Elections worthless if Abbas is in power - ex-PA security commander

“Palestinians will vote for anyone who runs against Abbas and Fatah with a promise to end corruption and implement major reforms.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit (not pictured) in Cairo, Egypt January 31, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas meets with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit (not pictured) in Cairo, Egypt January 31, 2020
(photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMED ABD EL GHANY)
The upcoming Palestinian elections will be meaningless as long as PA President Mahmoud Abbas and his top aides remain in power, according to a former Palestinian Authority security commander.
Fahmi Shabaneh said he did not rule out the possibility that Abbas and his ruling Fatah faction would lose the presidential and parliamentary elections, if and when they take place, provided that the vote is free and fair.
The parliamentary election has been set for May 22, while the vote for the PA presidency is expected to take place on July 31.
“Palestinians will vote for anyone who runs against Abbas and Fatah with a promise to end corruption and implement major reforms,” said Shabaneh, who previously served as commander of the anti-corruption department in the PA General Intelligence Service, in an interview on Thursday with The Jerusalem Post.
“I’m not referring specifically to Hamas, but also to other lists and candidates who will make such promises,” he said. “Palestinians are desperate for change, but they know it won’t happen as long as the office of the president has absolute power. Were it not for the corruption of the Palestinian leadership, the Palestinians would have had a state by now. The Palestinians need a president who will put an end to all forms of corruption.”

Fahmi Shabaneh, former PA intelligence officer. (Photo credit: Khaled Abu Toameh)Fahmi Shabaneh, former PA intelligence officer. (Photo credit: Khaled Abu Toameh)
The Hamas-affiliated Change and Reform list, which promised among other things to combat rampant corruption in the PA, won the election for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) in 2006.
The Hamas victory triggered a power struggle with Fatah that culminated in the Islamist movement’s 2007 takeover of the Gaza Strip.
“President Abbas’s term in office expired a long time ago and it’s time for change,” said Shabaneh, a resident of Jerusalem’s Bet Hanina neighborhood. “The entire team working with Abbas needs to be changed.”
Shabaneh, who said he resigned from the PA General Intelligence Service because of attempts to prevent him from investigating corruption cases involving senior Palestinian officials, has since opened a law firm in east Jerusalem. As a resident of the city, he holds an Israeli-issued ID card.
He said he saw a direct connection between the election of US President Joe Biden and Abbas’s decision to call new elections.
“Abu Mazen (Abbas) and the Palestinian leadership want US funding,” he argued. “They announced the elections so that Biden would resume financial aid to the Palestinians. Even if a new parliament is elected, it will have no real power or influence because the president’s office will still be in control of everything. We’ve been to this movie before.”
According to the former high-ranking intelligence officer, Hamas and other Palestinian factions made a “mistake” when they agreed to Abbas’s demand to hold the elections in three phases, and not simultaneously.
Palestinians will also vote on August 31 for the Palestinian National Council, the PLO’s legislative body, which has more than 700 members.
“Abbas insisted on holding the parliamentary election first so that he would be able to tamper with the results if he doesn’t like them,” Shabaneh explained. “If he sees that the parliament is controlled by his opponents and rivals, he will seek to undermine it. He wants to keep the president’s office in total control. Abbas is not interested in change. He only wants money and international recognition.”
Shabaneh pointed out that after the Hamas victory in 2006, Abbas and his senior advisers did their utmost to undermine the PLC and intimidate elected Hamas legislators.
“Back then, I was the acting [PA] governor of Jerusalem,” he recalled. “I remember how gunmen attacked the homes of Hamas representatives in the Jerusalem area, as part of a campaign of intimidation waged by the Palestinian leadership. If Hamas wins the upcoming vote, Abbas and his entourage will again work to foil or dissolve the parliament. They want a powerless parliament.”
Shabaneh said he did not rule out the possibility that Hamas would form alliances with independent lists and candidates in the West Bank that are “desperate to get rid of the corrupt and inept Palestinian leadership.”
But, he cautioned, the next Palestinian parliament will be “ineffective” as long as the president and his senior associates are around.
“The Palestinian Authority is a one-man show,” Shabaneh remarked. “Abbas, with the help of a handful of very corrupt officials, are in control of everything. They don’t consult with anyone and they don’t care about the interests of the people. Abbas has surrounded himself with corrupt officials so that he can keep them under his control. Abbas threatens to expose their corruption if they dare to criticize him.”
Shabaneh, like many Palestinians, said he was skeptical regarding the chances that the elections would take place, and that he does not believe most residents of east Jerusalem were interested in participating in the general elections. “The people in east Jerusalem are frustrated with the Palestinian Authority,” he said.
Noting that “only a small number” of eligible Arab voters from Jerusalem have registered with the Palestinian Central Elections Commission, Shabaneh said that the Palestinian public in general does not believe that the elections, if and when they are held, would bring about real changes.
The PA leadership has called on the US, EU and UN to pressure Israel to allow Arab voters from Jerusalem to take part in the parliamentary and presidential elections.
“I expect only a few people [from east Jerusalem will] participate in the parliamentary election,” Shabaneh said. “Most Palestinians know that the Palestinian parliament would have no real power as long as President Mahmoud Abbas and those surrounding him are running the show. Besides, our people in Jerusalem know that the corrupt Palestinian leaders haven’t done anything for them.”
Shabaneh said that while he was aware that some figures from east Jerusalem were planning to present their candidacy for the parliamentary election, he himself had no plans to contest the vote.
“I will be attacked by the corrupt Palestinian leadership if I run on a ticket that calls for reforms and transparency and an end to financial and administrative corruption,” he explained. “They know that once I’m in power, I would have to take measures against 90% of the Palestinian leaders for their involvement in corruption. That’s why they will spread all kinds of rumors about me and prevent the media from covering my election campaign. In the past, the Palestinian Authority seized my villa in Jericho because I spoke out against corruption of Palestinian leaders.”‭‮