Thursday, November 24, 2016

  • Thursday, November 24, 2016
  • Elder of Ziyon
Next week is the Seventh Fatah Conference, which many assume will be where 82-year old Mahmoud Abbas will finally choose a vice president and heir apparent.

Among the names being bandied about, like Saeb Erekat and the jailed terrorist Marwan Barghouti, is Majid Faraj, head of Palestinian General Intelligence Services, who is a frontrunner, according to some articles.

The best backgrounder on Faraj comes from Grant Rumley in this 2014 article when he was first touted as a possible Abbas successor:

Faraj’s rise has been nothing short of meteoric. Upon assuming the mantle of head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Services in 2009, he quickly gained Abbas’s trust and confidence. During John Kerry’s latest peace talks, this manifested itself in a more diplomatic form. In October of last year, Mohammad Shtayyeh, the first Palestinian to meet the Israelis at Madrid in 1991 and a perennial negotiator, resigned from the two-man negotiations team with Saeb Erekat. In his place, Abbas replaced Shtayyeh with his intelligence chief. From all accounts, Faraj was a pragmatic negotiator, earning the respect of the Israelis and Americans at the meetings.

Faraj maintains his mystique by refusing to speak with many reporters and journalists. But those around him are less media-shy. According to Amir Tibon and Ben Birnbaum, who penned the tell-all exposé of the latest talks, there might not be another official with as much of Abbas’s trust than Faraj. This type of relationship lends itself naturally to rumors that Abbas is grooming Faraj to succeed him.

Faraj has the credentials to hang with the big boys. Born and raised in the Dheisheh refugee camp near Bethlehem, Faraj has been a tried-and-true member of Fatah since childhood. He rose in the youth movement of the party during his time in university, where he cut his teeth as an organizer at Al Quds Open University. A prominent fixture in the Fatah youth shabiba movement, Faraj is often credited as one of the local leaders of the first intifada, a position that has had him imprisoned multiple times by Israel. At the onset of the Oslo Process, Faraj entered the Palestinian Preventive Security Services, eventually climbing through the ranks to become the Bethlehem division head in the heady days of the second intifada. By 2009, he was tapped to head the entire intelligence bureau.

The intelligence field has traditionally been a launch pad into the Palestinian political arena. ...

A man like Faraj, with the trust of Mahmoud Abbas, the respect of the Americans and Israelis, and the benefit of having a disproportionate amount of information on almost every political player in the West Bank, could position himself very well in the future.
Faraj made headlines when he agreed to be interviewed earlier this year by Defense News, and he said that his intelligence services foiled 200 terror attacks against Israel.

Maj. Gen. Majid Faraj is the powerful head of Abbas’ Mukhabarat, or General Intelligence Service. Born in the Dehaishe refugee camp to – in his words – “a very basic family,” Faraj rose through the ranks as a soldier in the shadows, first in the Tanzim, the armed wing of the PLO and then in the Palestinian Authority’s Preventive Security Organization (PSO) formed in the aftermath of the 1993 Oslo Accords.

Unlike Erekat, Faraj is not media-savvy. He doesn’t grant on-the-record interviews; this is a first, he says.

You’ll find no Wikipedia pages on the man who, by his account, “spent many years in Israeli jails like my brothers” before becoming a PSO commander of the Bethlehem district and then head of military intelligence.

Faraj's father was killed by Israeli forces in 2002, at the age of 62, in an operation triggered by a spate of suicide bombings throughout Israel. “He was shot in Bethlehem when he went to buy milk and bread,” Faraj recounted. “They thought he was carrying a bomb.”

Faraj, too, warns that creeping religious extremism poses a clear and present danger, not only to the PA, but to Jordan and ultimately Israel. According to Faraj’s assessment, more than 90 percent of Palestinians reject the extremism of Daesh, al-Qaida and the Nusra Front; a rejection he attributes in large part to Abbas.

“Now the number of Palestinians supporting them is very marginal, and this is a success of Abu Mazen. He changed the culture,” Faraj says. “But if Daesh or other extremist groups decide to fight Israel, they will find sympathy in the Arab street.”

As the PA’s man responsible for interlocution with American, European, regional and global intelligence and security leaders, Faraj is closely tracking the spread of regional radicalization. “Daesh is on our border; they are here with their ideology; and they are looking to find a suitable platform to establish their base. Therefore, we must prevent a collapse here, because the alternative is anarchy, violence and terrorism,” he warns.

“We, together with our counterparts in the Israeli security establishment, with the Americans and others, are all trying to prevent that collapse. The experts all know that in case of collapse, everybody will get hurt ... They’re already in Iraq, Syria, Sinai, Lebanon and Jordan, but Ramallah, Amman and Tel Aviv must remain immune from them.”

Faraj, like Erekat, insists the PA is acting in its own interests and is not doing Israel any favors by its adherence to nonviolent resistance. “We are sure that violence, radicalization and terrorism will hurt us. It won’t bring us closer to achieving our dream of a Palestinian state,” says Faraj.

Aside from the immediate threat of Hamas and other extremist groups opposed to the PLO-controlled PA policies, Faraj views security coordination as a bridge that can sustain a decent atmosphere until the politicians go back to serious talks.

He insists that since October, PA intelligence and security forces have prevented 200 attacks against Israelis, confiscated weapons and arrested about 100 Palestinians – claims that were not rejected out of hand, but could not be confirmed by the Israeli military.

But unlike Erekat, who questions the continued benefit of security coordination and fears it is serving merely as a cover for continued occupation, Faraj is a self-described fighter.

“We fought for many decades in a different way; and now we are fighting for peace … So I will continue fighting to keep this bridge against radicalization and violence that should lead us to our independence,” Faraj says.
That interview caused an uproar by Palestinians upset that the intelligence service was stopping youth from murdering Israelis, and some analysts felt that it might hurt his chances to advance his career.

It is far from certain that Abbas will anoint Faraj, but you may be hearing a lot more about him in the next couple of weeks.

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