On 22 December Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). He did so despite the fact that the law does not give him the power to dissolve the council. To sidestep this obstacle, Abbas to formed the Constitutional Court – without the approval of the PLC – and gave it the power to dissolve the council, in complete disregard for democracy and national unity
Abbas took this controversial step at a time when his popularity is at an all-time low. In an opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) in December, 64 per cent of participants demanded Abbas’ resignation. The poll also showed that if elections were held, the majority of Palestinians would vote for Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh as president.
The main reason for this decline in Abbas’ popularity is his political and economic mismanagement. The Palestinian public holds him responsible for misleading the Palestinian struggle down a fruitless path – the Oslo Accords. After three decades of promises, the engineer of the Oslo Accords – as many dub him – has delivered nothing to the Palestinian people save despotism, corruption, national disintegration and security cooperation with the Israeli occupation.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as previous Israeli leaders, managed to kill any hopes Abbas fed to the Palestinian people. There is no freedom from the occupation, no independent state, no Jerusalem, no refugee return and no decent living. Instead, there is ample Israeli annexation of Palestinian land, illegal settlement, killing, imprisonment, home demolitions and defilement of the holy sites. Not only did Abbas fail with the Israelis but he also managed to link himself with all undemocratic forces in the region, publicly denouncing Arab revolutions and branding them foreign conspiracies.
At the domestic Palestinian level, there is no democracy. Abbas concentrated power in his own hands – he is President of the PA, Chairman of PLO and Chairman of the ruling party Fatah, among many other posts. He is still in power after 14 years. He did not allow the PLC to convene for 11 years. There is no new generation coming to power, no collective decision-making, no tolerance of criticism and free speech. His security forces deal in with his opponents in a brutal way, as pointed out by both local and international human rights organisations – many Palestinians have been tortured to death in his prisons.
Abbas in fact succeeded in disintegrating Palestinian society geographically, politically and even socially. Since refusing to recognise the results of the 2006 elections – which brought his opposition in the PLC into power – Abbas has worked systematically to undermine the work of the tenth Palestinian government, which eventually led to a bisecting of Palestine into one entity ruled by him and another ruled by Hamas.
At the political level, Abbas never allowed elections and seems content to retain his post indefinitely. Even his own movement was driven to disintegration, with one Fatah faction controlled by Abbas and another controlled by his archenemy Mohammad Dahlan, his former head of intelligence in the besieged Gaza Strip. Abbas acted with complete disrespect for Palestinian unity, only consulting with other factions when he needed them to give legitimacy to his most unpopular policies.
Socially, through widespread corruption, Abbas has allowed PA officials and their relatives to create a social class which considers itself higher than the rest of Palestinian society. As such, this class believes itself to be entitled to all the benefits – jobs, housing projects, government projects, VIP security treatment and immunity from legal action. Billions of dollars were consumed by this new class, while normal Palestinians suffered from deteriorated infrastructure and poverty.
Instead of taking responsibility for his political and economic failures like any decent political leader – namely in tendering his resignation – Abbas indulges in directing a shower of abuse against everyone, including his allies the Americans and the Israelis. This offended not those Abbas intended but the Palestinian public, who felt disgraced by their President’s foul mouth. His insults represented a double failure: failure in actions and failure in words.
Many might ask where Abbas gets his legitimacy from. It is clear that it is not from the Palestinian public but rather, as director of PCPSR Khalil Shikaki once said, from an international community that is fed up of his incompetency yet lacks any alternatives. Simultaneously, Israel is happy with Abbas’ security cooperation and his ability to destroy Palestinian unity, thus providing them with a smokescreen behind which to destroy the two-state solution.
Who could have imagined that this secondary man in the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) leadership could rule the Palestinian people for longer than Yasser Arafat himself, who was considered by many as the father of the Palestinian people? After all, Arafat ruled the PA for about ten years, while Abbas already boasts 14 years to his name.
It is true that Arafat talked about democracy more than he practiced it. Yet, Arafat had what Palestinians call a history of struggle; he fought Israel in the iconic battle of Karameh in 1968, fought against the Israeli invasion of Lebanon and stood against them in the West Bank. Eventually, he was – according to most Palestinians – assassinated by the Israelis, which added to his legitimacy and credibility. Meanwhile, Abbas never had such a history and, though he is supposed to be the leader of Fatah – an armed resistant movement – he never in his life carried a gun.
Faced with political and economic failures, domestic and international isolation, ailing health, old age, Abbas will remain prone to making more suicidal decisions. Unfortunately, their consequences will not be limited to his lifetime.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.