For Mahmoud Abbas, a Last Hurrah?
Abbas' pretend-game of elections backfires.
Mahmoud Abbas originally thought it was a good idea. There was a new administration in Washington, one most favorably inclined to the Palestinians. The Biden people were ready to undo what the “unfriendly” Trump Administration had done. Trump had closed the PLO office in Washington, Biden promised to open it. Trump had folded the consulate to the Palestinians in east Jerusalem into the Embassy in Jerusalem; Biden promised to reopen it. Trump had ended both direct aid to the Palestinians and American contributions to UNRWA.
Biden announced that he was again turning on the spigot of aid, starting with a $15 million contribution, then another one of $80 million, with more – much more – to come. As for the Taylor Force Act, which prohibits American aid to the Palestinians as long as they continued to provide subsidies to terrorists and their families, in what is grimly known as the “Pay-For-Slay” program, nothing has been said about Biden’s renewal of aid constituting a clear violation of Taylor Force. Apparently it was enough that such aid was described as “humanitarian” to exempt it from the application of Taylor Force, but there is no such exemption in the language of the act. Nonetheless, no one in Congress said anything, no one insisted that such aid, even if called “humanitarian,” should be halted; possibly politicians were fearful that if they did so, they would. be painted as depriving the “poor Palestinians” of diapers and baby formula. But money is fungible; “humanitarian” aid money given to the Palestinians frees up other sums that can then be spent on weapons for terrorists.
These initial deliveries of aid were being given, members of the Administration let it be known, to “earn the trust” of the Palestinians. Why the Americans felt they needed to win the “trust” of the endlessly meretricious Palestinians remains unclear. But no one asked for a clarification. In any case, the largesse lavished upon the Palestinians will not win their “trust” but merely confirm their belief in the gullibility of the Americans, or at least of the Americans who have now assumed power in Washington.
It was in this promising environment, so full of possibilities, that the President-For-Life, Mahmoud Abbas, now entering the sixteenth year of his four-year term, had his Bright Idea. He would hold elections, both for the Palestinian parliament and for the Presidency, and show the Biden Administration just how deeply committed he is to democracy. He wouldn’t have to endure any more of those jokes about “Abbas is now beginning the sixteenth year of his four-year term” (see just above). He would pretend to allow free and fair elections. Everyone would be impressed.
Things have, however, gotten out of hand, now that Palestinians, including members of his own Fatah, have taken the elections seriously, and some are fielding candidates not to Abbas’ liking. A report on the latest developments is here: “Palestinian Elections: Abbas faces ‘revolt’ over Fatah’s electoral list,” by Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, April 3, 2021:
The schism in Fatah has deepened after the ruling faction, headed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, submitted its list of candidates for the upcoming parliamentary election to the Palestinian Central Elections Commission (CEC)….
Several Fatah activists and prominent figures accused Abbas of excluding them from the faction’s official list. Some went as far as publicly denouncing Abbas as a “dictator” running Fatah and the PA as a one-man show….
What kind of people do you think Mahmoud Abbas chose for his Fatah list? People of independent mind, who might have given signs of standing up to him in the past, or likely to do so in the future? Of course not. Mahmoud Abbas chose only his loyalists, those who are his lickspittles, supporting his every act, looking the other way at his colossal corruption, and ignoring his mismanagement of the PA. They remain grateful for the well-paid sinecures he has provided them with, and often to their relatives as well, in appreciation of their refusal to think – ever – for themselves, but to follow him blindly. A list, in short, full of mediocrities.
Fatah candidate Zakaria al-Talmas, meanwhile, warned that his faction was facing a “big conspiracy” by a number of foreign intelligence agencies and other parties. He did provide details about the alleged conspirators.
No setback for the Palestinians would be complete if they couldn’t pin the blame on “foreign intelligence agencies.” Why, it must surely be the Shin Bet, trying to unseat Abbas. Unfortunately for Zakaria al-Talmas, his theory blows up when one realizes that it was the head of the Shin Bet, Nadav Agarman, who went to Ramallah and urged Abbas to cancel the electiions because he feared Abbas would lose. The Israelis are not trying to unseat Abbas but to make sure he stays in power, for they worry about Hamas taking control of the PA, and they think if he persists In holding the elections, Abbas is likely to lose.
In some parts of the West Bank, Fatah gunmen took to the streets to voice their opposition to the list, which was presented to the CEC last Wednesday.
In Jenin, scores of Fatah gunmen announced that they have suspended their membership in the faction. Firing a volley of shots into the air, the gunmen accused Abbas and the Fatah leadership of excluding many of their supporters from the list.
This is a real rebellion, with the implied threat of violence – that “volley of shots” by armed gunmen. They were not signaling their anger at the Israelis from Jenin, a city that had been a cradle of resistance during the Second Intifada (remember the so-called “Jenin massacre”?), but rather, venting their rage at Mahmoud Abbas for doing exactly as he had always done, arrogating all decision-making to himself, and choosing to favor those who, however corrupt or incompetent they might be, were unswervingly loyal to him.
Mohammed al-Sabbagh, a senior Fatah activist, appealed to Abbas to form a commission of inquiry to determine the identity of those who “conspired” against the faction’s representatives in the Jenin area. Sabbagh accused “influential people” in the Fatah leadership of sowing discord and undermining unity among the faction’s supporters.
The discontent in Fatah is not to be found just among the foot-soldiers of Fatah shooting off their rifles in Jenin. An ally of Abbas has sensed a wider dissatisfaction at the upper levels – those “influential people” in Fatah whom he accuses of “sowing discord.” He’s the one who urges Abbas to appoint a committee of inquiry, which would allow Abbas to appear to be addressing the problem, as a wise leader should. And then once the committee comes to the conclusion he will dictate, about “rivals of President Abbas in Fatah who are jealous of his success are trying to seize power,” time will have passed, some hotheads will have their anger assuaged by Abbas replacing a few dozen (out of 132 candidates) of the candidates he had originally proposed — the most egregious of the loyal incompetents — by neutral technocrats.
In the Fawwar refugee camp near Hebron, unidentified gunmen opened fire at the home of Ziyad al-Hamouz, a Fatah activist whose name appeared on the list for the parliamentary election, set to take place on May 22. Hamouz said that at least nine bullets hit his home, shattering windows and damaging one of the doors. No one was hurt.
The shooting incident occurred shortly after Fatah leaders presented their faction’s list to the CEC offices in Ramallah.
“No one was hurt.” But they could have been. The rebels against Abbas are becoming ever more threatening: now the guns are firing not only into the air, but directly at the house of an Abbas loyalist who is on his parliamentary list. Was it a wordless expression of blind fury, or a message meant for Ziad Al-Hamouz, a way to persuade him to quit the parliamentary race, or was it a message intended for Abbas, telling him to replace al-Hamouz with someone more acceptable? No one has yet fired on the $13 million palace in Ramallah that Abbas had built for himself. But surely he must now be uneasy at the violent turn that protests against his list of candidates have taken.