Failing Abbas surrounded by plots and chaos

March 25, 2014
Sarah Benton

The Economist 1) and Algemeiner 2) speculate on Mohammed Dahlan’s backers and his intentions; Amira Hass, 3) on whether the PA can survive; 4) Rumy Hasan on what Abbas’ refusal to support BDS means.

Former security chief Muhammad Dahlan, now challenging Abbas for PA leadership. Photo by Reuters.

A succession crisis

Mahmoud Abbas is being challenged by a fearsome rival

By The Economist
March 22, 2014

AS HE struggles to realise a Palestinian state, pressures are mounting on Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinians’ ageing president. They come from among his own people. His erstwhile security chief, Muhammad Dahlan, has turned on his former master, accusing him of complicity in poisoning his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, of promoting his two sons to the pinnacle of a kleptocracy and of throwing Palestine’s future away by engaging in futile negotiations with Israel. Senior Palestinian intelligence men have joined Mr Dahlan’s side. So, too, have powerful sponsors in the United Arab Emirates’ royal court and among Egypt’s generals, who see Mr Dahlan as the leader of the Palestinian flank in their regional war on the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Abbas’s loyalists emblazon the front pages of Palestine’s press with banners pledging support, but Mr Abbas looks increasingly irked. When he assembled 120 senior people for a pep-talk on March 10th, a week before he was to meet Barack Obama in Washington, he devoted over half of his speech to denouncing Mr Dahlan. He accused him of feeding Mr Arafat poisoned pills, acting as Israel’s informant in a spate of assassinations and surrendering Palestine’s seaside enclave of Gaza to the Islamist movement, Hamas, in a botched military campaign in 2007. To ward off the risk of a coup, Mr Abbas recently cut the pay of around 100 pro-Dahlan men in his security forces, and set up a star-chamber to purge the ranks of his own Fatah movement.

Mr Abbas had already chased Mr Dahlan out of Palestine and expelled him from Fatah in June 2011, but from his seat in Abu Dhabi his rival refuses to fade. On March 16th, the night before Mr Abbas’s White House meeting, Mr Dahlan appeared on Egyptian satellite television, promising to challenge Mr Abbas on his return. In recent days gunmen have opened fire on the homes of Mr Abbas’s security advisers and ministers in the Palestinians’ administrative capital, Ramallah; they have also challenged Mr Abbas’s representatives in Jordan’s Palestinian refugee camps and killed a senior Abbas man in Lebanon.

Mr Abbas’s Western-trained security forces have so far proved adroit at curbing unrest and rounding up troublemakers, at least in the West Bank’s city centres. But they are less able to thwart another of Mr Dahlan’s game-plans: staging a comeback in Hamas-ruled Gaza, where he was born. Desperate to lift the grinding siege still imposed on them by both Egypt and Israel, Gaza’s Islamists are said to have offered their old foe a deal: use your close ties with Egypt’s generals to reopen the border between Gaza and Egypt, and we will let you return. As a sweetener, they have freed seven of Mr Dahlan’s men from prison.

Mr Abbas abolished parliament seven years ago and has since ruled by decree as a supposedly benign dictator with barely a semblance of accountability. His own four-year term expired in 2009. Though 78, he has refused to appoint a deputy, leaving loyalists as well as foes jostling for the succession. Set against Mr Abbas’s white hair and plodding demeanour, 53-year-old Mr Dahlan, with his black locks, looks young and dynamic. Without elections to decide Palestine’s leadership, the succession battle may take other, more brutal forms.

Yitzhak Molcho, said to be in secret talks with Dahlan, bypassing Abbas. Photo by Nir Keidar/AFP/Getty Images

Report: Netanyahu in Talks With Abbas Rival Mohammed Dahlan

By Gidon Ben-zvi, Algemeiner
February 06, 2014

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is covertly seeking out other potential Palestinian Arab peace partners to negotiate with – instead of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported on Thursday. The news comes as current Israeli-PA framework agreement talks enter their seventh month.

Netanyahu’s special envoy, Yitzhak Molcho, has met with Abbas rival Mohammed Dahlan on at least one occasion, according to Ma’ariv.

