Abbas aide in sex tape scandal urged to quit

David Welch, Rafiq Husseini
Rafiq Husseini, second right, walks with then-U.S. Assistant Secretary of State David Welch, right, as they arrive for a meeting with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, at his headquarters in Ramallah, on Nov. 3, 2007.MUHAMMED MUHEISEN / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

As sex tapes go, it's fairly tame — a man gets undressed in a bedroom, slides under the covers, plumps the pillows and calls to a woman to join him.

But the man is a top aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and a former Palestinian intelligence official who secretly recorded the scene alleges the aide tried to trade his influence for sex.

The footage of the aide, Rafiq Husseini, has sent shock waves through conservative Palestinian society since it was broadcast on Israeli TV earlier this week.

It has left the Palestinian leader scrambling for a response and his rivals from the Islamic militant group Hamas gloating.

Even though the Palestinian Authority has won international praise for cleaning up official corruption that was rampant under the late Yasser Arafat, Abbas' Fatah movement continues to be dogged by the perception that some of its leading officials pursue personal gain and pleasure over the national good.

Abbas, who is traveling in the Far East and is due back in the West Bank on Monday, has not commented. Other Abbas aides rallied around Husseini, saying he would stay on as Abbas' chief of staff for now.

Attempt to discredit Abbas?
Husseini has not appeared in public or commented since the video was broadcast by Israel's Channel 10 TV in a report that also included allegations of high-level financial wrongdoing.

The erudite, British-educated Husseini, who has often served as the point man for explaining the Palestinian cause to foreign audiences, was to make his case on Palestine TV later Friday, according to the station.

Palestinian officials claimed the video was part of an Israeli attempt to discredit Abbas and denounced Fahmi Shabaneh, the former Palestinian intelligence officer at the center of the drama, as a collaborator with Israel.

The allegations come at a time of deadlock in U.S. attempts to renew Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Abbas has said he won't resume negotiations until Israel freezes settlement construction.

Shabaneh said that after Arafat's 2004 death, he was asked by Abbas to investigate official corruption, but that he was ignored when he presented his findings to the Palestinian leader.

Shabaneh said he began investigating Husseini after a woman complained that the chief of staff made suggestive remarks when she went to his office to ask for help with a family problem. Shabaneh said he set up cameras in the woman's apartment, with her permission, and filmed Husseini's next encounters with her.

In the video, Husseini is shown sitting on a couch in a living room, flanked by two women Shabaneh identifies as Husseini's secretary and the unidentified woman who sought his help.

During their conversation, Husseini is heard describing Abbas as aloof and lacking charisma and says Arafat surrounded himself with crooks. At some point, Husseini alludes to his own influence.

"Would you like a decree? Would you like me to issue a presidential decree for you?" he asks, though it's not clear to which of the two women the remark is addressed.

'Do I turn off the light?'
In a later scene, Husseini is shown undressing, alone, in a bedroom.

He gets into bed, plumps the pillows and calls out to the unseen woman to join him. "Do I turn off the light or do you? What is the procedure?" he is heard asking the woman.

Moments later, Shabaneh enters the room with three other men and identifies himself. Husseini jumps out of bed and gets dressed.

The official Palestinian media have not reported the details, but the video appeared on YouTube and quickly became a main topic of conversation across the Palestinian territories.

The independent West Bank-based Maan news agency urged Husseini in an editorial to step down pending an investigation, arguing that he could no longer carry out his job effectively. "This is embarrassing to the Palestinian Authority, this is embarrassing to our people, this is embarrassing to our families," Maan editor-in-chief Nasser Laham, who wrote the editorial, said in an interview.

However, Laham also portrayed the Abbas aide as a victim of a smear campaign, calling Israeli TV's airing of the footage "a lynching."

Jibril Rajoub, a senior Fatah official, said the movement will look into the issues in due time, but added that "Fatah will not allow anyone to use his position to serve his personal agenda and his fantasies."

Financial scandal?
In Gaza, Hamas claimed it has far more scandalous material involving Fatah officials but is holding back because it does not want to jeopardize attempts at Palestinian reconciliation. Hamas seized control of Gaza from Fatah forces in 2007, and Hamas officials claim they obtained incriminating material at the time.

"We urge Fatah to stop cooperation with the occupation (Israel) and renounce the lowly people within its ranks and resume the national cause," said Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas spokesman.

In the Channel 10 broadcast, Shabaneh also produces documents allegedly showing that Palestinian Authority officials have stolen millions of dollars in public funds.

The TV report did not name the suspected officials but said they include Abbas confidants. It said one method was to overbill the Palestinian government for real estate purchases made in its name.