Mourned but not missed
Last Thursday, the first information about the Palestinians who were killed in Wednesday's suicide bombings in Amman began to reach the territories. Thursday morning, there was a report of about 18 Palestinians, members of the same family, who had been attending a wedding at the Radisson SAS Hotel and were killed in the blast. The reports shocked the territories. Toward the afternoon the tension rose, mainly in the Ramallah offices of heads of the Palestinian security forces, when it turned out that there were casualties in the Grand Hyatt Hotel in the Jordanian capital as well.
In recent years, the hotel has been known as a preferred meeting place for the Palestinian leadership. Senior officials like Mohammed Rashid, Yasser Arafat's shadow economic adviser, and others, made it their regular address when they came to Amman. Therefore, when the information about the attacks was received, it was already clear that there would be senior officials among the casualties. Rashid himself was not at the Hyatt during the attack, but in the afternoon it was learned that at least five residents of the West Bank and Gaza had been killed in the explosion there. The first victims identified were Bashar al-Qadoumi, a businessman, and Mosab Khorma, a well-known banker in Ramallah. Immediately afterward came the news that Bashir Nafeh was killed in the blast, who until recently was the commander of the Palestinian special forces, along with Abed Allun, the liaison between the Palestinian Preventive Security Service (PSS) and foreign intelligence agencies - the CIA, British Intelligence and Israel's Shin Bet security services.
Dozens of shootings
It is hard to imagine that the Al-Qaida activists who carried out the attacks planned to harm Nafeh, who established his security forces under the sponsorship of Arafat in 2001, and Allun, a resident of East Jerusalem who resigned from the Preventive Security Service after a serious conflict with the commander, Jibril Rajoub. But the death of the two, who in recent years were considered close allies, caused a sigh of relief among most of the heads of the West Bank security services.
Nafeh and the apparatus that he headed - which American and British organizations generously supported, mainly with equipment - caused a serious headache both for Nasser Yousef, the Palestinian Authority interior minister who was appointed this year to command the Palestinian security forces, and for PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen). It is a well-known fact in the West Bank that the vast majority of the incidents that create the chaotic security situation in the territories originate with the security forces themselves, and with the power struggles among their leaders. Nafeh played a significant role in this. His men, about 1,000 policemen in the West Bank, were involved this year in dozens of serious gunbattles with PSS policemen as well as members of other security forces. Policemen from both sides were killed and injured.
The worst incidents took place during the past year in the areas of Hebron, Bethlehem, Nablus and Tul Karm - but above all, in Ramallah. Half a year ago, the head of Yousef's bureau in southern Ramallah, Ibrahim Salameh, was badly beaten by armed masked men, after they stopped his car and dragged him outside. Salameh and other senior officials identified Nafeh's men as being behind the incident. In another incident last year, a member of the Palestinian Parliament, Nabil Amr, lost his leg after armed men shot him while he was in his living room in Ramallah. Then, too, members of the special forces were linked to the incident.
In an attempt to dissipate the tension among the security services, Yousef, with Abbas' backing, ordered the special forces dismantled last April. But the attempt was not successful, since Yousef recently appointed Nafeh as "chief of military intelligence in the West Bank," a unit within the National Security Forces - and it turned out that his men moved with him.
At the press conference Abbas held Monday in Ramallah with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he was repeatedly asked why the PA is failing to unify the security forces and take control of them. Mazen repeated the familiar formula about his desire to have "one authority, one law, one gun," and pointedly ignored the reporters' questions.
Since his election last January, Abu Mazen has tried to compromise, mediate and outline agreements with the heads of the security services, but in practice, it turned out that he is incapable of controlling them and imposing security reforms. The most significant step that he has taken in this context since his election was to increase salaries by 10 percent, and to retire symbolically about 1,000 veterans. But facts on the ground seem to be redefining the map of the security forces, and Abu Mazen's work is being done by others. One of the heads of the security forces said this week, only half jokingly, that the attacks in Amman and the deaths of Nafeh and Allun eliminated one of the main obstacles that prevented the PA from taking control of its security services.
An earlier incident - the assassination of Moussa Arafat in Gaza four months ago - solved a very complex problem with the security services in the coastal strip, in a similar manner. Moussa Arafat was commander of the security services in the Gaza Strip, and was retired by Abu Mazen. But Arafat continued to control his people even afterward, and constituted an obstacle to restoring order in the Gaza Strip. His assassination led to improved PA control over the security forces and the Fatah groups, and helped his main rival, Rashid Abu Shabak, who heads the PSS.
The deaths of Nafeh and Allun, and the situation that has now been created, demonstrate the complex legacy that Yasser Arafat bequeathed to Abu Mazen, and the problems the latter is facing, at least some of which are connected to the continuing intervention by Israel and the international community in what is happening in the Palestinian security services.