Mohammed Dahlan is a former Fatah Central Committee member who was once a leading Palestinian political figure. At the peak of his power Dahlan was also head of the Preventive Security Authority of the Palestinian Authority. However, he fell from grace when terror group Hamas forcefully took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, a development for which he was held responsible by Abbas.

Following Hamas’s conquest of Gaza, Dahlan attempted to oust Abbas as ruler of the Palestinian Authority. However, Abbas managed to beat back Dahlan, who was eventually forced out of Fatah.

Since then, Dahlan has been trying to create pockets of internal resistance to the President of the PA, Ma’ariv said.

The back channel talks with Dahlan are being conducted in part because of a realization by Israeli leaders that Abbas is either unwilling or unable to sign a final status agreement with Jerusalem, Ma’ariv said.

In contrast, Dahlan is believed by some senior level government officials in Jerusalem to genuinely desire peace with Israel. Supporters of the discussions inside the Israeli government also believe that Dahlan could act as an important bridge between the West Bank and Gaza, which was at one point Dahlan’s power center, according to the report.

One of the main arguments used by opponents of Israeli-PA negotiations has long been that Abbas does not represent the Palestinian Arab people, Ma’ariv said. The fact that the PA President has put off elections in the West Bank for years only proves the point that his popular following is limited, the paper added.

Another argument against Abbas-led peace talks with Israel is that he has no control over the population of Gaza. As a result, any negotiated settlement between Jerusalem and Ramallah would not include its inhabitants, Ma’ariv said.

Furthermore, Dahlan himself has claimed that he, and not Abbas, can be counted on to bring peace. Dahlan reportedly sent a letter to the American government in 2010 in which he said that, “There is no choice but to replace Abbas with someone who can deliver results.”

The office of Israeli Premier Netanyahu has not commented on Molcho’s alleged association with Dahlan, Ma’ariv said.

Clashes following the funeral of Saji Sayel Darwish who was shot by an Israeli soldier on a road to Ramallah on March 11, 2014, West Bank. Photo by

The Palestinian Authority is on the brink of collapse, study says

Only achieving statehood could save the West Bank from an impending wave of violence, crime, chaos, disease, says major Palestinian report.

By Amira Hass, Haaretz
March 21, 2014

The breakdown of the Palestinian Authority would turn the West Bank into a violent, criminal, chaotic, disease-ridden place. But even though most Palestinians want the PA to survive, either for the sake of basic social order or personal interest, and although Israel dreads having to resume responsibility for 3 million West Bankers, President Mahmoud Abbas’ regime will collapse before too long if Israel continues to thwart Palestinian aspirations for independence.

This is the conclusion of a massive six-month study by the highly-regarded Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah, directed by Dr. Khalil Shikaki.

A great many Palestinians have a deeply vested interest in the PA’s continued existence, Shikaki notes. Connections with the PA bring “financial well being, social and political status in society, and there are circles that depend on their relation to PA. Anything that happens to the PA will take all of that away from them. These could be organizations, business interests or individuals who have positions of power that allow them to reward sympathizers.

“If they could call the shots, they would do their best to prevent [the PA’s collapse],” Shikaki said, “But even those who have a vested interest in satisfying Israel, for the sake of preserving the PA, cannot do it for too long.”

If ordinary Palestinians still support the existence of the PA, it’s because they have a need for some kind of order, he adds. “People do not want to see themselves without a central authority that prevents chaos and anarchy in the streets, even if they have a lot of criticism of the PA and its functioning. But the Palestinians are willing to risk it collapsing completely, if it happens in the midst of a struggle for a change in the status quo. If there is a good reason for it to collapse, then [the attitude is] let it be.”

The PA is 20 years old, but voices questioning its efficacy were already being heard at the start of the second intifada in 2000. They’ve returned and intensified over the past two or three years, as it has become clear that the PA is not delivering on either of the two goals it was established to achieve: statehood and the provision of public services. Add to this the increasing economic difficulties and the rupture with the Gaza Strip, and the picture of failure is complete.

