Bethlehem – Ma’an – Senior Fatah official Muhammad “Abu Maher” Ghneim returned to Palestinian territory on Wednesday from exile in Tunisia ahead of the movement’s general conference, which opens next week in Bethlehem.
Palestinian news sources reported that President Mahmoud Abbas convinced Israeli authorities to allow Ghneim to live permanently in the occupied West Bank. The official himself refused to comment on these reports, however, a source close to him said that he had authorized another Fatah official to leak the report.
The reports said that Abbas has also arranged for Ghneim to establish an office in the West Bank.
After crossing the Israeli-controlled Allenby Bridge border crossing from Jordan on Wednesday, Ghneim was whisked to the Palestinian Authority (PA) headquarters in Ramallah in a presidential car, accompanied by top negotiator Saeb Erekat. In Ramallah, the Fatah official was welcomed by Abbas in an official ceremony.
Ghneim’s return also marks a reversal in Palestinian politics. Ghneim opposed the Oslo peace agreements, and at first refused to return to Palestine until all of its territory was “liberated.”
Ghneim’s arrival and the Bethlehem conference come at moment when Fatah is divided internally and locked in a struggle with the rival Hamas movement. Wednesday’s news was dominated by a quarrel in which Hamas demanded the release of political prisoners in exchange for allowing Fatah men to leave Gaza, which the Islamic movement controls.
Divisions within the movement peaked earlier in July when Farouq Qaddoumi, the head of the PLO Political Department in Tunis, accused Abbas of involvement in an alleged plot to kill his predecessor, Yasser Arafat.
Sources within Fatah say that Ghneim has severed contact with Qaddoumi in an apparent show of support for Abbas.
The sources alluded, however to a “state of turmoil” in the PLO Political department offices in Tunis, Damascus, and Amman after Abbas decided to cut funding to Qaddoumi’s operation. A Fatah man for life
Ghneim himself is a prominent figure in the Fatah movement and the history of the Palestinian struggle.
Born in 1937 in Jerusalem, he was involved in trade union activism as a young man. After the expulsion of the Palestinians from their homeland in 1948, he became a founding member of Fatah in 1954. He also participated in the founding of the PLO in 1964.
Ghneim participated in the armed struggle against Israel during this period alongside Yasser Arafat. He participated in a military training course in China and was a commander of Fatah’s “Storm Forces.”
To this day he is a member of the Fatah Central Committee.