US embassy cable - 99JERUSALEM1970

"ABU SAOOD:" (ONE OF) ARAFAT'S REVILED GATEKEEPERS

Identifier: 99JERUSALEM1970
Wikileaks: View 99JERUSALEM1970 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Consulate Jerusalem
Created: 1999-07-02 11:50:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PREL PGOV KPAL KDEM PINR
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 021150Z JUL 99
FM AMCONSUL JERUSALEM
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 7865
INFO ARAB ISRAELI COLLECTIVE
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 JERUSALEM 001970 
 
SMEC FOR ROSS/MILLER; NEA FOR VERSTANDIG/INDYK; NSC FOR 
RIEDEL/MALLEY; INR/B 
 
E.O. 12958:  DNG:  06/25/09 
TAGS: PREL, PGOV, KPAL, KDEM, PINR 
SUBJECT:  "ABU SAOOD:" (ONE OF) ARAFAT'S REVILED 
           GATEKEEPERS 
 
REF: A) JERUSALEM 1927 
 
1.  (U) CLASSIFIED BY CONSUL GENERAL JOHN E. HERBST, 
REASON 1.5(B). 
 
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SUMMARY 
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2.  (C)  PALESTINIANS INCREASINGLY COMPLAIN THAT 
ARAFAT'S COTERIE OF "GATEKEEPERS" ARE EXERCISING A 
DISPROPORTIONATE AMOUNT OF POWER AND PREVENTING PEOPLE 
WHO HAVE LEGITIMATE BUSINESS WITH ARAFAT FROM GETTING 
AN AUDIENCE.  MANY PALESTINIANS BELIEVE THIS GROUP IS 
PREVENTING ARAFAT FROM HEARING FROM KEY CONSTITUENTS 
WHO COULD GIVE HIM A SENSE OF THE DEEP LEVEL OF 
MISTRUST AND ALIENATION THAT MANY PALESTINIANS FEEL 
TOWARD THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY (PA).  ONE GATEKEEPER 
-- "ABU SAOOD" -- PULLS A PARTICULARLY NEGATIVE 
REACTION.  HE IS A THIRD GRADE DROP OUT WHO STARTED AS 
A COFFEE BOY WITH FATAH IN AMMAN THIRTY YEARS AGO AND 
HAS NOW RISEN TO A POSITION OF CONSIDERABLE INFLUENCE. 
ABU SAOOD'S RECENT CONFRONTATION WITH FATAH WEST BANK 
HIGHER COMMITTEE HEAD MARWAN BARGHOUTI AND THE 
POLITICAL BATTLE IT HAS HELPED KICKED OFF IS ONLY THE 
LATEST EXAMPLE OF THIS GROUP'S INFLUENCE.  THE 
FOLLOWING PIECE PROFILES ABU SAOOD.  IT IS GLEANED FROM 
THE COMMENTS AND INFORMATION GATHERED BY CONGEN FSN. 
 
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WHO IS ABU SAOOD? 
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3.  (C)  SA'ED ZAHRAN ALLAAN, KNOWN COMMONLY BY HIS NOM 
DE GUERRE "ABU SAOOD," WAS BORN AROUND 1949 INTO A 
FAMILY OF NINE IN THE WEST BANK VILLAGE OF DEIR ABU 
MASH'AL, LOCATED NORTHWEST OF RAMALLAH NEAR THE GREEN 
LINE.  HIS FATHER, A PEASANT, WANTED HIM TO GET A GOOD 
EDUCATION AND SENT HIM TO SCHOOL IN THE NEIGHBORING 
VILLAGE OF ABOUD.  AFTER FAILING TWICE TO PASS THE 
THIRD GRADE, HE DROPPED OUT OF SCHOOL AND JOINED HIS 
FATHER IN WORKING THE LAND. 
 