Unprecedented report

“The ‘Day After’ Final Report: The Likelihood, Consequences and Policy Implications of a PA Collapse or Dissolution” is unprecedented in its scope and willingness to grapple with this issue. More than 200 Palestinian professionals participated in the discussions that led to the 250-page report.

The PA could break up in one of three ways, the study concluded. One, the least likely scenario, is a voluntary decision by the Palestinian leadership to dissolve it. The second is collapse as the result of Israel’s punishing economic, military and political power, and political and economic pressure, mostly American, in response to Palestinian steps that violate the status quo, such as petitioning the International Criminal Court or leading a non-militarized uprising. The third possibility is a breakup that results from internal Palestinian unrest and rebellion.

Among participants, there are those who view the disintegration of the PA as a near certainty, given Israel’s refusal to reach a two-state solution in line with international principles and decisions. According to Shikaki, those who see the collapse of the PA as a positive thing are in the minority for now, and tend to be those who support a single, binational state. But it’s clear that the three main players – the PA itself, Israel, and the international community – are not interested in the PA’s disappearance.

Shikaki said he asked the Israelis “under what circumstances Israel might lose interest in preservation of the PA, and their assumption was that Palestinians are not stupid and don’t want to go too far so that we [Israel] would change our priorities.” This Israeli perspective seems to reinforce the position of Palestinian critics who claim that the PA serves Israel’s interests. Indeed, Shikaki says, “All Palestinians who participated in the discussion shared the view that Israel and the PA have a common interest in keeping the PA functioning. Palestinian society in general understands that the PA is able to exist as long as Israel is happy with it, and as long as Palestinians find it useful to them.”

Did the Israeli interviewees understand that Israeli policies were liable to topple the PA? Yes, Shikaki said. “They think that [Israeli policy] could worsen conditions significantly, but that Israel will step in at the last minute and prevent a collapse.”

Shikaki noted that all the participants assumed that “at all levels there will be an attempt to prevent a collapse.” Paradoxically, he said, “This gives each of the actors the comfort to believe that they can do a lot of harm to the other party without risking that other party’s collapse.” Thus, the Israeli-PA relationship becomes like a game of chicken, an analogy used in the discussions which focused on ways the Palestinians could force the Israelis to blink first.

An Israeli soldier prepares to fire rubber-coated steel bullets at stone-throwing Palestinian youth during clashes in the West Bank town of Bethlehem, March 11, 2014. The clashes erupted after Israeli forces killed six Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in the previous 24 hours. Photo by

If there is a voluntary decision to dismantle the PA, “Palestinians might seek to force Israel to either deepen its occupation, reverting to the situation that prevailed before 1994, or change its policies by seriously negotiating the end of its occupation, or unilaterally withdraw from most of the West Bank,” according to the center’s final document. Alternatively, in the event of a collapse resulting from external or internal pressures, “This expected [security] instability might force Israel to re-examine its options.”

The report concludes that the results of a PA shutdown would depend largely on whether the various components of the Palestinian leadership break long-time habits of poor planning, lack of transparency, excessive centralization, lack of consulting bodies and the immediate gratification of personal and sectarian interests. Preferably, the Palestinian leadership would decide to restore the status of the PLO and include Islamic movements in its ranks; decentralize planning and management and transfer those responsibilities to civil organizations and institutions; build an alternative management mechanism; or establish a government in exile.

Hamas would be big winner

These are some of the preliminary steps that participants in the study recommended to mitigate the severe repercussions of the PA’s collapse. These include economic damage to the public and private sector; widespread poverty; social and political disintegration; the spread of disease, with particular harm to children’s health; looting of infrastructure facilities; strengthening of tribes and clans; deepening of the rift between the Gaza Strip and West Bank; rise of armed gangs and security chaos; and a return to violence as the primary avenue of the struggle. One certain result is that Hamas, and in particular the Hamas government in Gaza, would be strengthened.

Participants in the study included university professors, current and former government ministers, legislators from all the factions, business people and executives of nongovernmental organizations. The looked at the effect of a PA shutdown on security, economy, Fatah-Hamas relations and political life, health, education, infrastructure, telephony and communications, local government, the judiciary, and the future of the struggle for independence.

