No one has confidence in the Palestinian Authority - veteran PLO official

PALESTINIAN AFFAIRS: Former Yasser Arafat aide Bassam Abu Sharif dissects the problems with the current Palestinian leadership.

 BASSAM ABU SHARIF, former senior adviser to the late Yasser Arafat, in 2003: The Palestinian Authority wants to cover up for its blunders, corruption and failed and mistaken policies. (photo credit: FLASH90)
BASSAM ABU SHARIF, former senior adviser to the late Yasser Arafat, in 2003: The Palestinian Authority wants to cover up for its blunders, corruption and failed and mistaken policies.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

For Bassam Abu Sharif – a veteran PLO official who served as an adviser to Yasser Arafat – and other Palestinian officials, the Palestinian Authority has turned into a joke.

“No one has confidence in the Palestinian Authority,” he told The Jerusalem Post this week, launching into a scathing attack on PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA leadership and holding them responsible for “rampant corruption.”

“No one trusts the Palestinian Authority,” Abu Sharif, 76, told the Post. “All the decisions taken by the Palestinian leadership have been turned into toilet paper.”

Abu Sharif’s harsh criticism reflects the sense of growing discontent and frustration among the Palestinian public with Abbas and the PA leadership.

Barring last-minute changes, the Palestinian Central Council is expected to convene in Ramallah next week at the request of Abbas. Established in 1972, the PCC is another Palestinian key decision-making institution that serves as an intermediary body between two other significant bodies: the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the PLO’s parliament in exile, and the PLO Executive Committee.

 PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY leader Mahmoud Abbas addresses PA officials in Ramallah.  (credit: FLASH90) PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY leader Mahmoud Abbas addresses PA officials in Ramallah. (credit: FLASH90)

The last time the PCC met was in 2018 after former US president Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

Then, the council members, who represent various Palestinian groups, including Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction, called on the Palestinian leadership to suspend the PLO’s 1993 recognition of Israel until it recognizes Palestine as a state, suspend security coordination with Israel and endorse a multilateral international approach to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

This was not the first time that the PCC had called for cutting ties with Israel; the first time was in 2015.

Both calls, however, were nonbinding and served only as “recommendations.” Abbas, needless to say, did not implement any of the PCC recommendations.”

Abu Sharif, an erstwhile advocate of the peace process with Israel, said that the results of the upcoming meeting of the PCC will not be different from previous ones.

And like many Palestinians, Abu Sharif said that he has lost faith not only in the PA leadership, but in the prospects of any peace process with Israel. That’s why there’s no reason to believe that Abbas would honor any decision taken by the Palestinian institutions, he said.

In the past, Abu Sharif pointed out, Abbas refused to implement the decisions of the PCC, especially with regard to cutting all ties with Israel.

“Previous decisions and recommendations taken by the Palestinian Central Council were never implemented,” he said. “In fact, the Palestinian Authority leadership did the exact opposite. The Palestinian Authority wants to cover up for its blunders, corruption and failed and mistaken policies. It wants to cover up for the security coordination it continues to conduct with Israel.”

Instead of exploiting the Palestinian institutions to serve its own interests, the Palestinian leadership should embark on a process to “rebuild” the PLO, Abu Sharif stated.

When Palestinians talk about “rebuilding” or “reforming” the PLO, they are referring to the need to end Fatah’s “hegemony” over the organization and allow other factions to have a say in the decision-making process. Because of Fatah’s dominance over the PLO, Hamas and other factions say that they no longer consider the organization as the “sole and legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”

Echoing allegations that Abbas and Fatah have “hijacked” the organization, Abu Sharif said: “It is time to restructure the PLO. Any talk contrary to this aims to deceive the Palestinian people. The Palestinian leadership is giving the people painkillers that don’t work.”

The decisions of the Palestinian institutions, Abu Sharif added, “are more important than Abu Mazen [Abbas’s nom de guerre]. Where are the previous decisions taken by the Palestinian leadership? They have become toilet paper. The Palestinian Authority has become a servant of Israel.”

Abu Sharif is convinced that the Palestinians want to resort to “resistance” against Israel, but are being stopped by the PA.

“Our people are suffering greatly,” he said. “They are suffering as a result of the corruption of the Palestinian Authority and the measures taken by the Israeli occupation. The people want resistance [against Israel]. The Palestinian Authority needs to carry out what the people want. The people are opposed to capitulation [to Israel].”

Abu Sharif, who was a member of the Marxist-Leninist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) before becoming Arafat’s senior adviser and PLO spokesman, condemned the PA for cracking down on its critics and political rivals in the West Bank.

“The Palestinian Authority threatens to fire anyone who engages in resistance [against Israel],” Abu Sharif claimed. “This is the biggest criminal act committed by the Palestinian Authority.”

Asked about the corruption in the PA, Abu Sharif said: “They [the Palestinian Authority leaders] are handling the money of the people as they wish; there is theft and embezzlement of funds and [public-owned] lands.”

He also lambasted the PA for failing to hold to account Palestinian officials suspected of involvement in financial and administrative corruption.

“Where are the [anti-corruption] trials?” Abu Sharif asked. “Let’s ask all the senior officials of the Palestinian Authority, including the civilian and security officials: ‘How did you gain your wealth? From where do you have all this money, all these bank accounts, all these lands?’ The corruption needs to end.”

Abu Sharif scoffed at the recent meetings between PA leaders, including Abbas, and Israeli officials, and said that the Palestinians are fed up with the “practices” and “actions” of their leaders.

The Palestinians, the veteran PLO adviser said, “need to take matters into their own hands.”

