As U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry pursues his efforts to revive the peace process in the Middle East, Palestinian officials in the West Bank are complaining that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is keeping them in the dark and refusing to brief them about his plans.
For these officials, Abbas’s autocracy has turned the Palestinian Authority into a one-man show called Mahmoud Abbas.
President Abbas has become the president of everything related to the Palestinians and the Palestinian cause, complained Sufyan Abu Zayda, a senior representative of Abbas’s Fatah faction. He is the head of the PLO, President of Palestine, President of the Palestinian Authority, head of Fatah, and commander of the Palestinian Authority security forces.
Moreover, in the absence of a functioning Palestinian parliament, Abbas has taken it upon himself to issue his own laws.
The Palestinian parliament, known as the Palestinian Legislative Council, has been paralyzed ever since Hamas drove Abbas’s Palestinian Authority out of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
Abbas sometimes meets with members of the PLO Executive Committee and the Fatah Central Committee to discuss latest developments surrounding the Palestinian issue.
But these two bodies are dominated by unelected Abbas loyalists, including many old-guard leaders whose only concern is to continue receiving monthly funds from the Palestinian Authority leadership so they can rent offices and hire several aides and secretaries, as well as drivers and bodyguards.
Then there is the Palestinian government in the West Bank, whose prime minister and ministers have no say in political matters.
Some Palestinians are also complaining that Abbas does not consult with the PLO’s Negotiations Department, which is in charge of the peace talks with Israel.
Abu Zayda and other Palestinian officials say that Abbas’s autocratic regime reminds them of the days when Yasser Arafat ran the Palestinian Authority as his private fiefdom.
No one dreamed that we would reach a situation where all the powers and top positions would be concentrated in the hands of one man, said Abu Zayda. Today, Abbas even has more powers than Arafat.
Abbas, according to Abu Zayda, has also appointed himself as the chief judge and prosecutor, making a mockery of the Palestinian judicial system.
Take, for example, the case of Ghazi Jabali, the former commissioner-general of the Palestinian Authority police force.
For many years, Jabali was wanted by the Palestinian Authority for corruption and theft. After fleeing to Jordan, the Palestinian Authority requested Interpol’s help in the arrest of Jabali.
A few weeks ago, Palestinians were surprised to see Jabali staying at a luxurious hotel in Ramallah. It transpired that Jabali was able to return to the West Bank after receiving a written document from Abbas clearing him of any wrongdoing.
Abbas is surrounded by three or four people who are making important decisions on behalf of all Palestinians, noted another Palestinian official in the West Bank. These are the only people he consults with. Most PLO and Fatah leaders have no idea about Abbas’s strategy.
The growing resentment about Abbas’s autocratic regime and refusal to share powers and plans with other Palestinians cast doubt on his ability to win the support of a majority of Palestinians for resuming peace talks, let alone signing a peace treaty with Israel.
Abbas’s autocratic rule and the frustration of many Palestinians do not seem to bother Kerry.
The U.S. seems to want to bring Abbas to the negotiating table with Israel at any price.
Kerry seems to be seeking to cut a deal with just one person — who does not even have the backing of his people.
Unlike Kerry, Abbas is fully aware of the increased criticism at home — and why Abbas is now telling his people that if and when he resumes peace talks with Israel, it will be only because the U.S. has exerted immense pressure on him.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an Arab Muslim, a veteran award-winning journalist who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades. He studied at Hebrew University and began his career as a reporter by working for a PLO-affiliated newspaper in Jerusalem.
Abu Toameh currently works for the international media, serving as the ‘eyes and ears’ of foreign journalists in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Abu Toameh’s articles have appeared in numerous newspapers around the world, including The Wall Street Journal, US News & World Report and The Sunday Times of London.
Since 2002 he has been writing on Palestinian affairs for The Jerusalem Post. Abu Toameh has also been working as a producer and consultant for NBC News since 1989.
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