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Why does the PA leadership shoot itself in the foot and ignore public opinion?

Image of the Palestinian parliament in session [Apaimages]
Image of the Palestinian parliament in session [Apaimages]

Why does the Palestinian Authority leadership — which is also the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Fatah, by the way — insist on shooting itself in the foot when dealing with internal Palestinian affairs, and ignore public opinion in the process? Decisions are made and policies are adopted, of which the least that can be said is that they are illogical and contrary to the tendencies of most Palestinian factions and people. Even when the PA description of the challenges is correct, the procedures adopted increase their threat and weaken the internal Palestinian front even more.

The Palestinian national project suffers from a major crisis in terms of vision, leadership and institutions, as well as political programmes and priorities. It also faces escalations — especially since Donald Trump became US President —targeting the land, Jerusalem, holy sites and refugees, as well as the identity and aspirations of the Palestinian people. These are linked to attempts to close the Palestinian file with rumours about the “deal of the century” and other matters. However, ever since the Palestinian factions (including the PLO, PA and Fatah) called upon each other to face these challenges, we have seen a different approach on the ground, an obstructive approach, adopted by the PA leadership, especially President Mahmoud Abbas and his team.

Abbas has insisted on refusing an invitation from the unified leadership framework to meet, despite it being capable of having an effect on the ground. Palestinians are waiting for the PLO to be reformed, and remain in dire need of a national framework within which they can coordinate their efforts.

Abbas has not made one move towards rebuilding the PLO even though this was agreed in the 2005 Cairo Agreement and the subsequent 2011 reconciliation agreement. He is still obstructing any fair participation by political heavyweights such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad in PLO bodies and institutions, both within and beyond historic Palestine where some steps can be taken to move away from Israeli dominance.

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In January 2017, in Beirut, the Palestinian factions agreed to convene the Palestinian National Council (PNC), with the participation of all Palestinian groups. However, in April last year, Abbas insisted on convening the PNC in Ramallah, under the eyes of the Israeli occupation, against the Palestinian consensus and despite the boycott of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. He stuck to this insistence throughout 2018, ignoring major Palestinian forces, which led to the boycott of the PNC growing to include most of the groups inside the PLO and those outside, apart from Fatah; that is what happened at the PNC meeting held in November. Consequently, Abbas has seen his policies isolate Fatah from the other national parties, increasing the Palestinian split rather than mending it.

The same applies to the sanctions imposed by Abbas on fellow Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where the salaries of thousands of PA employees have been cut or their contracts terminated. Electricity charges levied by Israel have gone unpaid, meaning major and lengthy power cuts are now a fact of life in the enclave. This is despite the fact that the PA receives the tax revenues collected by the Israelis on goods entering Gaza.

The PA sanctions are intended to remove Hamas and the resistance movements, which Abbas insists upon, but there is almost total opposition from the Palestinian people, even among Fatah officials — at least in private — and membership. According to the latest opinion poll conducted by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah (March 2019), 82 per cent of Palestinians demand an end to the sanctions imposed by the PA on the Gaza Strip.

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The same is true when Abbas and the Fatah leadership insist on their own interpretation of the idea of the “empowerment” of the PA government, by controlling everything, including security and arms, which is contrary to the original reconciliation agreement. Such insistence is opposed by most Palestinian factions and rejected by the majority of the ordinary people. Notwithstanding this, Abbas and his team keep exerting pressure on Gaza to impose their will in a way that the Palestinian public finds both strange and provocative.

Amongst all Palestinians, individuals and factions alike, there is a near consensus on stopping security coordination with Israel. Indeed, both the PNC and the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) have ordered and end to this. However, Abbas insists on ignoring such directives, with the PA President going so far as to describe security coordination as “sacred”.

In such an atmosphere, Abbas and his team added fuel to the fire by dissolving the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in December, using a decision by the Constitutional Court to do so. However, the formation of the court, as well as its jurisdiction and credibility have been called into question. This was an anti-reconciliation decision by Abbas which deepened the Palestinian schism and has been widely rejected by the general public as well as by most Palestinian factions.

In this divided environment and opposition to the decisions of Abbas and the PA leadership, the latter decided to make the crisis even worse by giving it some degree of legitimacy and forming a new PA government headed by a Fatah official with members from the PLO factions. Hamas and the other factions outside the PLO were excluded, intentionally, by Abbas. This means that Fatah has decided to put the reconciliation agreement aside, isolate Hamas and place it under a political siege, depriving it of effective partnership in national decision-making and ignoring its popular support as both a political party and resistance movement. Shamefully, some Fatah leaders such as Jamal Muhaisin, for example, are now talking about Hamas as a “terrorist movement”, echoing the corrupt, tyrannical politics of the Arab world which is normalising relations with Israel.

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Other Fatah leaders mention “all” national parties when talking about forming the government, excluding Hamas from those meant by “all”. This is a form of denial that pushes the Palestinian national movement backwards, not forwards. Thus, this government may be considered as a “prescription for failure” given that most Palestinian factions refuse to participate in it.

According to public opinion polls, Fatah has less than 10 per cent of its supporters who want parliamentary elections. At the same time, around two-thirds of all Palestinians polled are dissatisfied with his performance and want Mahmoud Abbas to resign. Around the same percentage are pessimistic about the success of reconciliation, while 82 per cent believe that PA institutions are corrupt.

Why are the Palestinian Authority and Fatah adopting such harmful policies and procedures when they damage the Palestinian national project? Why insist on such policies which benefit nobody, and which the Israelis employ to their advantage? And why is there an insistence by Abbas and his team on ignoring the opposition of the majority of the Palestinian people and factions? What does he hope to achieve?

If there are forces luring the PA and Abbas in this direction, the people deserve to be told. This is no time for fantasy promises to determine the future of Palestine and its people.

A version of this article first appeared in Arabic in Arabi21 on 30 March 2019.

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

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