While Abu Mazen went to Jordan
It is apparent that Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas' star is declining very fast and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat, as has happened many times in the past, has quickly reassumed control over the leadership.
Yasser Arafat's back. At least that's the conclusion of many Palestinians in light of the tragic events of last week and the renewed attempts to halt the violence.
Last Wednesday, when the suicide bombing took place in Jerusalem, Palestinian Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas was making his way from Ramallah to Jordan to have surgery to remove cataracts. As he approached the Allenby Bridge he received word of the attack but decided to go ahead with the trip. Some in the Palestinian leadership were angry at him as a result. It's a simple operation - eight minutes' work on each eye, according to Dr. Samar Abdul Hadi - and not urgent. So why, with the level of the bloodshed rising, couldn't Abbas postpone the treatment?
Arafat, in any case, immediately showed he was in control of the situation. The various news networks went back to interview him and he condemned the bombing as terrorism (while Arafat issued that official condemnation, Palestinian newspapers ran obituaries honoring the teenaged "martyr Abdel Muati Shabana, the hero of the Jaffa Road operation").
Arafat immediately ordered the heads of the security services to convene to discuss the situation. Minister for Security Mohammed Dahlan summoned to Ramallah the Gaza commanders, Abdel Razak Majida, the parallel to the IDF chief of staff, and Amin el Hindi, who is parallel to the head of the Mossad. The IDF allowed them, and other Gaza security commanders, to reach Ramallah, but prevented Rashid Abu Shbak, head of the Preventive Security forces, from going to the meeting, on the grounds he is still "tainted with terror."
Arafat ran the meetings on Friday and Saturday, which included the security commanders from the West Bank, dividing up the workload and coordination between the various apparatuses that were ready to take security responsibility in Gaza and anywhere else the IDF evacuates. That was a change in the policy taken by Abbas in recent weeks. When Prime Minister Ariel Sharon offered Abbas to take over security responsibility in the Gaza and West Bank cities the IDF evacuates, Abbas asked to wait until he had rehabilitated the destroyed security services. His plan was to reach a cease-fire agreement with the Hamas, and then exploit the resulting calm to rehabilitate the security services. With or without coordinating with with Abbas, Arafat made the change, and the leadership, headed by Arafat, decided on Friday that it would agree to accept responsibility for any area evacuated by the IDF.
Those who took part in the meetings with Arafat said he ran the meetings with high-handedly, seemingly conscious of the waves of scorn and criticism that swept over Abbas after the "surrender speech at Aqaba," as some people in the market at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem call it. One of Abbas' associates said that while he was in Amman he continued his contacts and dialogue with the Hamas, including telephone conversations with Hamas political bureau chief Khaled Mashal. But some senior Palestinian officials mocked that claim. They said Abbas has now been revealed to be weak. During a difficult crisis he was not here, and he decided to wait for Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who sent aides into Gaza and the West Bank yesterday to conduct parallel talks with all the armed Palestinian factions for a cease-fire.
It's possible the current contacts will lead to a certain degree of calm - or maybe not. But meanwhile it is apparent that Abbas' star is declining very fast and Arafat, as has happened many times in the past, has quickly reassumed control over the leadership.