Abbas in Ramallah supermarket.
(photo credit: COURTESY: WAFA)
Internal bickering among the top brass of the Palestinian Authority has sparked a wave of rumors that reached their peak over the weekend with reports that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas had suffered a stroke.
The rumor concerning Abbas’s health was so widespread that the he was forced to make a rare public appearance at a gourmet supermarket in Ramallah, accompanied by a crew from Palestine TV.
Abbas’s advisers decided to send him to do some shopping and chat with surprised passersby, in an effort to dispel rumors on social media that he was lying unconscious in hospital.
The reports about the sudden illness of the 80-year-old Abbas surfaced shortly after Ramallah was hit by rumors that Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah had tendered his resignation.
Hamdallah’s office was quick to deny the rumor about his “resignation,” urging media outlets to display caution in dealing with unconfirmed reports.
Some Palestinians in Ramallah said on Sunday that there might be a connection between the false reports about Abbas’s “stroke” and Hamdallah’s “resignation.”
The rumors, according to sources in Ramallah, came amid increased tensions between Abbas and Hamdallah, especially in the wake of the prime minister’s recent statements.
Hamdallah enraged Abbas and Fatah leaders in the West Bank by revealing that education minister, Khalwa al-Shakhshir, was appointed to the job only because she is the sister-in-law of senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmed.
Hamdallah disclosed that Abbas and the Fatah leadership had provided him with the list of ministers in his new “national consensus” government. The prime minister said that Ahmed and PA General Intelligence chief Majed Faraj came to him with a list with the names of the ministers already on it.
Abbas’s aides saw Hamdallah’s statements as an insult to the PA president and rushed to deny the claims. One aide accused Hamdallah of lying.
Another Abbas adviser on Saturday night told Palestinian journalists that some of Hamdallah’s aides were behind the rumor that the PA president had suffered a stroke.
Denying the charge, a source in Hamdallah’s office countered by claiming that Abbas’s bureau in the Mukata “presidential” compound was responsible for spreading the rumor about the prime minister’s purported resignation.
The dispute between the Fatah leadership and Hamdallah, who according to various sources regards himself as a potential successor to Abbas, coincided with another skirmish that erupted last weekend between PLO Secretary-General Yasser Abed Rabbo and Maher Shalabi, a senior journalist with Palestine TV, who is closely associated with the PA president.
The row began when Shalabi reported that US Secretary of State John Kerry had recently met secretly in UAE with three Palestinian officials, including Rabbo. The other two who, according to Shalabi attended the meeting, were former Palestinian Authority prime minister Salam Fayyad and ousted Fatah strongman Muhammad Dahlan.
Although Shalabi did not say so explicitly, his report was understood to insinuate that the three Palestinian officials were involved in some kind of a conspiracy to topple Abbas, with whom they are at odds.
Rabbo, who was once very close to Abbas, issued a harsh statement in which he vehemently denied the report and threatened to “cut out” the tongue of the journalist. Rabbo is convinced that the source of the report about the “meeting” with Kerry was Abbas himself.
Shalabi has retorted by saying he is prepared to face Rabbo in court if the latter decides to sue for libel.
Rabbo was previously in charge of the PLO’s official media before Abbas removed him from the job.
Abbas, meanwhile, has come under fire for allowing Palestine TV to broadcast an interview with the controversial Egyptian TV figure Tawfik Okasha.
Okasha is known for his recurring vitriolic attacks on Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. He has gone as far as justifying Israel’s war against Hamas and waving his shoes in the air during TV programs to threaten Hamas leaders.
One of those who criticized the appearance of Okasha on Palestine TV was none other than Ahmed Zaki, director of the news department at the station.
After criticizing the decision to allow the Egyptian TV presenter to appear on his station, Zaki was kicked out on Abbas’s orders.
The internal squabbling in Ramallah has provided additional ammunition to Hamas and Abbas critics in their campaign against the PA leadership. They view the infighting as further proof that Abbas and the PA leadership are continuing to act against the real interests of the Palestinians.