The Palestinian Authority and its ruling Fatah faction have begun organizing rallies throughout the West Bank in support of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. The move came in response to recent demonstrations in the Gaza Strip during which protesters condemned Abbas and called for his removal from power.
On Monday, hundreds of Abbas loyalists took to the streets in various parts of the West Bank to voice their support for the 83-year-old PA president. The protesters denounced the demonstrations in the Gaza Strip and accused Hamas and Islamic Jihad of launching a campaign of incitement against Abbas.
The West Bank protesters also expressed support for Abbas’s rejection of the US administration’s yet-to-be-unveiled plan for peace in the Middle East, also referred to as the “Deal of the Century.”
The anti-Abbas protests in the Gaza Strip are being held under the banner “Get Out!” while the protests sponsored by the PA and Fatah are titled “We Chose You!” and “President Abbas Represents Me!”
Hamas and Islamic Jihad officials denied being behind the anti-Abbas demonstrations. The officials claimed on Monday that the demonstrations were being organized by Palestinians who are angry with Abbas because of his policies towards the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians, they added, are also angry with him because of the continued PA security crackdown on Hamas and Islamic Jihad members in the West Bank.
The Ramallah-based PA government recently cut salaries and welfare payments to thousands of Palestinians in the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave. PA officials have threatened to impose further sanctions on the Gaza Strip unless Hamas allows the PA government to assume its full responsibilities there.
“We are witnessing the beginning of an intifada against Abbas,” a veteran Palestinian journalist in the Gaza Strip told The Jerusalem Post. “Thousands of people have been participating in anti-Abbas demonstrations in the past few days. They are also waging a campaign against Abbas on social media.”
According to the journalist, the protesters hold Abbas responsible for the continued blockade on the Gaza Strip and failure to end the Hamas-Fatah rift. The protesters are also accusing Abbas of betraying the Palestinians by allowing his security forces to conduct security coordination with Israel, he added.
Abdel Latif al-Qanou, a Hamas spokesman, said that Palestinians were angry with Abbas because of the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip. “Abbas is in collusion with the US and Israel,” he charged. “By imposing sanctions on the Gaza Strip, he is proving that he is part of the ‘Deal of the Century,’ which aims to separate the West Bank from the Gaza Strip.”
THE WIDESPREAD demonstrations against Abbas in the Strip, the Hamas spokesman said, are “a sign of his failure and reflect the magnitude of the crises he has created for our people.”
PA and Fatah officials dismissed talk about an anti-Abbas uprising as “nonsense” and accused Hamas of arresting scores of Abbas loyalists in the Gaza Strip in the past few days.
In the past 48 hours, Hamas has arrested more than 100 members in the Gaza Strip for organizing demonstrations in support of President Abbas, according to Atef Abu Seif, a Fatah spokesman.
Mahmoud al-Aloul, deputy chairman of Fatah (which is headed by Abbas), said during a pro-Abbas rally in Ramallah on Monday that Hamas was making a big effort to silence its critics in the Gaza Strip. “Because it has failed with its schemes, Hamas is now arresting and torturing” anyone who supports Abbas and the PA leadership,” Aloul said.
He said that in addition to Hamas, the US and Israel were the only parties opposed to Abbas. “America and Israel don’t want President Abbas,” he said. “And now we have Hamas saying the same thing. In the past few days, Hamas has been trying to stage protests in the Gaza Strip to create the false impression that these are demonstrations against President Abbas. But we saw that many Palestinians there took to the streets to challenge Hamas.”
Muwafak Sahwil, secretary-general of Fatah in Ramallah, said during the rally that “history will have no mercy on those who have stood against Palestinian legitimacy or President Mahmoud Abbas.” He also denied the charge that Abbas was trying to help the Americans and Israel impose the “Deal of the Century” on the Palestinians.
He and several other PA and Fatah officials accused Hamas of “conspiring” with Israel and the US to overthrow Abbas because of his purported refusal to accept the upcoming US peace plan.
Similar pro-Abbas rallies were held in Nablus, Jericho, Kalkilya, Jenin and Hebron.
SOME PA OFFICIALS believe that deposed Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, who is based in the United Arab Emirates, is also behind the anti-Abbas demonstrations. Dahlan, a former PA security commander in the Gaza Strip, was forced to leave the West Bank seven years ago after falling out with Abbas and his two sons.
“Dahlan and some Arab countries are plotting to remove President Abbas from power,” one official told the Post. “According to our sources, Dahlan ordered his followers in the Gaza Strip to launch street protests calling on President Abbas to step down.”
The official pointed out that tensions between the PA and Hamas and Islamic Jihad have been mounting since the recent intra-Palestinian conference in Moscow. The Palestinian factions that participated in the discussions there failed to reach agreement to end the Hamas-Fatah dispute.
Fatah officials said that the factions failed to reach agreement on a joint communique after the conference because Hamas and Islamic Jihad rejected a phrase that referred to the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.
“The demonstrations against and in favor of Abbas are very disturbing for the Palestinians,” said a Palestinian political analyst. “The demonstrations show that the prospects of ending the divide between the West Bank and Gaza Strip are zero. This is a very serious crisis for the Palestinians.”