After Arab Spring, Abbas discovers importance of Palestinian public opinion

A meeting between Palestinian president and Vice PM Shaul Mofaz was cancelled due to pressure from the Palestinian public, not because of Netanyahu.

By Avi Issacharof


Several hours after an official from Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud’s Abbas’ office leaked to the media that a planned meeting with Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz would not take place, the latter’s aides claimed that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was behind the move.

This reaction was both immature and condescending, reflecting a characteristic Israeli response to Abbas’ moves – as if the Palestinian leader has no will of his own, no independent interests and especially no public opinion to take into consideration.

Demonstration against Abbas-Mofaz meeting in Ramallah, July 1, 2012.

Palestinian policemen scuffle with protesters opposing a meeting between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Shaul Mofaz in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Sunday, July 1, 2012. - Photo by AP

Barak Ravid wrote this morning in Haaretz that Netanyahu is prepared to reveal classified documents proving that he was not involved in Abbas’ decision to cancel the meeting. For once, I believe Netanyahu. Abbas has significant problems with Palestinian public opinion, and nothing to gain from a useless tête-à-tête with Mofaz.

A few days before the meeting was to take place, a number of Facebook groups were created calling on Abbas not to meet with the man “responsible for the Jenin massacre”– a reference to the Israeli operation in the Jenin refugee camp in 2002, during the Second Intifada (which did not include a massacre).

Abbas’ aides and supporters called on him to cancel the meeting, claiming it would not serve his interests – especially considering that Mofaz is not authorized to hold negotiations and cannot promise any significant gestures, such as a freezing construction in the settlements.

Abbas’ decision to cancel the meeting did not put an end to the protests. On Saturday, a demonstration against Abbas was met with violence by Palestinian security forces. Several of the demonstrators were beaten and injured. A similar outcome awaited another demonstration held the next day. A huge procession in central Ramallah is due to take place on Tuesday, against Abbas and the conduct of his security forces.

Two weeks ago, Khalil Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research published an opinion poll held among West Bank Palestinians, which pointed at a marked decrease in the popularity of Fatah and Abbas, coupled with increased support for Hamas and its prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh.

According to the poll, if elections were held today, Abbas would defeat Haniyeh by a mere 5 percent, compared to a margin of 12 percent three months ago. Most of those surveys attributed Abbas’ falling support to the persecution of journalists in the West Bank by PA security forces, as well as the closure of several websites that dared to criticize Abbas.

In other words, Abbas is in trouble and he knows it. Against the background of the Arab Spring, the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the behavior of Abbas’ security forces, one senses that the Palestinian public will no longer put up with a quasi-democracy/dictatorship that seeks to limit the web and allows violent dispersal of quiet demonstrations. Abbas understood the mood several weeks ago, even before the recent demonstrations.

Suddenly the president was seen walking the alleys of the Deheisheh refugee camp and visiting the home of Nasser al-Laham, the well-known chief editor of the Palestinian news agency Ma’an. Abbas was later seen at a huge wedding in the village of Silwad.

One might think Abbas was actually campaigning for upcoming presidential elections, but these do not seem to be in sight, especially since Hamas decided on Tuesday to freeze voter registration in the West Bank. Therefore, it’s safe to assume that Abbas simply understands the importance of public opinion following the Arab Spring, and that was the reason for cancelling the meeting with Mofaz.

It seems that until the November presidential elections in the U.S., all the relevant players – Netanyahu, Hamas, Abbas – are basically busy just surviving. But, unlike in reality shows, after November it won’t be up to the “tribe” to decide the fate of the players, but rather the new American president-elect.

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