Abbas moves to draw line under sex scandal

Chief of staff suspended over video alleged to show encounter with job applicant
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The Independent Online

The Palestinian President, Mahmoud Abbas has suspended his chief of staff over an alleged sex scandal that has further eroded his public standing.

Three leading Abbas loyalists in Fatah have been appointed to a commission which will investigate the behaviour of the chief of staff, Rafiq al-Husseini.

Given that past inquiries by the Palestinian Authority (PA) into corruption and political fiascos – including the loss of Gaza to Hamas in 2007 – have not led to dismissals, the step was seen as a way of addressing public anger over the scandal, while not yet firing Mr Husseini, a long-time Abbas associate.

Israeli television's Channel Ten last week aired a video that showed Mr Husseini undressing and then lying in bed while calling out to a woman off-camera to join him. "Do I turn off the light or do you? What is the procedure?" he is heard to ask.

The woman was allegedly a job applicant with the PA. The video, made available by a former Palestinian intelligence agent, was later posted on YouTube and widely viewed by ordinary Palestinians.

It caused widespread disgust, even though it seems from the film that Mr Husseini was probably victim of entrapment by the intelligence officer, whose responsibilities included investigating corruption inside the PA. "No doubt when you see images it's a different story; very different from if someone told you," said Wadie Abu Nassar, Haifa-based director of the International Center for Consultations think-tank. Fatah's bitter rival, Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip is exploiting the scandal to present itself as a clean foil to Fatah. Its media has stressed that the intelligence officer, Fahmi Shabaneh, claims that he has also amassed considerable evidence of financial corruption at the top levels of the PA, including the theft of millions of dollars in public funds.

Although the Palestinian Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, has stressed fiscal transparency, Mr Abbas has not been able to shake off the public perception of corruption that dates back to the leadership of Yasser Arafat.

Critics of Mr Abbas stress that he knew about the allegations against Mr Husseini for more than a year and did nothing. Mr Abbas's inability to wrest substantial concessions from Israel, or to make good on promises to establish an independent Palestinian state, have also weakened him.

"What is certain is that this scandal is further harming the already damaged image of the PA in the eyes of its own constituency," Mr Abu Nassar said.

Mr Husseini, meanwhile, has said he was the victim of a conspiracy by Israelis and some Palestinians to discredit him and Mr Abbas.

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