4.  (C) WHEN HE WAS ABOUT 20, ABU SAOOD MOVED TO AMMAN 
ON THE ADVICE OF A RELATIVE WHO TOLD HIM THAT HE COULD 
FIND HIM A JOB IN SAUDI ARABIA OR KUWAIT.  THE PROMISED 
JOB NEVER MATERIALIZED AND THE DESTITUTE ABU SAOOD WAS 
FORCED TO WORK AT DAILY LABOR JOBS IN AMMAN'S VEGETABLE 
MARKET TO SUPPORT HIMSELF.  THROUGH A RELATIVE, HE 
MANAGED TO LAND A JOB WITH FATAH IN THE LATE 60'S AS 
THE COFFEE SERVER IN THE OFFICE OF THE LATE FATAH 
LEADER SALAH KHALAF (ABU IYAD).  (NOTE: COFFEE AND TEA 
SERVERS ARE FOUND IN VIRTUALLY ALL PALESTINIANS OFFICES 
IN DEFERENCE TO THE ARAB CUSTOM OF SERVING VISITORS 
REFRESHMENT.  COFFEE SERVERS CAN BE AGING MEMBERS OF 
THE OFFICE WHO STILL NEED A STIPEND OR AMBITIOUS YOUNG 
OPERATORS SEEKING UPWARD MOBILITY THROUGH DAILY CONTACT 
WITH THEIR BOSSES.  END NOTE.) 
 
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ABU SAOOD'S CLIMB 
----------------- 
 
5.  (C) FOLLOWING THE PLO'S EXPULSION FROM JORDAN IN 
1970, ABU IYAD AND ABU SAOOD RELOCATED TO BEIRUT.  HE 
WAS PROMOTED TO MESSENGER BOY, WHICH REQUIRED HIM TO 
DELIVER MESSAGES AND LETTERS FROM ABU IYAD TO THE 
DIFFERENT PLO OFFICES, INCLUDING ARAFAT'S.  FATAH 
CONTACTS AND MEMBERS OF ARAFAT'S OFFICE SAY THAT 
WHENEVER THE OUT-GOING ABU SAOOD WENT TO ARAFAT'S 
OFFICE HE SPENT EXTRA TIME BUILDING FRIENDSHIPS WITH 
THE CHAIRMAN'S STAFF AND BODY GUARDS.  HE ALSO REPORTED 
THE GOINGS-ON AT THE ARAFAT OFFICE TO ABU IYAD.  IT IS 
SAID THAT DR. RAMZI KHOURY, A KEY FIGURE AT THE 
CHAIRMAN'S OFFICE AND LONG-TIME CONFIDANT ARAFAT, 
BECAME AWARE OF ABU SAOOD'S REPORTING RESPONSIBILITIES. 
KHOURY DECLINED TO TURN ABU SAOOD IN TO ARAFAT, AND 
INSTEAD OFFERED HIM A GOOD JOB IN ARAFAT'S OFFICE IN 
THE FUTURE IF HE BEGAN REPORTING ON ABU IYAD'S OFFICE. 
ABU SAOOD ACCEPTED AND BEGAN INFORMING ON ABU IYAD TO 
KHOURY. 
 
6.  (C)  IN THE LATE 1970'S, ABU SAOOD MOVED TO 
ARAFAT'S OFFICE, AS KHOURY HAD PROMISED.  DURING HIS 
INITIAL STINT, HE ANSWERED TELEPHONE CALLS, RECEIVED 
GUESTS AND SHOWED THEM TO THE CHAIRMAN'S OFFICE.  HE 
WAS NOT GIVEN ANY OFFICIAL TITLE.  ACCORDING TO 
MOHAMMED ADWAN, THE HEAD OF FOREIGN MEDIA RELATIONS FOR 
ARAFAT'S OFFICE, ABU SAOOD PROVED HIMSELF USEFUL TO 
ARAFAT THROUGH HIS ABILITY TO SOLVE PROBLEMS BETWEEN 
PLO FIGHTERS AND MEMBERS OF THE CHRISTIAN PHALANGIST 
MILITIA, MANY OF WHOM HE HUNG OUT WITH IN BEIRUT'S BARS 
AND BROTHELS. 
 
