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Why is Mahmoud Abbas losing control of his behaviour?

January 11, 2019 at 10:06 am

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on 3 December 2018 [Vatican Pool/Getty Images]

Anyone observing Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will notice that he is experiencing difficult political conditions and a lot of tension. He is making very bad decisions and imposing punitive measures against all Palestinians. In short, we can see that he is losing control of his behaviour, with a tendency to express hatred and settle old scores. What control he retains is fuelled by his desire for revenge, for which he does not hesitate to harm any and all Palestinians and spread hatred in various directions, sparing neither individuals nor factions.

Abbas’s actions have even hurt his own faction, Fatah, which stands to lose the most from his reckless behaviour. This has been evident for almost a year since he imposed sanctions on the people in the Gaza Strip and separate measures against all Palestinians, the Palestine Liberation Organisation and its factions, as well as members of Fatah.

READ: Palestinian Legislative Council votes to end Abbas’ mandate

He insisted on ignoring the demands of the PLO factions, which refused to convene the national and central committees whilst still under occupation and without Palestinian reconciliation or genuine national understanding. The PA, PLO and Fatah President — Abbas holds all three positions — then suspended the salaries of Fatah employees, cut payments to prisoners and detainees held by Israel, suspended the transfers of patients for overseas treatment, suspended the deal with hospital cleaning companies and cut off electricity supplies.

Since then Abbas has issued a diktat to dissolve the parliament elected by the people and hindered reconciliation efforts and the formation of a consensus government. Last weekend he withdrew PA security officers from the Rafah Border Crossing, forcing its closure by the Egyptians.

Why does he seem to be losing control and behaving in this way? There are a number of possible reasons.

READ: Palestinian Authority pulls employees from Egypt-Gaza crossing

For a start, he is frustrated by the steadfastness of Hamas in the face of the punitive measures that have contributed to the Israeli-led siege of the Gaza Strip. Hamas resisted and did not give in, and thus managed to overcome the clearly political efforts to weaken the resolve of the Palestinians in the besieged enclave.

Furthermore, Hamas and other resistance groups are still carrying out attacks on the Israeli occupation army in the West Bank. This carries more political weight with the Palestinians in the occupied territory than the collaboration of Abbas and the PA, whose security forces exist solely to protect Israel.

Hamas has also been able to develop a genuine and comprehensive national project for almost all sections of Palestinian society. The Islamic Resistance Movement has presented a comprehensive national vision for dialogue based on reconciliation, partnership, free elections and joint administration. Abbas’s response has been nothing more than a rejection of the vision and taking steps to prevent its implementation.

In Gaza, meanwhile, the Great March of Return protests continue as a popular expression of Palestinian demands for the legitimate right of refugees to return to be enacted. The protests have maintained their momentum and continue to challenge the occupation authorities with support in Gaza from all factions, support which is also, to Abbas’s chagrin, obvious in the West Bank and beyond Palestine.

Despite efforts to marginalise Hamas, the movement — which won the last Palestinian elections in 2006 and thus has strong political legitimacy — has been able to resolve conflicts with influential states around the Middle East. It continues to engage in dialogue whilst opening new channels of communication.

Abbas has been undermined by the strong understanding between the administration of US President Donald Trump and Israel. As well as the so-called “deal of the century”, the details of which are still under wraps, Trump has recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, shattering the possibility of the Holy City being the capital of an independent state of Palestine, upon which Abbas has pinned his whole negotiations strategy for more than two decades. The US Embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has also legitimised settlement activity — Jerusalem being an occupied city — more or less ended any hope of the refugees’ right of return and once again labelled the PLO as a terrorist organisation. This crushes Mahmoud Abbas’s whole strategy that negotiation rather than resistance is the way forward.

US embassy moved to Jerusalem: a time bomb - Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

US embassy moved to Jerusalem: a time bomb – Cartoon [Sabaaneh/MiddleEastMonitor]

While the PA President’s image has been destroyed in this way, Hamas continues to attract popular support, not only in occupied Palestine but also in the refugee camps scattered around neighbouring host countries. Its policy of resistance coupled with a surprising degree of pragmatism appears to be paying off.

All of these issues together have contributed to Mahmoud Abbas’s transformation into a political and national burden; a hindrance to national dialogue; a destroyer of the Palestinian national project; and an enemy of the resistance who has received nothing at all in return for compromise after compromise in his talks with the Israeli occupation authorities. Indeed, over the past few weeks, he has increased his defence of the brutal military occupation and confirmed his “sacred” security coordination with the Israelis as well as his rejection of resistance.

The biggest losers as a result of Abbas’s hysterical behaviour are the Palestinian cause, the national project and the heroic martyrs, wounded and prisoners. The Barghouthi and Na’alwa families are living examples of this sad fact.

This article first appeared in Arabic in the Palestinian Information Centre on 10 January 2018

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.