When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called a press conference
last Saturday in Ramallah, Palestinian journalists and activists were convinced
that their leader would finally be announcing extreme measures designed to
combat the difficult economic situation.
Protests against the high cost
of living had broken out in a number of cities on the West Bank. And most of the
anger on the Palestinian street was being directed at PA Prime Minister Salam
Fayyad, the US-trained economist and former International Monetary Fund official
who is the architect of Palestinian economic policy.
But instead of
announcing concrete steps to improve the Palestinian economy – which like other
economies around the world has been adversely affected by, among other factors,
the sharp rise in fuel costs and basic foodstuffs – a flippant and cynical Abbas
lashed out at Israel and the US for plotting against the PA.
Palestinians, Abbas said, were not free, “because we are being surrounded from
He attacked Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman for
launching a campaign against him (Liberman most recently called Abbas a “liar, a
coward and a wimp”). Abbas also criticized the US for opposing the Palestinian
bid for statehood in the UN.
He even blamed the PA’s stagnating economy
on Hamas, noting that half of the PA’s budget goes to the Gaza
Just two days later, while demonstrations continued to rage on the
West Bank and PA police were being attacked, Abbas left for an official visit –
Palestinians are frustrated. They get the feeling – rightly –
that Abbas is not taking the recent demonstrations seriously. The Palestinian
public is not stupid.
Not everything can be blamed on “the
And if Abbas truly believes that Israel and the US are
undermining Palestinian interests, how can he justify remaining the head of the
PA, a political body that supports in principle a US-brokered peace agreement
with Israel? Further undermining his fragile position is the fact that there
have been no Palestinian elections since 2006. Abbas’s mandate to rule ran out
With a Palestinian leadership that refuses to accept
responsibility and instead shifts the blame to others, it is no wonder that
Abbas’s popularity is weakening.
Demonstrations that were originally
directly primarily at Fayyad have now begun targeting Abbas as well.
no moderate political options available, the weakening of the Fatah-ruled PA
will inevitably result in the rise of Hamas in the West Bank.
claims by senior PA officials that Hamas is exploiting protests against the high
cost of living to increase its influence in the West Bank should be taken
seriously. Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the PA security forces, claimed he had
information about Hamas’s efforts to destabilize the situation in the West
Undoubtedly it is Abbas’s inept leadership that is to blame for the
PA’s falling popularity. And only the Palestinian people are to be blamed for
failing to support a more moderate, sane political leadership than either Fatah
or Hamas has to offer.
At the same time, Israel is obligated to use what
little sway it has over internal Palestinian affairs to help prevent Hamas, a
proxy of the apocalyptic mullahs of Iran who are bent on destroying the Jewish
state, from making inroads in the West Bank.
That’s why the government’s
decision last week to advance NIS 250 million in tax payments to the PA can be
justified under the circumstances. And this is true even if we know that the PA
pays tens of millions of shekels to terrorists sitting in jails and to the
families of suicide bombers.
Perhaps one day the Palestinian people will
have the wisdom and courage to support a more moderate political leadership that
will be capable of bringing true peace to the region. But until that day comes,
Israel must do its best to prevent a dangerous regression on the West Bank.