Abbas is no Arafat

He must go

I’ve been writing about the plight of the amiable Palestinian people under Israel’s jackboot for the same length of time that Mahmoud Abbas has been Palestinian president. And that’s far too long. Abbas has also been chairman of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation, which describes itself as the sole representative of the Palestinian people) for even longer.

A recent poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research showed that the Palestinians have had enough. Two-thirds want Abbas out.

A majority are also dissatisfied with the decision at Fatah’s latest Convention to keep Abbas as head of Fatah for another 5 years. The poll found that most view the Palestinian Authority, which is also headed by Abbas, as a burden to the Palestinian people rather than an asset. An even larger majority feel they cannot criticise the PA without fear. Perception of corruption in the PA now stands at 76%.

What’s more, two-thirds of Palestinians believe a two-state solution is no longer possible due to Israel’s relentless expansion of illegal settlement and 53% support a return to an armed intifada.

And if presidential elections were held now, Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh would probably win.

“As naked as the day that he was born”

Abbas has been a big noise in Palestinian affairs for decades. In 2003 Arafat appointed him prime minister of the Palestinian National Authority. Some say the West foisted Abbas on Arafat. A power struggle ensued, and after Arafat’s suspicious death in 2004 Abbas was seen as a natural successor. Hamas boycotted the presidential election of January 2005 and Israel arrested or restricted the movement of other candidates. So Abbas won easily in dubious circumstances.

Abbas’s term as President officially ended more than 8 years ago. It is long past clear-your-desk time. The Basic Law allowed him an extension of one year but he still clings to power. Increasingly he’s seen as the king with no clothes and, in the words of the Danny Kaye song, “altogether as naked as the day that he was born”.

The trouble with Abbas is that he’s always ‘behind the curve’. Illegal settlement building under the Allon Plan, effectively annexing Palestinian territory, began in 1967 and the Israelis’ dash to create as many irreversible ‘facts on the ground’ as possible in order to make their occupation permanent was clear from the start.

Abbas claims to be one of the architects of the Oslo Interim Agreement, which was supposed to ensure a start to negotiations on permanent status by 1996 and lead to the implementation of Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 and the settling of all main issues. But ever since the beginning of the Oslo process back in 1993 the rights of the Palestinian people have been sacrificed on the altar of so-called political progress, the glittering prize being ‘peace and security’.

That was all smoke ‘n’ mirrors, of course. What we’ve seen is a continuous slide downhill for the Palestinians while the Israelis’ colonisation and expansion programme goes from strength to strength. Justice has never been allowed to play a part. Furthermore Abbas has repeatedly given the Israelis time to cement their ill-gotten gains, readily agreeing to more bogus negotiations arranged by the same dishonest brokers.

And he inexplicably dragged his feet over joining the International Criminal Court.

During his over-long tenure Abbas has failed to unite the Palestinians under a single purposeful voice with a clear mission. He has driven the factions further apart by letting rip the old Fatah-Hamas rivalry. His regime fails to keep the world informed or make proper use of media opportunities and behaves as if gagged.

He is not noted for tactical brilliance and his embassies in the West are lazy, uncommunicative and uncooperative towards journalists and writers, and probably under orders not to ‘make waves’. I myself have been branded an enemy of Palestine by Abbas’s London embassy, an insult I wear as a badge of honour.

The Palestinian Authority under Abbas is frequently accused of collaborating with Israel in its brutal oppression. Abbas seems to be the darling of the West and of Israel, and the Israelis are said to regard him as a strategic asset. They’d hate to lose him.

Hamas is usually blamed for any whiff of corruption but the PA is bursting with it. In 2015 a report by The Coalition for Accountability and Integrity (AMAN) titled Absolute Power, Total Corruption hit the headlines. AMAN was established by a number of Palestinian civil society organizations to combat corruption and enhance integrity, transparency and accountability in Palestinian society.

According to the Commissioner-General, Azmi Shuaibi, “the cancellation of elections and the absence of the Legislative Council led to the president’s monopolizing the three powers — legislative, judicial, executive — which has served as fertile soil for some cases of corruption.” Certain non-ministerial government institutions were still outside the scope of official accountability and had awarded salaries and privileges to officials that were inconsistent with financial reality.

But even this catalogue of misbehaviour didn’t hammer the final nail into Abbas’s political coffin. Today he’s increasingly busy cracking down on dissenters within his own Fatah party and outside organisations.

Peace process “a deceptive farce”

The confidential Palestinian Papers, leaked by Al-Jazeera in 2011, revealed the shambolic conduct of the so-called peace process and how the Palestinian team allowed the Israelis to walk all over them, with US help.

One of the leak’s sources, a French-Palestinian lawyer and former adviser to the PLO, Ziyad Clot, said in an article in The Guardian that the peace process was “an inequitable and destructive political process which had been based on the assumption that the Palestinians could in effect negotiate their rights and achieve self-determination while enduring the hardship of the Israeli occupation”. They were “a deceptive farce whereby biased terms were unilaterally imposed by Israel and systematically endorsed by the US and EU”. They “excluded for the most part the great majority of the Palestinian people: the seven million Palestinian refugees”. And, he said, “the PLO, given its structure, was not in a position to represent all Palestinian rights and interests”.

So why did the Palestinians’ chief negotiator since 1995, Saeb Erekat, still engage in it? Erekat was educated in political science in the US and conflict studies in England, so should have been savvy enough to see through it. Will no-one steer the Palestinians into a sane justice process and away from the ‘kangaroo’ peace negotiations that Erekat and Abbas seem addicted to?

Not long ago, in an interview, I asked law professor and former UN special rapporteur Richard Falk:

How acceptable is it for a weak, demoralized and captive people like the Palestinians to be forced into negotiating with their brutal occupier under the auspices of a US administration seen by many people as too dishonest to play the part of peace broker?

He replied:

Even if the United States was acting in good faith, for which there is no evidence, its dual role as Israel’s unconditional ally and as intermediary would subvert the credibility of a negotiating process. In fact, the US Government signals its partisanship by White House appointments of individuals overtly associated with the AIPAC lobbying group as Special Envoys to oversee the negotiations such as Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk… The unsatisfactory nature of the current framework of negotiations is further flawed by weighting the process in favor of Israel, which enjoys a position of hard power dominance.

That the UK Government will shortly be celebrating 100 years of the infamous Balfour Declaration, and continuing to endorse its cruel legacy while refusing to support Palestinian statehood, is an indictment of Abbas’s dismal performance.

Face it, the guy is no Arafat. On Abbas’s watch the high hopes of ordinary Palestinians have turned to dust. As Oliver Cromwell told the English Parliament in 1653: “You have sat too long for any good you have been doing lately… Depart, I say; and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!” Those same words are applicable also to Abbas, and indeed the entire PLO and Palestinian Authority.

What Palestinians need, but probably will never get, is leadership with style, wisdom and the will to make friends with the West. Their case is still not widely understood and any new leader must have the ability to outwit Israel’s absurdly successful propaganda. Yes, the Zionists may have a stranglehold on Western opinion, but the Palestinians possess a superior two-edged weapon which they have never used effectively: truth and a just cause.

Stuart Littlewood’s book Radio Free Palestine, with Foreword by Jeff Halper, can now be read on the internet by visiting radiofreepalestine.org.uk.

Read other articles by Stuart.