Nafeh, who grew up in the Qalandiyah refugee camp, was deported from the territories for being a Fatah activist during the first intifada. He joined the "Western sector" - the Fatah terror organization - and returned to the territories at the time of the Oslo Accords. The establishment of the special forces illustrates the methods of Yasser Arafat, who at his death left behind in the territories nine large security organizations and at least four smaller ones, which have often fought among themselves.
In the 1990s, Nafeh was a relatively minor activist in the Fatah Tanzim organization in the Qalandiyah camp. The first indication of the establishment of the special forces came at the start of the intifada, when it turned out that Nafeh had joined Mohammed Dahlan, chief of the PSS in the Gaza Strip, who had connections with Yasser Arafat's bureau. The ambitious Dahlan operated within the Gaza Strip, and even then was planning to expand his involvement in Palestinian politics to the West Bank arena. He wanted to develop Nafeh as a counterweight to the PSS in the West Bank, headed by his rival Rajoub. The establishment of the "special forces" was also supported by Arafat, who was afraid of the PSS - up until then the strongest force in the West Bank, which was opposed to escalation and to firing from inside Palestinian territory, and to attacks inside Israel. The establishment of the new force weakened Rajoub, serving the two's interests. Nafeh exploited his connections in Tanzim in order to enlist Tanzim activists to the force, with Arafat's funding, to set up offices and to purchase cars and additional equipment. But there were serious clashes with members of the PSS even from the beginning. Nafeh's men were forced to capitulate at that point. With the outbreak of the second intifada, it also turned out that Allun, Rajoub's associate, had deserted to the Nafeh-Dahlan camp.
Operation Defensive Shield in Ramallah, in April 2002, provided them with their real opportunity. The Israel Defense Forces occupied Rajoub's headquarters in Ramallah. Dahlan, Rashid, Nafeh and others were quick to accuse Rajoub of "surrender" and of extraditing wanted men to Israel. A week later, Arafat dismissed Rajoub, thus allowing the special forces to become entrenched. Within a short time, Dahlan and Nafeh had also enlisted outstanding officers from the PSS to the new force. Nafeh himself joined Arafat's gallery of security advisers. The foreign intelligence organizations also contributed their part to the chaos. At the beginning of Arafat's siege at the Muqata, Nafeh was the main line of communication with the three foreign intelligence organizations - the American, the British and the Israeli. With the help of Allun, he set up new operations headquarters for the Palestinian police in Ramallah and Gaza; the goal of which was to reduce the level of violence in the intifada.
All the Palestinian security services were on the verge of collapse at the time, but Nafeh and his men flourished. They received budgets, not only from Arafat, but from foreign sources as well, and bought the latest cars and sophisticated communications systems. Only when Abu Mazen's government was established was the secret of Nafeh's success revealed: He had crossed the lines and spied for Arafat on his previous patron Dahlan, who had meanwhile been appointed interior minister, against Arafat's will.
Dahlan knew, and chose to ignore what was happening. He was working to build up a new power base within the PSS, which was officially subordinate to him. On the eve of Yasser Arafat's death, Nafeh's force numbered about 1,000 policemen, and it was spread out in the cities of the West Bank. Any step taken with the foreign organizations to establish a cease-fire - such as "the Bethlehem first plan," in 2003, and the attempts to solve the problem of the wanted men from Fatah - happened with Nafeh's personal intervention.
During the implementation of the Bethlehem first plan, Nafeh told Haaretz, in the lobby of the Bethlehem Hotel: "You are looking at the newest and strongest security force in the PA." Even after Abu Mazen's election as PA chair this past January, and after the appointment of Interior Minister Yousef, who is ostensibly in charge of the security forces and of the plans to unify them, Nafeh and Allun continued to undermine the minister's authority, and to maintain independent relations with Israel. These connections provided legitimization for their status.
Nafeh and Allun were often seen at meetings with Israeli officials in East Jerusalem, as well as with Yousef's representatives and General William Ward, who was in charge of security coordination with those same Israeli officials. In several instances, Nafeh's force was even credited with preventing attacks in Israel.
Yousef tried in various ways to stop these meetings, along with the duplication that undermined his authority. Abu Mazen even published an order forbidding "the heads of the security forces from maintaining contacts and holding meetings with foreign officials." But the meetings continued, as did the clashes among the various forces. In April, Yousef decided to dismantle the "special forces" - unsuccessfully.
It is unknown why exactly Nafeh came to the lobby of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Amman last Wednesday. It is known that there he met Allun, who has been living in the Jordanian capital for several months, apparently because the PA is investigating him for public corruption. It is also known that both Allun and Nafeh met in recent months, together and separately, with Mohammed Rashid, and sources in the PA claim that the three conducted various economic initiatives together. In recent months, the gang was also seen in Amman with Mohammed Dahlan, who came for medical treatment.
Together with Allun and Nafeh, Jihad Fattouh - the economic attache at the Palestinian embassy in Cairo, and brother of the chair of the Palestinian Parliament, Rawhi Fattouh - was killed in the blast, as were another two Palestinian businessmen.