Yasser Arafat’s Fatah movement, which six months ago named Mahmoud Abbas as Arafat’s successor, yesterday named the pro-Syrian activist Farouk Qaddoumi as the deputy-and presumed successor-to Abbas, according to Palestinian Authority (PA) state television, PA radio and the PA-vetted newspapers.

Amid a period of nearly unprecedented internal Palestinian violence, the decision to reach out to Qaddoumi, a pro-Syrian foe of talking to Israel, appears to be a step to try to shore up support for the flagging regime of Dr. Abbas and his prime minister, Ahmad Qreia.

“Prime Minister Ahmad Qreia said today that the most important task for the PA right now is internal security and establishing the sovereignty of law inside Palestinian lands,” declared Palestinian television in its opening news item Friday.

“The anarchy has to stop,” declared Qreia, shown speaking on official Palestinian Authority television.

The large-scale violence in Gaza and the West Bank has come to include large-scale daylight and night-time attacks on innocent civilians as well as officials of the Palestinian Authority, including:

  • the murder of a Palestinian policeman yesterday in Jenin;
  • firing shots at a Palestinian parliamentary deputy yesterday in Jenin and the burning of his car;
  • firing shots this week at a local councilman in Anabta in the West Bank;
  • the murder of four members of a family last week in Gaza;
  • the shooting of bullets at a meeting in Nablus, in the West Bank, where Prime Minister Qreia was speaking.

The state-controlled Palestinian media did not report that Qreia and his entourage were actually shot at during a visit in Nablus two days ago, but footage of the incident was shown on Israeli television, and Israelis viewers saw Qreia actually cringe slightly as the sound of a bullet interrupted his speech. The incident was also reported in the Palestinian printed press.

At the same time, Palestinian leader Abbas has kept a low profile, and he did not even participate with Qreia in a press conference following his meeting this week with Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon.

There is widespread Palestinian speculation that Abbas is weakening physically and emotionally, following his angioplasty surgery this month.

Dr. Michael Widlanski is a specialist in Arab politics and communication whose doctorate dealt with the Palestinian broadcast media. He is a former reporter, correspondent and editor, respectively, at The New York Times, The Cox Newspapers-Atlanta Constitution, and The Jerusalem Post.

He has also served as a special advisor to Israeli delegations to peace talks in 1991-1992 and as Strategic Affairs Advisor to the Ministry of Public Security, editing secret PLO Archives captured in Jerusalem