The center also conducted interviews with 180 Palestinians to gain a deeper understanding of prevalent attitudes. In addition, Shikaki interviewed 12 Israelis from the military, Civil Administration, various political factions (though not from the extreme right) and research institutes, though Shikaki declined to name them.

Abbas and his henchmen; he is accused of heading a collaborationist kleptocracy, not an independence movement. Photo by APA images.

The Similarities Between Mahmoud Abbas and Mangosuthu Buthelezi

By Rumy Hasan, CounterPunch
March 23, 2014

When Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian National Authority (PA), visited South Africa for Nelson Mandela’s memorial, he aroused controversy at a press conference on 11th December by declaring:

‘No we do not support the boycott of Israel … But we ask everyone to boycott the products of the settlements. Because the settlements are in our territories. It is illegal. … But we don’t ask anyone to boycott Israel itself. We have relations with Israel, we have mutual recognition of Israel’ (Quoted in The Star, South Africa, 11th December 2013).

Despite the growing influence of the BDS (Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions) campaign against Israel (for example, on the 9th February, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz reported that ‘Netanyahu convenes ministers to discuss growing Israel economic boycott threats’) Abbas and the PA have never supported it – so his comments were a confirmation of this stance. This flows from the Oslo Accords of September 1993 (Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements) to which Abbas is strongly wedded. Article XI concerns Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation in Economic Fields; Annex III concerns the Protocol on Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation in Economic and Development Programs and Annex IV concerns the Protocol on Israeli-Palestinian Cooperation Concerning Regional Development Programs.

Given Oslo’s stress on cooperation, acts of non-cooperation such as BDS are excluded. Pioneered in apartheid South Africa, the aim of BDS by civil society is to apply non-violent measures – including rigorously and consistently exposing the crimes of the targeted regime – to fight against injustice and repression where the government concerned refuses to undertake meaningful reforms, and where international institutions are unwilling to robustly intervene. Effective BDS, therefore, implies harming a regime in order to force change. Abbas and the PA diligently adhere to this interpretation so not only do they oppose BDS, they also refrain from diligently publicising the myriad breaches of international laws and conventions by Israel.

It is somewhat ironic that Mahmoud Abbas made his position clear in South Africa whilst his hosts and people across the world were mourning the loss – but also celebrating the life – of a man and his movement which had most forcefully pushed for BDS against the apartheid regime and helped bring it down. Another irony is that the apartheid structures were dismantled soon after the signing of the Oslo Accords of 1993; clearly Yasser Arafat and the PLO leadership had chosen a very different path to that taken by Mandela and his ANC colleagues. Indeed, rather than emulating Mandela, both Arafat and Abbas followed the path of Mandela’s rival, leader of the Zulu Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP), Mangosuthu Buthelezi.

During the 1980s, as the anti-apartheid struggle intensified, buttressed by an international campaign for BDS, Buthelezi’s IFP not only opposed BDS against the apartheid state, but collaborated with the South African Defence Force – which provided training for Zulu militias. Buthelezi had bought into the logic of autonomous ‘homelands’ for the African populations – known as ‘Bantustans’. All rulers of homelands were reliant on the South African state and economy for their survival but, for such collaboration, they were denounced by anti-apartheid campaigners both at home and abroad as agents of the apartheid regime, particularly Buthelezi since he was by far the most powerful leader of a Bantustan (KwaZulu).

Abbas and the Palestine Authority have adopted a similar position: the PA relies on the Israeli economy to fund it, and its leaders have benefited from such Israeli largesse. However, unlike the IFP, the PA’s security forces do not and have not received training from the Israeli Defence Force as this would be deemed too politically risky given that it would display open collaboration with the forces of occupation. So, in the main, Americans (via the United States Security Coordinator (USSC)) train and equip the Palestinian Authority Security Forces. It matters little, however, given that Israel benefits from the security umbrella provided by the PA in the West Bank which has, de facto, taken over responsibility for the occupation from the Israel Defence Force, largely paid for by the Americans with help from the EU.

There is another important similarity: just as the South African state used Buthelezi and the IFP as an ideological shield against proponents of BDS, so Israel is similarly finding Abbas and the PA helpful in this regard.

