On February 6 in Ramallah, a meeting of the Palestine Central Council was held to fill important vacancies in the PLO and its legislative body, the Palestine National Council. Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad refused to send representatives, claiming that only Abbas’ loyalists would be chosen. And so it turned out to be. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Monday, February 7 scored a victory as the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) voted in favor of appointing his loyalists to key positions in the Palestinian leadership.
These included the following as noted in “Palestinian leadership positions filled by Abbas loyalists,” by Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, February 7, 2022:
Hussein al-Sheikh, the head of the PA General Authority of Civil Affairs, who was chosen to replace the late Saeb Erekat, who died of Covid in 2020, as secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee.
Abbas serves as chairman of the PLO Executive Committee and the Fatah Central Committee, two bodies that are now dominated by his loyalists.
The appointment of Sheikh boosts his chances of becoming No. 2 in the Palestinian leadership and a potential successor to Abbas.
Mohammad Mustafa was elected to replace the PLO Executive Committee member Hanan Ashrawi, who resigned in 2020 after accusing the Palestinian leadership of marginalizing the PLO and excluding it from decision-making.
Ramzi Rabah was elected to replace veteran PLO Executive Committee member Tayseer Khaled, who submitted his resignation.
The PCC elected Ramzi Khoury as chairman of the Palestinian National Fund, the PLO’s “finance ministry.” Khoury, a longtime confidant of Abbas, was also elected to be a member of the PLO Executive Committee.
The PCC also voted in favor of appointing another Abbas loyalist, Rouhi Fattouh, as speaker of the Palestinian National Council, the PLO’s legislative body and parliament in exile. Fattouh replaced Salim Zanoun, who retired after 30 years in the job.
One Palestinian analyst called the results a “great victory” for Abbas. Other analysts said it was a farce. Abbas had railroaded his candidates through; he who is entering the seventeenth year of his four-year-term as president doesn’t care about those who criticize his undemocratic ways; he’s got his loyalists in place, has chosen his potential successor, and has demonstrated that he has no intention of retiring himself. There was a general furor, both in Ramallah and throughout the West Bank, at Abbas’ power play.
The anger at Abbas’ high-handed ways came not just from his enemies, Hamas and PIJ, but from within Fatah, the faction in the PLO that Abbas heads. Some felt that Abbas had now overreached, and that he might be forced to accept changes in his lineup of loyalists.
Then, however, fate intervened to change the subject. Just two days after the meeting in Ramallah, the IDF tracked to their hideout in Nablus three members of a terror cell who had recently been active in shootings on the West Bank, and killed them.
A report on how Israel’s killing of these particular terrorists helped the embattled Abbas is here: “Abbas’s embattled Fatah seeks to score points with Palestinians,” by Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, February 8, 2022:
The killing of three Fatah gunmen by the IDF in Nablus on Tuesday came as the ruling faction and its head, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, have been facing sharp and widespread criticism for “hijacking” major institutions and excluding other groups from decision-making.
The IDF said the three were involved in a series of shooting attacks against soldiers and Israeli civilians in recent weeks.
The incident in the largest Palestinian city in the West Bank came amid growing criticism by many Palestinians of the security coordination between the PA security forces and the IDF.
It also coincided with allegations that Fatah had abandoned the “armed struggle” and its heads were openly “collaborating” with Israel.
The PA security forces collaborate with Israel, it’s true, but only when it serves their interests – that is, when the terrorists being sought by Israel are members of Hamas and the PIJ, the mortal enemies of the PA and of its head, Mahmoud Abbas. It can hardly be said to have abandoned the “armed struggle” when the PA continues, defiantly, to spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on its “Pay-For-Slay” program, which provides generous monthly subsidies to imprisoned terrorists and to the families of terrorists who were killed while carrying out their attacks. This program both rewards past, and incentivizes future, terrorism. In addition, the PA honors terrorists by naming schools, streets, parks, and sports competitions after them. That surely demonstrates support for the “armed struggle.”
The incident serves the interests of Fatah and Abbas.
First, it diverts attention from the controversy surrounding the meeting of the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) in Ramallah earlier this week.
Several Palestinian factions and figures boycotted the meeting, saying it was being held without “national agreement” or a clear strategy regarding the future of relations between the PA and Israel.
Other Palestinians said the main goal of the meeting was to appoint a number of Abbas loyalists to senior positions in the PLO and its legislative body, the Palestinian National Council.
On Monday night, the PCC endorsed the Abbas nominees, further enraging his critics and political opponents.
