a fascinating biographical sketch of Kaddoumi.) Is this just a side-lined old man trying to be relevant - or is this part of a bigger plot. Here is what I wrote a couple of years ago - most of the players remain the same.

Opinion, Jeusalem Post, January 23, 2005

Watch out for Kaddoumi
Aaron Mannes

While international attention focuses on Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), the maneuvers of Fatah chief Farouk Kaddoumi also bear scrutiny.

With Yasser Arafat out of the picture, a Iranian-Syrian-Hizbullah axis is attempting to dominate the Palestinians, and Kaddoumi is their front man.

A hardliner who opposed the peace process and remained in Tunisia, Kaddoumi calls the two-state solution a temporary stage before Israel is destroyed.

He also called 9/11 "a lesson to the US."

Within the PLO he was isolated during the Oslo process, but maintained close links with Syria and Iran. If the Palestinians fall into the Iranian-Syrian-Hizbullah orbit, it could condemn them to another generation of violence and have consequences throughout the region.

Most of the Palestinian organizations are allied with the Iranian-led axis and, according to Israeli intelligence, Iran already directs most of the terror operations in the West Bank and Gaza.

The smaller leftist Palestinian terrorist groups are headquartered in Damascus and closely linked to the Syrian regime.

Palestinian Islamic Jihad is funded almost entirely by Iran and with the deterioration of Hamas's command structure, the leadership is now based in Damascus. Hizbullah operatives in Lebanon coordinate Hamas attacks.

Fatah, Arafat's organization (which Kaddoumi and Abu Mazen helped found in the late 1950s), is the pre-eminent Palestinian organization and its members dominate Palestinian institutions. Various powers, Middle Eastern and beyond, have attempted to use the Palestinians for their own ends.

Arafat's stature as founder and symbol of the Palestinian cause was sufficient to maintain some Palestinian independence, particularly from Syria. But no Palestinian can fill the void left by Arafat's passage.

Kaddoumi is working to make sure that the Syrians, Iran, and Hizbullah fill the vacuum.

In the period since Arafat's death, Kaddoumi has visited Damascus, Beirut, and most recently Teheran. In Beirut and Damascus he was greeted by large pro-Palestinian rallies and he met with smaller Palestinian factions to discuss forming a national front.

In Damascus, Kaddoumi engineered a rapprochement between Syria and Fatah, including an agreement to reopen Fatah offices in Damascus that have been closed since 1985.

In Teheran, he met with President Khatami, and with former and possibly future president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani to discuss "consolidating relations between the Iranian and Palestinian nations."

Kaddoumi's efforts to bring the Palestinians into the Damascus-Teheran fold extend beyond diplomacy. He has been a central player in the efforts of foreign capitals to infiltrate Fatah and other Palestinian institutions.

In late 2002, a captured Palestinian agent for Hizbullah confessed to Israeli security that Hizbullah had established a network of supporters in the West Bank and Gaza to infiltrate Fatah and the PA in order to take control when the current infrastructure collapses.

The agent also explained that he ultimately reported to both the Iranians and to Kaddoumi.

Asked about Iranian infiltration of the Palestinian ranks, Kaddoumi told Al-Jazeera: "We welcome all the Arab and Islamic countries to come and infiltrate us."

THIS IS not to say that there will be a power struggle between Abu Mazen and Kaddoumi.

Kaddoumi, while personally popular among the Palestinians for his hard-line positions, could not have run for the PA presidency because he refused to move to the Palestinian Authority until it was completely "liberated."

He supports Abu Mazen and paved the way for Abu Mazen's visit to Damascus. At the same time, Abu Mazen will face intense pressures from the Iran-Syria-Hizbullah axis and Kaddoumi's support could be crucial for Abu Mazen's legitimacy.

There are several regional consequences if Kaddoumi's outsider allies come to dominate Palestinian politics. Syria, Iran, and Hizbullah would be in a position to continue to stoke the flames of the intifada, even as the fire is finally dying down.

Moreover, the impact could well be felt beyond the Israeli-Palestinian arena.

Hamas has opened offices in Iraq, and the Palestinians may be recruited to fight there. The international affiliates of the various Palestinian groups will augment the formidable Iranian-Hizbullah international terror network.

Finally, Palestinian organizations have substantial influence in Jordan and could pressure or even overthrow the pro-Western Hashemites.

There are many scenarios now for the Palestinians, but Kaddoumi's machinations portend a future dominated by the region's most radical elements.

If he is allowed to succeed, the Palestinians will be consigned to more futile conflict and the forces of autocracy and repression will be strengthened in the region.

The writer is the author of TerrorBlog ( and Profiles in Terror: The Guide to Middle East Terrorist Organizations.

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