As he approaches the age of 60, Jibril Rajoub, Fatah Central Committee member
and head of the Palestinian Football Federation, is considered one of the most
powerful people in the Palestinian Authority (PA ). Waiting to join him for
lunch at his spacious home in Ramallah, we are informed that our host has been
delayed at a meeting, but will be arriving presently. Looking at the knot of
official vehicles already crowding the driveway, I ask if Abu Rami – as everyone
calls him – is driving home by himself. An aide looks at me quizzically. “Abu
Rami doesn’t drive, he has drivers,” the young man retorts. “He’s the strongest
and most powerful man in the territories after Chairman Abu Mazen,” he adds, in
case I haven’t understood, referring to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas by
his nom de guerre.
Rajoub finally arrives, little changed from his days
as one of the most feared security chiefs in the West Bank. Burly and bald and
exuding power, he launches into a wide-ranging political discussion.
may be the top man in Palestinian sports, but his mind is clearly looking beyond the next football fixture to bigger prizes. He accuses the Israeli leadership of not having the courage to
continue negotiating with the Palestinians.
“I know the Israelis and the
Israel leaders. I've spent hours with them.
The problem is not that Prime
Minister Netanyahu and his government do not understand the grim situation. They
understand it perfectly. They are afraid to implement the necessary steps to
renew negotiations with Abu Mazen. Yitzhak Rabin was brave and did not fear to
take the right decisions. Netanyahu isn't like him,” he tells The Jerusalem
He agrees that Israel alone is not to blame for the current
impasse in the peace talks.
“We also made mistakes,” he
As a politician, Rajoub has built his strength through complete
loyalty to PA President Abbas and agreement with his political views, and he
apparently continues to be involved in political developments in the PA
Elections for the Palestinian presidency and parliament are due to take
place this year, though they are likely to be postponed. Abbas has repeatedly
announced that he will not run for another term but at this moment Fatah does
not have any other candidate. Who knows? When the elections finally take place,
it seems certain that the charismatic Rajoub will throw his hat in the
Grenade throwing at 17 Following the 1967 Six Day War, Rajoub, from
the town of Dura, near Hebron, joined Fatah. Before his 17th birthday, he threw
a grenade at an IDF truck. He was caught and was sentenced to life imprisonment.
In prison he learned fluent Hebrew and English, and over the years became a
leader of the prisoners.
In 1985, he was released in a prisoner exchange.
He was put in charge of the workers at Orient House in East Jerusalem, the
unofficial staff headquarters of the PLO in the West Bank.
The head of
Orient House, Faisal al- Husseini, remarking on the outspoken, aggressive,
32-year-old Rajoub, said: “This is anger that came from the heavens.” Later,
Rajoub married al-Husseini’s secretary, who was the daughter of a well-known
Rajoub was one of the leading organizers of the first
intifada that broke out in 1987 and took the form of a popular, largely unarmed,
uprising. He was arrested in 1988 by Israeli security forces and expelled.
Rajoub joined YasserArafat in Tunisia and maintained aratic relationship with the PLO leader. After
his release from Israeli prison, Rajoub became more moderate and began to
advocate compromise with Israel.
Rajoub says he was in Tunisia in
February 1994, after the signing of the Oslo agreement – before Arafat’s arrival
in Israel – when news came in of the killing by Jewish doctor Baruch Goldstein
of 29 Muslim worshipers in the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron.
and the majority of his aides wanted to cancel the Oslo agreement
Then Arafat was told that Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin
wanted to speak to him on the telephone. Everyone told Arafat: Don’t pick up the
phone. Rajoub says he managed to convince Arafat to speak to Rabin and accept
his apology and condolences.
Months later, when the PA was established in
Ramallah, Rajoub was placed in charge of internal security in the West Bank, a
position of considerable power.
He was considered loyal to Arafat but the
two often quarreled.
After Arafat’s death, Rajoub completed his studies
on the topic of Israel at Al- Quds University in Jerusalem. In 2009, he was
appointed deputy secretary general of Fatah’s highly influential Central
Committee. Since the secretary general, Abu-Maher Ghneim, an elderly veteran,
lives in Tunisia and plays little part in the committee, Rajoub’s position is
very powerful. He also asked to be appointed as head of the Palestinian Football
Rajoub sees it as an organization that deals with thousands
of players who appreciate what he's doing for them. He has raised funds for
clubs and playing fields, and has organized local and international
Hamas is changing Rajoub is considered one of the Fatah
leaders closest to Hamas, where his brother is a leading figure. He says the
Islamic Resistance Movement is undergoing fundamental changes in strategy that
pose new challenges both for Israel and their longtime rivals in
He is optimistic about the chances of reconciliation between the
PA in Ramallah and Hamas in Gaza, which he believes increases the possibility of
movement in the peace process. Rajoub says Hamas is now willing to accept the
principle of two states – but without formal recognition of Israel.
also says that Hamas is ready to replace the “armed struggle” with “popular
“Our worst mistake was the use of firearms and the violent
attacks in the second intifada. This caused us tremendous damage. Abu Mazen was
always against it, against the violent intifada, against armed
Rajoub reveals that in the meetings between Abbas and Khaled
Mashaal of Hamas, Mashaal is ready to accept the principle of a nonviolent
popular struggle and that is why he is at loggerheads with his opponents within
“Now Hamas has embarked on the path of nonviolent popular
struggle. We can see this through the public pronouncements of Hamas leader
Khaled Mashaal, who agrees with Abu Mazen. I am convinced that we will continue
on this path.”
He says there is agreement in principle between Fatah and
Hamas regarding a general election, and also on banning armed forces outside the
control of the PA government – a principle the Palestinians call “one gun and
Rajoub believes that Hamas will not have any choice but to
dismantle its militias. If there is to be full reconciliation, there is no
possibility that Hamas, as a political movement, will be able to have a private
Further issues that need to be resolved are stopping incitement
against Israel and taking care of the families of Fatah and Hamas victims of the
Rajoub agrees that the Palestinian media needs to clamp down on
incitement against Israel, but something of the youthful aggression returns when
he denounces what he calls “institutionalized incitement” by Israel against the
An example of Israeli incitement, he claims, is calling the
Jericho ring road after assassinated Israeli minister Rechavam Ze’evi. “You can
name any street after Ze’evi – who advocated expelling Arabs from Israel – in
Tel Aviv or any other place in the country. So why specifically near us, in
Jericho? In my eyes, that’s provocation and incitement,”