The headlines in the local press spoke of Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meeting with a high-ranking official of the Palestinian Authority (PA), one Hussein al-Sheikh. Al-Sheikh is described as one of Mahmud Abbas’ closest advisors and his point-man for interactions with Israel. Khaled Abu Toameh adds that al-Sheikh will replace the late Saeb Erekat in the PLO and may be a future PA president.
So who is Hussein al-Sheikh?
21 March of this year will be exactly 20 years since our son and I were blown up in downtown Jerusalem. The bomber, Mohammed Hasheikeh, was an active-duty PA policeman. He had been sent to King George Street in Jerusalem by a senior official in the PA intelligence services with the aid of a senior Fatah terrorist. Two women brought Hasheikeh downtown and separated themselves from him as he strolled towards Histradut Street, where at 4:20 in the afternoon he detonated a huge shrapnel-filled bomb he was wearing. The women were bloodied from afar and the sound of the blast was heard in Motza at the far end of the city. Tzipporah Shemesh was killed on the spot, she and the twins who would never be born. She and her husband Gadi had just come out of a happy ultrasound appointment when the bomber blew up. Gadi went through dozens of units of blood in the hospital before he too succumbed to his wounds. A third fellow, Yitzhak Cohen, had left his store to run a quick errand. He never came back. In total, three were killed that day on King George Street and another 83 were wounded. I had two screws pass through my left arm, while our son Yehonathan had the head of a Philips screw pass fully through his right brain.
The following months were spent recuperating and in trying to get our lives back together. In October of 2002, a short article in Maariv appeared mentioning the relevant actors in the King George bombing.: the bomber, his two escorts, and the heads of the cell. The information came from several military indictments. I knew that I needed to see those documents, and they were graciously provided to me by the Shemesh family lawyer. The indictments, covering tens of pages, were based on signed confessions from the members of the cell that perpetrated the bombing. The head of the cells was Abdel Akrim Aweis, a senior official in the PA intelligence agency and someone who has gone up several ranks during the 20 years he has been paid by the PA in Israeli jail. While all of the indictments have the near-identical details, they help one another to paint a clear picture of events leading up to and just after the bombing. The terrorist, Nasser Shawish, met with Marwin Barghouti the day before the attack; the latter gave the former $600 “for the success of the attack” even though Shawish said that they were prepared and needed nothing.
One curious actor in the indictments is none-other than Yair Lapid’s new friend, Hussein al-Sheikh. I translated the Hebrew indictments; if someone wants to see the original, they are available for viewing. Below is my translation of the relevant passages from the Aweis indictment. And I think that it is important to note that Abdel Akrim Aweis actually gave an interview to the New York Times (“Suicide Planner Expresses Joy Over His Missions”) in May of 2002. He stated categorically that other than being denied sleep he was in no way tortured by Israeli officials.
19. On the same day, the accused, Nasser Shawish and Mohammed Hasheikah visited in the office of Hussein Al-Sheikh, General Secretary of Fatah in the region. There, the accused received from Hussein Al-Sheikh money and two hand grenades for the purpose of performing the intended attack.
30. Afterwards, the accused and Nasser Shawish turned to Hussein Al-Sheikh, General Secretary of Fatah in the region to prepare an announcement that the Al-Aksa Martyr Brigade, the armed wing of Fatah Tanzim, took responsibility for the suicide attack described above. After preparing the announcement, Nasser Shawish went to the offices of ANN New Service, and there was photographed as he read the said announcement of taking responsibility for the said attack.
Is this the same Hussein al-Sheikh? According to his biography, the Hussein al-Sheikh that met with Yair Lapid was elected Secretary General of Fatah for the West Bank in 1999. So it is one and the same. Are there other military or civilian indictments in which Mr. al-Sheikh appears? Was Yair Lapid aware of the indictments from the March 21, 2002 bombing and their implications for the senior Palestinian minister he met? Does the Foreign Minister have any problems meeting with someone implicated by Palestinian terrorists as having taken part in an attack that left three Israelis dead, including a young couple and their unborn children? Why would Israeli officials meet with al-Sheikh and Marwan Barghouti when they have been implicated in the death and injury of Israeli citizens during the horrors of the Second Intifada?
I know that there will be those who will rush out to scream that one negotiates with his enemies and not his friends. And that is true, but it is only true with the enemies have come around to sharing similar goals, as Sadat did in his day and the signers of the Abraham Accords have done more recently. The Palestinian leadership has never disavowed terror, and Israeli leaders happily meet with their counterparts without demanding that the latter publicly and clearly renounce terror and own up to their own actions. There was of course the great farce of Yasir Arafat, at the demand of the US, stating “We renounce all forms of terrorism”, which sounded like he had marbles in his mouth and as a contemporaneous cartoon in the Chicago Tribune showed, it sounded more like “We renounce all foams of tourism.” The value of Barghouti and al-Sheikh in the Palestinian hierarchy is directly related to their former activities. If they were to renounce terror, their value to the Palestinian populace, who have been promised for decades all of the land through “blood and fire” would quickly go to zero. That is a Palestinian problem, not an Israeli problem.
All talks between Israeli and the Palestinian Authority will lead to failure until Israel has the wisdom and intestinal fortitude (“kishkes”) to demand that any and all Palestinian officials meeting with Israeli counterparts formally and publicly renounce terror as a tool for national advancement. As long as terror is, in the mind of both the Palestinian body politic and its leaders, a legitimate and viable option for gaining political goals, Israel will never make peace with the PA. If Yair Lapid had understood the gross negligence of his meeting with someone implicated in the murder of Israeli citizens, maybe he would have forgone the meeting until al-Sheikh admitted to any past terror activities and renounced his support for any future Palestinian terror. Picture a soccer match, the most important in history. One team has to play by the rules while the other can use its hands and dribble outside of the white lines. Any idea who is guaranteed to lose? Until the Palestinians rid themselves of terror and their leaders renounce a return to violence in any form against Israeli citizens, there is no positive purpose of meeting with PA leaders. Peace will not flow from such shameless meetings.
*Editor’s Note: The subject of the above article, Hussein al-Sheikh, was nominated to be the next PLO General Secretary, and is being touted as a successor to the Palestinian Authority’s ‘democratically elected’ leader for life, Mahmoud Abbas.