The Chief of Staff to the President

In the mid morning we visited Rafiq Husseini who is Chief of Staff to the President. The image of this compound being shelled by the Israelis with President Arafat being held prisoner inside is one that many people will not forget easily. There are no baths hanging from holes in the walls these days. It looked like a huge shrine was in the middle of being built to Arafat.

  • Gaza - We discussed what was happening in Gaza at the moment. Husseini spoke forcefully of the causes of poverty and insecurity and the need for more investment in the legal security service. He pointed out that the fundamentalist militia is very well armed and financed. He also asked why the Israelis were intervening now. He was of the view that rockets had been being fired at Israel for some time. He asked whether the Israelis were deliberately strengthening the hand of the extreme wing of Hamas by targeting it. Such victimisation of Hamas extremists made Fatah seem like colluders.
  • The Economy - We talked about tackling corruption and the swollen numbers of state employees. He pointed out that with the extreme difficulty Palestinians have in travelling, particularly to Israel (where many Palestinians used to work) and the nose-dive the economy has taken, working for the PA was one of the few jobs available. Of course, for most PA employees there are extended periods when receiving any wages is only an aspiration!!
  • Alan Johnstone - I asked about what he thought had happened to the BBC journalist Alan Johnstone. He was confident that Alan is still alive. One of the many effects of the chronic breakdown in law and order in Gaza has been the re-emergence of clans who offer its members security. One of the clans had snatched Alan. It was known who had him but the question was how to get him released with minimal loss of life. He said that he believed Alan would be released alive as the clan holding him knew that it was known they had him. They further knew they would not be forgiven if anything happened to Alan. I hope he is right.

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