Buthelezi’s politics quickly unravelled following the release of Mandela in 1990 and South Africa’s first democratic elections of 1994 which led to the dismantling of apartheid structures and concomitant Bantustan policy. However, in order to ensure a peaceful transition, the new ANC government made generous concessions to Inkatha, including significant provincial autonomy to KwaZulu and making Buthelezi Minister of Home Affairs. But all involved in the anti-apartheid struggle were agreed that Buthelezi and his IFP had played a treacherous, anti-liberation role. Indeed, as far back as 1980, on the 25th anniversary of its Freedom Charter, the ANC accused Buthelezi of complicity in the crime of apartheid, and labelled him a ‘police agent’, ‘a collaborator’, and ‘jail warder’.

So it is paradoxical to find that the main organisation in the world’s oldest liberation struggle – that of the Palestinians – is following the path of a man and his organisation that those at the forefront of the great anti-apartheid struggle had so clearly and cogently denounced as an enemy agent. They might not expect Mahmoud Abbas to be another Mandela but they would most likely be bemused by him being another Buthelezi.

Yet, the similarity between Abbas and Buthelezi throws up an enormous difference between the two liberation struggles. On the one hand, Buthelezi’s collaborationist politics were pretty marginal – the IFP could not block the isolation of South Africa and of it being reduced to a pariah state, brought about by the BDS campaign. In stark contrast, the collaborationist politics of Abbas are conducted by the leader of what has historically been the largest Palestinian organisation (PLO/Fatah) and, in terms of relative size, equivalent to the ANC. That said, a core reason as to why Fatah lost to Hamas in the 2006 elections was precisely because many of its supporters realised that it had completely abandoned resistance for collaboration. Moreover, in the absence of elections since, its support will doubtless now be a fraction of what it had been.

It is fair, therefore, to argue that the ‘Buthelezi path’ taken by Mahmoud Abbas and the PA has led to the continuing deterioration in the situation of the Palestinians, with no sign of an independent Palestinian state in sight. Moreover, the illegal Jewish settler population in the West Bank has risen steadily: from 111,000 in 1993 to about 500,000 at the beginning of 2014. But, such counter-productive politics are not just the preserve of the present leadership. In an article in a 2001 issue of the New Left Review written towards the end of his life, the Palestinian-American academic and activist Edward Said pulled no punches regarding the degradation of the PLO/Fatah:

‘As for the Oslo “peace process” that began in 1993, it has simply repackaged the occupation, offering a token 18 per cent of the lands seized in 1967 to the corrupt Vichy-like Authority of Arafat, whose mandate has essentially been to police and tax his people on Israel’s behalf. After eight fruitless, immiserating years of further ‘negotiations’, orchestrated by a team of US functionaries which has included such former lobby staffers for Israel as Martin Indyk and Dennis Ross, more abuses, more settlements, more imprisonments, more suffering have been inflicted on the Palestinians’.

However, it is important to acknowledge that the problems do not stem from the Oslo Accords but go back much further. For example, in his book Confronting Empire, the writer and activist Eqbal Ahmad (who had been a close ally of Edward Said) relays meetings he had had during the 1970s with Yasser Arafat and other PLO leaders (at Arafat’s request). He arrives at the following conclusion following a meeting in the mid-1970s (the exact date is not given):

‘They [the PLO leadership] listened respectfully … Some gave lectures that were essentially ignorant … I had seen enough. They defeated themselves more than the Israelis did’.

This might be an unduly harsh judgement but it is one that South Africans, who had been at the forefront of their liberation struggle, would not find too surprising: on the contrary, they would argue that had they followed the collaborationist path of Buthelezi and the IFP, apartheid would still be in existence today. This hugely important lesson has not been learned by Mahmoud Abbas and the PA.

Rumy Hasan is a senior lecturer at the University of Sussex, UK, and author of Dangerous Liaisons: The Clash between Islamism and Zionism (2013)

Dahlan sues Abbas and accuses him of violating human rights, MEMO, July 2013

The Return of Mohammed Dahlan, Palestine Pulse, July 2013; Daoud Kattab reports that PA may reconcile with Dahlan because wants better relations with Gulf states.

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