Fiamma Nirenstein
Fiamma Nirenstein

From Russia with amazement

It is not a good time for Abu Mazen, alias Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority President since 2005.

His star is already clouded by polls that foresee him losing in the local Palestinian elections which will be held on October 8th; and now, a famous journalist, Oren Nahari, has revealed on Channel One of Israeli TV the following: that the name Abbas appears in a 1983 list of KGB agents. Isabella Ginor and Gideon Remez, two researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Truman Institute uncovered this. It is a discovery they made after examining the papers of the former KGB archivist Vasili Mitrokhin, best known for transcribing secrets by hand from its archives.

Of course, a multitude of denials have followed (including those from Nabil Shaath, Jibril Rajoub, Saeb Erakat, and all Fatah leaders…), along with accusations of political manipulation by Israel. Indeed, Muhammed al Madani of the Fatah Central Committee also said that, “the PLO had political relations with Russia, which began when Arafat met the Russian president in 1964.”

Of course, it had. According to Ion Mihai Pacepa, the well-known former head of Romanian intelligence who defected after a career of intrigues with all of the USSR’s allies, the PLO was simply part and parcel of Soviet strategy: it focused on “liberation” organizations which were anti-American and anti-Israeli. It was supposed to change the entire the Middle East, and it succeeded. Arafat himself was part of this design: his creation, the PLO, was like the National Liberation Army of Bolivia(Che Guevara, 1964), the National Liberation Army in Colombia (Fidel Castro, 1965), and the secret army for the liberation of Armenia. The PLO was born in 1964.

Abu Mazen in the years before his recruitment in 1983 was a student at Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow, coming from Damascus where he was part of the “anti-imperialist, anti-Zionist, and anti-capitalist” political movement of the PLO.

These were, in Moscow, the years of Brezhnev and later of Andropov, the sunset of Soviet glory, but Abu Mazen, who, in the papers, is not called a “collaborator” but an “agent” and headquartered in Damascus, certainly demonstrated his own special anti-Israeli zeal within the pages of his Ph.D. thesis. Here he argues that the Jews killed in the Holocaust are not more than a million and that between the Nazis and Zionists there was a cooperation pact. It doesn’t seem strange that a militant founder of the PLO could become a Soviet agent in Damascus, the capital of the middle east country most closely tied to the USSR, while Sadat’s Egypt slipped away with the peace process and Jordan was basically pro-Western.

What he did as an agent, if the news are true, is unknown, but certainly the undertakings of those years are the ones of the PLO’s affirmation as an anti-Israeli and anti-American force within the Arab world, of its consolidation in relation to Muslim terrorist violence and to the accumulation of large funds.

Channel One also made it known that in 1983 the Soviet ambassador in Damascus was Mikhail Bogdanov, currently Putin’s special envoy in the Middle East, while Putin was a lieutenant colonel in the KGB. It would seem that these reports, if the KGB hypothesis is true, could favor Putin’s request for a summit in Moscow between Abu Mazen, in the name of old times, and Netanyahu. And who knows which other requests. Well, an interesting twist from a surprising turn.

Abu Mazen was already on edge regarding the next elections, which could, although local, lead to Hamas’s victory and to the definitive irrelevance of the President when it comes to a peace settlement. This role is gone because Abu Mazen, in order to contain competition from the enemy party and may be for his personal inspiration, competed with Hamas in the support of the terror of the last third Intifada, glorifying “shahids” by naming streets and squares in their name, honoring them in public events, giving a salary to people in prison for terrorism, maintaining with public money the families of the “martyrs”.

Moreover, Palestinians in general are fed up, and nowadays many openly show it, of its very long regime of corruption and militias. What will he do in Moscow, if he goes, when sitting with Netanyahu is either trying to survive under a new-old Russian umbrella giving Putin an opportunity to appear as the savior of the Middle East, or to relaunch there his competition with Hamas, trying to win his elections with a resounding no to everything. It looks like a loose situation for this man that never really dared to try for something beyond his direct interest of preserving his power.

Translation by Amy K. Rosenthal

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (September 9, 2016)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.