7.  (C)  THE MOST FAMOUS (AND COLORFUL) STORY ABOUT 
THIS PERIOD IN ABU SAOOD'S LIFE ALSO LED TO HIS NEXT 
"PROMOTION."  ACCORDING TO THE STORY/LEGEND, DURING THE 
PLO'S BEIRUT DAYS ARAFAT BECAME VERY AGITATED WITH 
SA'AD SALAAM, THE EDITOR OF A MAJOR CHRISTIAN NEWSPAPER 
WHO CONSTANTLY WROTE DISPARAGING STORIES ABOUT HIM. 
DURING A DINNER WITH HIS AIDES, THE CHAIRMAN COMPLAINED 
ABOUT THE CHRISTIAN EDITOR AND ASKED WHAT SHOULD BE 
DONE WITH HIM.  WHILE SOME OF THE CHAIRMAN'S AIDES 
HELPFULLY VOLUNTEERED TO ASSASSINATE THE EDITOR, ABU 
SAOOD SOUGHT THE CHAIRMAN OUT WITH ANOTHER IDEA IN 
MIND.  HE SAID THAT HE HAD HEARD OF ARAFAT'S DISPUTE 
WITH QLAAM QOULD SOLVE THE PROBLEM.  HE TOLD A 
DISBELIEVING ARAFAT THAT HE WOULD BRING THE EDITOR, IN 
PERSON, TO THE HIS OFFICE AND HAVE HIM APOLOGIZE TO HIM 
AND PROMISE NEVER TO WRITE ANYTHING INSULTING AGAINST 
THE CHAIRMAN AGAIN.  THE CHAIRMAN IS SAID TO HAVE 
LAUGHED AT ABU SAOOD. 
 
8.  (C) THE NEXT DAY, HOWEVER, ABU SAOOD SHOWED UP AT 
THE CHAIRMAN'S OFFICE ACCOMPANIED BY THE EDITOR.  TRUE 
TO ABU SAOOD'S PLEDGE, THE EDITOR APOLOGIZED TO ARAFAT 
AND PROMISED NOT TO WRITE ANYTHING INSULTING ABOUT HIM 
AGAIN.  AFTER THE EDITOR LEFT ARAFAT'S OFFICE, THE 
CHAIRMAN DEMANDED THAT ABU SAOOD REVEAL HOW HE MANAGED 
TO INDUCE THE EDITOR TO APOLOGIZE.  ABU SAOOD REPORTEDLY 
REVEALED THAT HE HAD BLACKMAILED THE EDITOR OVER A 
SEXUAL INDISCRETION. 
 
9.  (C) ABU SAOOD OBTAINED HIS CURRENT TITLE AND A NEW 
LEVEL OF INFLUENCE IN 1992 IN AN EQUALLY DRAMATIC 
FASHION -- HE LITERALLY PUT HIS LIFE ON THE LINE FOR 
THE CHAIRMAN.  ABU SAOOD WAS TRAVELING WITH ARAFAT WHEN 
HIS PLANE CRASHED IN THE LIBYAN DESERT.  REALIZING THAT 
A CRASH WAS IMMINENT, ABU SAOOD REPORTEDLY RUSHED THE 
CHAIRMAN TO THE TAIL SECTION OF THE AIRPLANE AND 
MOBILIZED ARAFAT'S BODYGUARDS TO SURROUND THE CHAIRMAN, 
ACTING ESSENTIALLY AS "HUMAN PILLOWS."  ABU SAOOD 
HIMSELF EMBRACED ARAFAT TO HELP ABSORB THE SHOCK OF 
IMPACT.  ONE OF THE FIRST THINGS ARAFAT DID AFTER HIS 
RECOVERY WAS AWARD ABU SAOOD THE OFFICIAL TITLE OF 
"HEAD OF PUBLIC RELATIONS AND PROTOCOL" AT HIS OFFICE. 
 