Abu Sharif refused to say whether he expected the Palestinians to revolt against Abbas and the PA leadership. But, he clarified, “I expect that one day some people will rise to lead the Palestinians and look after their interests.”

Meanwhile, Abu Sharif emphasized, he has no doubt that the Palestinian leadership will continue to deceive its people and lie to them.

“The corruption among the highest echelon of the Palestinian Authority is unprecedented,” Abu Sharif charged. “They are devouring the resources of the people; they are putting the money in their private pockets. This is unacceptable. The Palestinian leadership is dilapidated, and it’s time for change.”

Abu Sharif said that he can’t understand why the PA was continuing to adhere to the Oslo Accords with Israel even after Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced his rejection of a Palestinian state and political negotiations with the Palestinians.

“What is Bennett going to talk to the Palestinians about?” he asked. “Does he want to talk to Abu Mazen and the Palestinians about food? The Israeli prime minister announced his position, so how can the PA and its leadership continue to adhere to the Oslo Accords? What do they want more than this? What else is the Palestinian leadership waiting for? Enough humiliation, enough capitulation. Resistance [against Israel] is the only way. The resistance should be escalated, and the Palestinian Authority should stop helping Israel.”

THESE TOPICS are likely to come up at next week’s PCC meeting. According to Salim Zanoun, the outgoing speaker of the PNC, the council will convene “to discuss the issues of interest to the Palestinians and to confront the fierce colonial aggression facing the Palestinian issue, as well as internal Palestinian issues, in order to face the grave challenges, mainly the Israeli settlement projects.”

The PCC meeting was originally scheduled for January 20, but was later delayed until February 6.

Palestinian Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh, who is considered one of Abbas’s most trusted advisers, said that the PCC will meet to discuss “crucial political, organizational and national issues.”

But Sheikh and many Palestinians know exactly why Abbas called the meeting: to reassert his status as the “legitimate” president of the Palestinians and seek approval for appointing some of his loyalists to senior positions.

Last month, Abbas entered the 18th year of his four-year term in office, again drawing widespread criticism from many Palestinians who say they no longer see the 86-year-old rais (president) as a legitimate leader.

Abbas’s decision to call off the general elections that were supposed to take place last year has seriously undermined his credibility among the Palestinians. His critics say that the controversial decision did not come as a surprise, because Abbas was not interested in the first place in holding elections for the PA parliament and presidency.

According to public opinion polls published in the past year, nearly 80% of the Palestinians said that they would like to see Abbas step down.

AS PART of his attempt to shore up his eroding popularity, Abbas last month convened another key decision-making body, the Fatah Central Committee, which is dominated by his loyalists. After the meeting, the committee announced that its members “unanimously renewed their confidence” in Abbas as head of the ruling Fatah faction and the PLO, in addition to “president of the State of Palestine.”

But what caught Palestinians’ attention was the announcement by the committee that it had also unanimously nominated Hussein al-Sheikh as its candidate for membership of the PLO Executive Committee. Sheikh is expected to officially replace the late Saeb Erekat, who died in November 2020, as secretary-general of the PLO and chief Palestinian negotiator.

Additionally, the Fatah Central Committee nominated another Abbas loyalist, Rouhi Fattouh, 73, as its candidate for the position of PNC speaker. Fattouh is expected to replace the 89-year-old Zanoun, who has been in his job since 1993.

A Fatah official pointed out that despite the statement, at least three members of the committee expressed reservations about Abbas’s move to appoint the two top representatives to senior positions.

“It’s not easy to say no to an 86-year-old man,” the official quipped. “Some of the committee members did not like the way things went, but they didn’t want to anger or embarrass President Abbas.”

Abbas is now hoping that the upcoming PCC gathering will ratify the decision to appoint Sheikh and Fattouh to the top positions in the Palestinian leadership.

Abbas wants to make it look as if the two men’s appointment was approved by two Palestinian bodies, the Fatah Central Committee and the PCC. It is important for Abbas to show that he does not make decisions on his own and that he has the backing of major Palestinian institutions.

Abbas is hoping that the PCC, like the Fatah committee, will also “renew” its confidence in him, a move that would reinforce his status as a “legitimate” president.

While the US appears to be worried that the PCC will again call for severing all ties with Israel, many Palestinians are calling for boycotting the meeting on the pretext that Abbas is seeking to use it to further consolidate his control of the Palestinian decision-making process and elevate his loyalists.

By Thursday, at least three PLO factions, including the PFLP, announced that they will boycott the PCC parley. They accused Abbas of ignoring their demands to reform the PLO and abandon his “monopoly” over the organization and other Palestinian bodies.

Several Palestinian factions and officials, including some belonging to Fatah, have also criticized Abbas for turning the PA into his “private fiefdom” and refusing to share powers with others.

The factions and officials are also strongly opposed to Abbas’s decision to boost the standing of his loyalists, especially the 62-year-old Sheikh.

Some Fatah and PLO officials said this week in private conversations that they are opposed to the appointment of Sheikh as PLO secretary-general, a job that would make him No. 2 in the Palestinian leadership and improve his chances of succeeding Abbas.

“Palestinian institutions are being used by Abbas to rubber-stamp his decisions and policies,” complained a PLO official in Ramallah. “What is happening in the Palestinian arena is tragic and trivial. Abbas and a few people have hijacked the PLO, Fatah and other important Palestinian institutions.”

According to a veteran Fatah official, “Palestinians have never felt so humiliated as they do under the rule of the current leadership in Ramallah.”

The Palestinian issue “has become a joke,” the Fatah official remarked. “No elections, no parliament, no public freedoms, massive corruption and nepotism, and no new leaders,” he said.