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Palestinian sex-for-favors scandal
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In New York for a UN conference Omar Yussef uncovers an assassination plot. The suspect: his own son. Omar's most personal investigation so far.
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Was Israeli intelligence really behind the video showing an Abbas aide soliciting sex? (I posted this on Global Post.)
Afficionadoes of the oeuvre of Jamaican reggae singer Shaggy will already be familiar with the strategy of a Palestinian official caught with his pants down — more precisely, with his pants entirely off — in a sex scandal this week.

On his 2001 hit album “Hot Shot,” Shaggy tells a friend caught in flagrante delicto to “Say it wasn’t me” when his girlfriend discovers him naked on the bathroom floor with another woman. That’s just what the Palestinian leadership is doing on behalf of Rafik Husseini, bureau chief to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

Husseini was recorded on a hidden video camera stripping naked and attempting to persuade a Palestinian woman to get into bed with him (though one may assume the bathroom floor would’ve done just as well for him.) She had, as far as he knew, come to him needing a job in his office. In fact, the assignation was a sting.

But a sting by whom?

Like everything else in the world of the Palestinian Shaggies, by Israel of course. Except that it most likely wasn’t. That’s just the automatic reaction of Palestinian leaders — like the leadership of much of the Arab world — when they want to discredit someone.

In fact, the sting was set up by Fahmi Shabaneh, head of a Palestinian intelligence unit investigating corruption.

The video that Shabaneh gave to Israeli television shows Husseini disrobing and getting into bed. He speaks to a woman who isn’t seen in the shot: “Do I turn off the light or do you?"

The clip resulted in Husseini’s suspension for soliciting sex in return for favors. His boss, President Abbas, announced a commission to investigate allegations that this wasn’t the first time Husseini used his position to coerce sex.

Husseini’s defense has been to argue in a statement that he’s being targeted by unnamed organizations. He doesn’t mention Israel, but other Palestinian leaders and the Maan news agency have directly accused Israel of being behind the video. Israel’s intention, the argument goes, is to embarrass Husseini’s boss, because Abbas refuses to return to peace negotiations until Israel truly does halt construction in its West Bank settlements.

Undoubtedly Israel isn’t shy of dirty tricks. The government of Dubai this week released details of the team of assassins who killed a Hamas operative there Jan. 20 in his hotel room. The European passports the assassins carried were, in some cases, in the name of current British-Israeli citizens (who all deny involvement and whose faces don’t match the photos released by Dubai).

The track record of Israel’s foreign intelligence organization, the Mossad, would suggest that this was, indeed, an Israeli operation. So does the response of respected intelligence columnists in the Israeli press, whose response to the international outrage about the falsified passports could be summed up as, “So what? We got away with it — not that we’re saying it was us.”

There might possibly be some hidden level of Israeli involvement in Shabaneh’s case. But anyone with knowledge of recent Palestinian politics will understand that the Ramallah leadership has never needed Israeli help when it comes to corruption or infighting.

Shabaneh has been held for some months by Israel for operating as a member of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service while a resident of Jerusalem, which is under Israeli control. The heart of Husseini’s defense is that, while in custody, Shabaneh agreed to give the Israelis dirt that would discredit Abbas’ office.

That might fly if the Israelis had set Shabaneh to entrap Husseini. But Shabaneh was acting under the orders of his boss in General Intelligence, Tawfik Tirawi. And Shabaneh says he showed the incriminating video to Abbas himself a year ago, before his own detention, and the Palestinian president refused to take action against Husseini.

Palestinian politics is forgiving of those discovered to be corrupt, because of the Shaggy defense (“No, that was an Israeli agent on the bathroom floor. It wasn’t me.”) Husseini’s hope is that discrediting Shabaneh will rescue him. But he’ll probably have more trouble than the Mossad getting away with this particular piece of wickedness.