But as soon as news about the IDF operation in Nablus spread, the debate concerning the PCC session and its decisions was replaced with statements of condemnation by all the Palestinian factions. Palestinians were now talking about the killing of the three men instead of the PCC.
What better way to distract your critics, or silence them altogether, than to have the hated Israelis enter your largest city and kill three of your “martyrs”? No more angry wrangling over who was chosen to fill what post; instead, there was a general rallying-around, with each Palestinian faction – Hamas, PIJ, Fatah – putting out its own statement of condemnation of the Israelis for their successful act of self-defense.
Second, that the three militants belonged to Fatah’s armed wing, Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, allows the faction to boast that its members are also involved in military action against Israel, and not only Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad
The Aqsa Martyrs Brigades were quick to publish a statement endorsing the three slain gunmen as its “martyrs.” The statement aims to send a message to the Palestinian public that Fatah remains committed to the “armed struggle” against Israel despite its leaders’ talk about the need for a peaceful “popular resistance.”
This is Fatah’s way of scoring points with a disillusioned Palestinian public.
Mahmoud Abbas was in luck. The three men killed by the IDF turned out to be members of the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, which is the armed wing of Abbas’ very own Fatah faction. That allowed him to be seen as a supporter of “armed struggle” and to deflect criticism of PA leaders for at times suggesting that a “peaceful” resistance to Israel, with mass protests and marches, might be a more effective weapon against the Zionists than violence.
Palestinians pointed out, however, that one of the gunmen, Adham Mabroukeh, had previously criticized the PA and its security forces and accused them of spying on him. On his social-media accounts, Mabroukeh had also posted comments praising the Gaza-based terrorist groups and criticizing the PA over the killing of anti-corruption activist Nizar Banat in Hebron last June.
But it is not unusual for Fatah gunmen in the West Bank to openly criticize the PA and its security forces. Some of the gunmen have also clashed with PA security officers, especially in the refugee camps in Jenin and Nablus.
Abbas and his loyalists in the Fatah faction of the PA claimed the three terrorists as their very own, but it turns out that one of them, Adham Mabroukeh, though a member of Fatah, was also a critic of the P.A.’s security services, whom he accused of spying on him. He also had praised on social media Abbas’ arch-enemies, Hamas and the PIJ. Finally, Mabroukeh had criticized the PA for the killing of Nizar Banat, an anti-corruption activist whom Abbas had wanted to silence. Mabroikeh was a Fatah member, it seems, in name only – his views were closer to those expounded by Hamas.
Third, the Nablus incident allows the PA leadership to continue its campaign of incitement against Israel and urge the international community to exert pressure on it.
The PA government called for an international commission of inquiry into the “horrible crime” and urged the United Nations and other international bodies to condemn Israel.
The PA Ministry of Foreign Affairs accused Israel of committing an “ugly and brutal crime” and held the Israeli government “fully and directly responsible.” It called on the UN to provide protection for the Palestinians and the US administration to pressure Israel to stop its “crimes.”
In its outcry (this “ugly and brutal crime”) against Israel for neutralizing terrorists who had been trying to murder Israelis, the PA was demonstrating its leadership as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians. Neither Hamas nor the PIJ, both of which have been declared to be “terror groups” by many countries, can present themselves as acceptable representatives to make the “case for Palestine.” Abbas was no doubt much relieved to be able to have the PA express the Palestinian outrage, to demand an accounting, to call on the UN – quite an act of chutzpah – to “protect the Palestinians,” and to assume the mantle of leadership that no one in Hamas or the PIJ could assume.
Whether Abbas can continue to distract Palestinian attention from his power-play at the meeting of the PCC in Ramallah, where all of his loyalists were placed in important jobs, while anyone who was known to oppose him was kept well away from the corridors of power, is still to be determined.
For Abbas, an initial win in Ramallah, where he managed to fill every vacancy with his closest aides, turned into a loss, when so many infuriated Palestinians turned on him — a reaction he did not expect — for his highhandedness. And just as the heated responses threatened to loosen his grip on the PA, the very next day, Israel’s killing of the three terrorists right in the West Bank’s largest city turned the Palestinian discussion away from Abbas and onto the latest act of wanton cruelty by the Zionists. The three terrorists were all members of Fatah, another lucky break for Abbas, who could thereby offer proof that his Fatah faction was just as committed to the “armed struggle” as other Palestinian groups. For Abbas it has been, between February 6 and February 8, a win, then a loss, then another win. Quite a roller-coaster ride, but at 86, Mahmoud Abbas is still holding on.