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REACHING THE PINNACLE, OR THIS IS NOT A MERITOCRACY 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
 
10. (C)  ABU SAOOD, A SHORT, PORTLY MAN WITH A GRUFF 
DEMEANOR, IS NOW WELL-KNOWN TO ANYONE WHO VISITS 
ARAFAT'S OFFICE.  HE DETERMINES -- FOR MOST VISITORS -- 
WHETHER THEY GET AN AUDIENCE WITH THE CHAIRMAN.  AS HIS 
POWER HAS GROWN, HE HAS ALSO BEGUN TO BE DISPATCHED TO 
EVENTS TO "REPRESENT" ARAFAT'S OFFICE.  WHEN HE ATTENDS 
AN EVENT IT IS UNIVERSALLY INTERPRETED AS A NOT-SO- 
SUBTLE MEANS OF INTIMIDATION.  FOR EXAMPLE, HE APPEARED 
AT THE PALESTINIAN COUNCIL SESSIONS LAST SUMMER WHEN 
THE COUNCIL WAS BALKING AT APPROVING ARAFAT'S NEW 
CABINET.  WHEN HEATED DEBATES ERUPTED, ABU SAOOD WOULD 
SHOW UP TO "LOBBY" QUARRELING COUNCIL MEMBERS.  COUNCIL 
MEMBERS UNANIMOUSLY SAW ABU SAOOD'S PRESENCE AS BOTH A 
SIGN OF HOW SERIOUSLY ARAFAT WAS ABOUT SECURING 
APPROVAL FOR HIS CABINET AND A CLEAR INDICATION THAT 
VOTING THE WRONG WAY WOULD CARRY A HIGH POLITICAL 
PRICE. 
 
11.  (C)  MORE RECENTLY, ABU SAOOD WAS INVOLVED IN A 
CONFRONTATION WITH FATAH WEST BANK HIGHER COMMITTEE 
HEAD MARWAN BARGHOUTI (REF).  THE EVENT HELPED UNLEASH 
THE CURRENT ROUND OF INTENSE POLITICAL WRANGLING THAT 
IS SEEING ELEMENTS IN ARAFAT'S OLD GUARD TRY TO 
MANEUVER GRASSROOTS FATAH ACTIVISTS OUT OF POSITIONS OF 
POWER.  IN A SIGN OF THE DISTRUST WITH WHICH ABU SAOOD 
IS VIEWED, MANY PALESTINIANS SEE HIM AS ACTING 
INDEPENDENTLY AGAINST BARGHOUTI IN HIS CAPACITY AS THE 
SELF-APPOINTED OVERSEER OF THE PALESTINIAN DOMESTIC 
POLITICAL SCENE. 
 
12.  (C)  THE FACT THAT ABU SAOOD EITHER WIELDS THIS 
KIND OF POWER, OR IS ONLY PERCEIVED TO, PROVOKES A 
CONSIDERABLE AMOUNT OF FEAR AND LOATHING AMONG MANY 
POLITICALLY ACTIVE PALESTINIANS.  A NUMBER OF 
PALESTINIANS HAVE RECENTLY INSISTED THAT EVEN MOHAMMED 
RASHID, ARAFAT'S POWERFUL ECONOMIC ADVISOR, HAS HAD 
TROUBLE GETTING PAST ABU SAOOD.  WHILE THIS IS HARD FOR 
US TO BELIEVE, IT DOES UNDERSCORE THE EPIC NATURE OF 
ABU SAOOD'S REPUTATION AMONG PALESTINIANS. 
 
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COMMENT 
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13.  (C) ABU SAOOD'S RISE FROM UNEDUCATED MANUAL 
LABORER AND COFFEE BOY TO ONE OF ARAFAT'S MOST TRUSTED 
AIDES OFFERS A SNAPSHOT OF THE HIGHLY PERSONALIZED WAY 
THAT ARAFAT DOES BUSINESS AND THE DIVIDENDS THAT 
LOYALTY CAN PAY.  ABU SAOOD IS A FREQUENT 
TARGET OF CRITICISM FROM PALESTINIANS WHO BELIEVE THIS 
IS A POOR WAY TO CONDUCT AFFAIRS.  THE CRITICISM ALSO 
STEMS FROM PALESTINIANS' PERSONAL EXPERIENCE WITH HIM 
AS A NASTY INDIVIDUAL WHO IS MOST COMMONLY DESCRIBED BY 
CONSULATE CONTACTS AS A "THUG."  (BIONOTE: ABU SAOOD IS 
MARRIED AND HAS ONE OR TWO DAUGHTERS.  HE DOES NOT 
SPEAK ENGLISH.) 
 
 
HERBST 

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