(photo credit: REUTERS/Dado Ruvic)
Last month, Libyan strongman Muammar Gaddafi fell from power in Tripoli. Syrian
dictator Bashar Assad appears to be teetering on the brink of a similar fate in
Damascus. With the Arab world in full upheaval, Palestinian Authority President
Mahmoud Abbas may be next to feel the heat.
Until now, Abbas has been
largely impervious to the troubles around him. The West Bank leader has been
unencumbered as he plots for his big moment on September 21, when he plans to
declare Palestinian independence at the United Nations.
Libyans, Egyptians and Tunisians are now getting a long-deserved taste of
freedom and taking charge of their futures, for the Palestinians, Abbas is not
changing a thing. After he declares independence at the UN General Assembly,
jubilant Palestinians may fire AK-47s into the air in Ramallah’s Manara Square,
hand out sweets on the streets, flash “V” for victory signs, and sound their car
horns by the hundreds, but they will see very little meaningful political impact
in their daily lives.
The day after the declaration, Palestinians will
realize that the vote in the UN General Assembly was non-binding. So, while
two-thirds of the international community may support the idea of a Palestinian
state – an idea the United States and Israel have endorsed before – that’s all
they’ll have to show for it. An idea.
Moreover, when Palestinians look
out the window and realize that the Israeli military has not withdrawn and that
the borders of “Palestine” are still not settled, their frustration will really
sink in. The Palestinians will see that, even after the long and dramatic
build-up to the unilateral declaration, independence cannot be achieved until
the Palestinians negotiate the final-status issues that Abbas has assiduously
sought to avoid.
IF THE Palestinians wish to act on their anger, here are
two potential outcomes.
The first is another intifada (armed uprising)
against Israel. On the day before the declaration, a million Palestinians are
reportedly planning to take to the streets.
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Abbas and other leaders
insist on non-violence, but what happens when these same frustrated people come
out the next day, and the day after that? As Palestinian columnist Daoud Kuttab
warned recently, “there is no telling which route the Palestinians will
The other possibility is an “intra-fada,” an uprising against
Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership. In keeping with the Arab Spring,
the Palestinians may yet determine that their own government is the source of
The PA is little better than the other regimes of the
region. Its elites have siphoned off hundreds of millions, if not billions, of
dollars of international aid to enrich their own families and
Fatah, the dominant faction of the government, is ossified,
corrupt, and cozy with almost all of the other unpleasant regimes in the
neighborhood. This led in no small part to Hamas’s shocking victory in the 2006
Palestinian legislative elections.
Hamas, it should be noted, did not
campaign on suicide bombings and firing rockets at Israel. It campaigned on good
governance, a theme that resonated among the Palestinians. If another election
were held tomorrow, Hamas might well win again for the same reason.
– and by default, the PA – has not reformed.
TODAY, ABBAS has the support
of the international community, but only because he looks great compared to
Hamas. In truth, he is little better than Hosni Mubarak or Gaddafi.
of those leaders stayed in power long after their legitimacy had waned. Abbas,
too, has now extended his presidency, even after it expired in
Mubarak tried to use his power to build an empire for his son,
Gamal. Gaddafi did the same for his son, Saif al-Islam.
Abbas’s two sons,
Yasser and Tarek, have been gobbling up US contracts and are running the West
Bank like a mafia family.
On this point, a former adviser to the PA notes
that the Abbas oligarchy is growing at hurtling speeds, while the population
loses patience at roughly the same rate.
With the exception of Saudi
Arabia and a few others, corrupt Arab regimes are collapsing under their own
weight. Will Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian Authority be next? The writer is
vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, and
author of Hamas vs. Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine’ (Palgrave 2008).
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