Why can't Abbas stop paying families of 'martyrs'?

US President Donald Trump has said he wants to revive the peace process, but has largely refrained from asking Israel and the Palestinians to make major concessions to bring it back to life.

By
May 23, 2017 22:19
2 minute read.

Trump arrives at the Presidential palace in Bethlehem (credit: REUTERS)

Trump arrives at the Presidential palace in Bethlehem (credit: REUTERS)

 
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US President Donald Trump has said he wants to revive the peace process, but has largely refrained from asking Israel and the Palestinians to make major concessions to bring it back to life.

On Tuesday, however, Trump seemingly made his first major ask of the Palestinians when he indirectly alluded to PLO payments to families of Palestinian prisoners and “martyrs,” many of who were involved in attacking Israelis.

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“Peace can never take root in an environment where violence is tolerated, funded and even rewarded,” Trump remarked. “We must be resolute in condemning such acts in a single, unified voice.”

The putative message from Trump is that the PLO and its chairman Abbas should take measures to end payments to families of Palestinians who have carried out deadly attacks against Israelis.

The PLO has long made such payments to fill the void of a dead or jailed family member, according to Palestinian leaders.

The only problem with Trump’s request is that Abbas almost certainly cannot fulfill it as prisoners and “martyrs” loom large in Palestinian society and the PA president’s popularity is declining.

Palestinian prisoners and “martyrs” have always maintained an influential status in Palestinian society. Many of them are seen as the fighters who have carried forward the burden of and sacrificed themselves for the Palestinian cause.



But at the moment, with an ongoing mass hunger-strike in Israeli prisons, the importance of the status of prisoners on the Palestinian street has reached new heights. On Monday, almost the entire West Bank shut down in support of the hunger-striking prisoners. And hundreds of Palestinians are filling protest tents in Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nablus and many other places in the territories.

“The issue of Palestinian prisoners is the most important on the Palestinian street right now,” Fatah Secretary-General Mohammed Masri said Monday.

If Abbas made a move to end payments to prisoners and “martyrs,” he would be inciting the Palestinian public against himself.

It would appear that the PA president had turned against the Palestinian street in favor of the wishes of the American president.

Not to mention, Abbas’s popularity is already declining with some 64% of the Palestinian public saying he should resign.

Thus, the PA president is in no position to take bold measures against the will of the people.

Instead, Abbas will have to look for other ways to curry Trump’s favor. As one senior PA official said Tuesday, any move against payments to prisoners and “martyrs” would “be nothing short of political suicide.”

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