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Mahmoud Abbas Headed For The Last Round-Up?
by Hugh Fitzgerald
Mahmoud Abbas is in the sixteenth year of his four-year-term as President of the Palestinian Authority. He is best known for his despotic ways and his epic corruption. He has amassed a private fortune of $400 million, money diverted from foreign aid and from louche business deals he has made for himself and his two sons Tareq and Yasser. He has provided well-paid government jobs to his own relatives and to the relatives of others in the PA government, whose loyalty to him is thus assured. He is now deeply unpopular; in public opinion polls, he would lose the presidency, garnering at most 40% of the vote, no matter who the other candidate might be. More on Abbas and his decline and likely fall, is here: “The Final Countdown to Abbas’ Rule Is Gaining Pace,” by David Hacham, Algemeiner, July 19, 2021:
Recent events in the Palestinian Authority (PA) indicate that the countdown to the rule of President Mahmoud Abbas is gaining momentum. This does not mean that the PA is about to collapse as an organized institution of government, but it does raise serious questions about the viability of the Abbas administration.
The recent apparent torture and killing of Palestinian dissident Nizar Banat — now widely called the “Palestinian Khashoggi” by the Palestinian public — could signal the approach of a new era in the PA.
In the West Bank, the PA has responded to protests that erupted in the aftermath of Banat’s death with force and with frequent violence.
Nizar Banat was one of the most prominent critics, on social media, of President Abbas. In late June, he was dragged from a relative’s house where he had been hiding, and beaten to death with metal rods by 20 men working for the PA. This set off a wave of protests that the PA has tried to suppress, using violence on the demonstrators who are demanding both “Justice for Nizar Banat” and screaming “Out, Out, Abbas Out.” At Banat’s funeral in Hebron on June 24, the only cry was “Get out, Abbas.” Despite repeated attempts to crush these protestors, they are still out in force every day, a month later, in many parts of the West Bank, but especially in Ramallah and Hebron. Abbas must be at his wit’s end; he’s never had protests lasting as long, and of such size, as he now must deal with.
Abbas might still be able to repel the waves of criticisms and protests he is facing, safeguard the PA’s status, stabilize its rule, and continue to function as a central authority — but that scenario is being cast into doubt by senior Fatah operatives in Ramallah, who assume that Abbas is likely moving toward the final station of his long career.
Demonstrations held to protest Banat’s death saw protesters shout slogans such as “Abbas, leave!”
Added to this combustible mix is the ongoing power struggle that has been raging in recent years among possible successors to Abbas.
Many of Abbas’ critics point out that he led himself to this junction through several critical mistakes. The most prominent of these is his public, celebratory call for holding elections to the Palestinian Legislative Council (originally scheduled for May 22), as well as elections for the PA’s residency and the PLO’s National Council. The elections were canceled by Abbas due to a well-founded fear of a Hamas victory. Abbas justified his reversal using the pretext of Israel’s refusal to allow voting in eastern Jerusalem….
Abbas is a despot, who, once he was elected in 2005, never called another election – that is, until this past January 15, when he announced there would be both presidential and parliamentary elections in the PA. He thought this would be a way to curry favor – as a believer in Democracy – with the Biden Administration. But then opinion poll after poll showed him losing, 40% to 60%, against any of his possible rivals – Mohammed Dahlan, a former Fatah commander whom Abbas had convicted for corruption, now in his Emirates exile; Marwan Barghouti, who is now serving five life terms for murder in an Israeli prison; Nasser Al-Qidwa, Arafat’s cousin whom Abbas fired from his sinecure at the Yasser Arafat Foundation, and several potential rivals, too, from Hamas leaders, such as Ismail Haniyyeh. Abbas did the only sensible thing: he cancelled the elections. This enraged many in the PA who had actually believed that elections were going to be held, that there would at last be a way to get rid of Abbas. Hopes once raised, then dashed, can be more dangerous to a ruler than if he had never held out any hope in the first place.
Hamas saw its opportunity once Abbas announced the cancellation of the election. It made clear that it – not the useless Abbas, who had been cooperating with Israel on security matters in the West Bank – would be the defender of Al-Aqsa. It claimed credit for supporting the Arabs on the Temple Mount who threw rocks at the Israeli police, and at Jewish worshippers at the Western Wall far below. It also declared its solidarity with the four Arab families that, Hamas and others falsely claimed, were going to be “evicted” by “Israeli settlers” from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem, in order to change the demography of East Jerusalem. This was, in fact, an ordinary landlord-tenant dispute; the property in Sheikh Jarrah was owned by Jews – they had the title deeds dating back to 1875 – and their Arab tenants were squatters who hadn’t paid the Jewish owners any rent for many decades; Hamas, however, turned it into a case of “settlers” trying to push Arbs out of their homes in Sheikh Jarrah because they could.
