Waiting on the wing

Visiting Fatah strongman Jibril Rajoub at his home in Ramallah, writer Danny Rubinstein sees a possible leader-in-waiting

Jibril Rajoub plays soccer (photo credit: courtesty)
Jibril Rajoub plays soccer
(photo credit: courtesty)
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.
He 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 Report.
He agrees that Israel alone is not to blame for the current impasse in the peace talks.
“We also made mistakes,” he concedes.
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 ring.
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 Jerusalem family.
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.
Arafat and the majority of his aides wanted to cancel the Oslo agreement immediately.
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 Federation.
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 competitions.
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 Fatah.
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.
He also says that Hamas is ready to replace the “armed struggle” with “popular struggle.”
“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 struggle.”
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 Hamas.
“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 one bullet.”
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 army.
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 violence.
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 Palestinians.
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,”