After Operation Guardian of the Walls ended, a bitter struggle raged between Fatah and Hamas over who would manage and allocate funds intended to develop civilian infrastructure in Gaza.
That fight is still going on. The PA wants to be the sole conduit of such aid for Gaza, avoiding Hamas altogether. Hamas refuses to bow out. This fight is holding up the aid, and the people of Gaza are blaming the PA and, of course, Mahmoud Abbas, for the delay.
The PA’s image on the Palestinian street was dealt a severe blow, and Ramallah is today widely seen by Palestinians as a corrupt authority seeking to use Palestinian funds for its narrow interests. The PA has lost control over much of the social media narrative, and Hamas has gained the upper hand. This has allowed Hamas to present the PA as a corrupt entity that uses its security forces to cooperate with Israel and repress the Palestinian population.
The unseemly squabble over the distribution of funds for Gaza has been artfully presented by Hamas as entirely the fault of the PA, that doesn’t want Hamas to get any credit, even if it means holding up the aid for many months. Palestinians are well aware of Abbas’ corruption, but the far greater corruption of two Hamas leaders, Khaled Meshaal and Mousa Abu Marzouk – each of whom has a fortune of at least $2.5 billion – has been successfully kept hushed up.
The PA’s management of the Banat affair was a poorly calculated maneuver that could turn out to be one mistake too far. Banat was able to remain an opposition figure without affiliating himself politically. He did not hesitate to use social media to blast the PA and its leaders, the Fatah movement, and the PA’s security forces. He was also extremely critical of a deal reached between the PA and Israel over the use of coronavirus vaccines that were set to expire….
The PA mishandled Banat. They should have simply left him alone physically, but carried on a campaign of denial and slander on social media,A steady stillicide of lies would have had an effect. He could have been put on the defensive, accused of being a collaborator with Israel in trying to bring down Mahmoud Abbas. The charges wouldn’t have to make sense, as long as he was forced to continually defend himself. But once the decision was made to get rid of him, that is, to kill him, his martyrdom was assured. Abbas would of course be seen as responsible for Nizar Banat’s murder, which — of course — he was.
After Banat’s death, it is still unclear which security service – the PA has 17 separate services – was responsible, though all of them, in the end, answer to Mahmoud Abbas. No one wants to take responsibility. No one has yet been arrested to take the fall. Meanwhile, the social media is full of invective against Abbas, who has tried a crackdown on protestors, which has only maddened more people and brought them out on the streets. This method of restoring calm is not working.
He has sought to do this through the official announcement, publicized by Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh, of an investigation into the death, and through his intention to replace key position holders in the security establishment.…
The announcement of an “investigation” into Nizar Banat’s death has only slightly calmed the street. Abbas is relying on the Prime Minister Shtayyeh to communicate with the public, which means that Shtayyeh, just two months ago believed to be on his way out, will continue in office. But Salam Fayyad, the economist and technocrat, whom the Americans favor (he is that rara avis among the Palestinians, an honest man), is now being blocked in his campaign to set up a government that would limit Abbas’ power and get rid of some of his henchman. Abbas sees Fayyad as too independent, too honest, and too much the favorite of the Americans and the Israelis. Two Abbas loyalists, Hussein El Sheikh, and Majed Farah, have consolidated their positions and are circling the wagons. Meanwhile, Abbas’ rivals — Mohammed Dahlan, Marwan Barghouti, and Nasser Al-Qidwa — are doing what they can to undermine him, and to promote themselves as his successor.
Abbas is 85 and in declining health. He has an ever-growing list of political rivals, some who are members of his own Fatah faction, and others in Hamas, the terror group that has managed, with the Gaza War, to present itself as the true paladin of the Palestinian cause. He is besieged on all sides, with only a handful of loyalists — whose loyalty will last only as long as aid money for them, and jobs for their relatives, continue to flow. Abbas has no good explanation for who killed Nizar Banat; everyone knows the murderers, whichever security service they belonged to, had to have been ultimately under his direction. Why not take the $400 million nest egg now, and retire, to spend his last years with his grandsons (and to enjoy the money he put in Swiss bank accounts under their names), free from daily cares and the madding crowd’s ignoble strife?
First published in Jihad Watch.