Is the Palestinian Authority losing control? - analysis

There has recently been speculation that the PA has been significantly weakened due to the rising popularity of Hamas.

 PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The PA and Abbas have repeatedly shown that they are not interested in peace or prosperity for the Palestinians. (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY Chairman Mahmoud Abbas. The PA and Abbas have repeatedly shown that they are not interested in peace or prosperity for the Palestinians.
(photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)

The Palestinian Authority has assured the US administration that it is in control of the situation in the West Bank, a Palestinian official said on Tuesday.

The message was relayed to the US through a number of channels, the official said.

The official pointed out that PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who met on Monday evening in Ramallah with Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland, affirmed that the PA was in “full control” of the situation.

The affirmation came amid growing speculation that the PA has been significantly weakened due to the rising popularity of Hamas, widespread scenes of anarchy and lawlessness, and ongoing discontent with the performance of the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

“The reports about the imminent collapse of the Palestinian Authority are completely baseless,” said one official in Abbas’s office. “Those who are spreading these reports are acting against the interests of the Palestinian people and seeking to undermine the Palestinian Authority.”

 A picture taken with a drone shows Hamas supporters taking part in a protest against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to postpone planned parliamentary elections, in the northern Gaza Strip April 30, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM) A picture taken with a drone shows Hamas supporters taking part in a protest against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to postpone planned parliamentary elections, in the northern Gaza Strip April 30, 2021. (credit: REUTERS/MOHAMMED SALEM)

According to a number of reports over the past few weeks, the US and Israel are worried that the PA, which is facing huge financial and security challenges, could collapse any time in the near future.

Despite the calming message, some Palestinians said they have no doubt that the PA has lost much of its standing, mainly because of the anarchy and corruption among its top echelon.

“The anarchy and lawlessness under the Palestinian Authority stems from the unprecedented corruption and lack of respect for the law by the Palestinian leadership,” said Dimitri Diliani, member of the ruling Fatah faction’s Revolutionary Council.

Diliani, who is a member and leader of a breakaway group headed by ousted Fatah operative Mohammed Dahaln, told The Jerusalem Post, “The corruption led to enforcing the law on only part of the population, while the well-to-do echelons get away with a lot.”

Dahlan, a former PA security commander in the Gaza Strip, moved to the United Arab Emirates a decade ago after a fallout with Abbas and his two sons. Dahlan and his supporters have since been calling for reform in the Fatah, the faction dominating the PA.

Diliani said that because of the divisions within Fatah, “Employment in any Palestinian Authority position has become solely dependent on loyalty to Abbas, and not on qualifications.”

This, he said, “resulted in unqualified, unpopular Abbas loyalists grabbing hold of sensitive positions, thus lowering the level of the Palestinian leadership’s performance at every possible level and opening the door for anarchy.”

Asked if he shared the view that the PA was on the brink of collapse, Diliani told the Post, “I believe that the Palestinian Authority has reached the point of no return under the current leadership in terms of popular perception and rehabilitation.”

While some Palestinian and Western experts argue that the main challenge to the PA is coming from Hamas, there is no denying the fact that disgruntled Fatah officials, activists and gunmen in the West Bank are also brazenly standing up to the Palestinian leadership in Ramallah.

A former Palestinian security officer from a village near Jenin accused the PA of “abandoning its Fatah sons” in the West Bank, prompting many to revolt against the Ramallah-based leadership.

“I’m a member of Fatah, and I can tell you that I’m also against the Palestinian Authority’s performance and policies. Many of my Fatah colleagues are very disappointed with the leadership of Fatah and the Palestinian Authority. In recent years, the Palestinian leadership has deliberately sought to weaken Fatah. There is a feeling that the leaders in Ramallah are trying to get rid of Fatah.”

Asked if the PA was losing control of the situation in Jenin, the officer, a resident of Burqin village, replied, “That’s true; they are losing control not only here in Jenin, but in all of the West Bank.”

In recent weeks, the PA security forces have waged a massive crackdown on members of Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) in the West Bank.

The crackdown, however, has excluded unruly Fatah gunmen, especially in Nablus and Jenin.

The clampdown began after the funeral of Wasfi Kabaha, a senior Hamas official from Jenin who died a few weeks ago from coronavirus complications.

Masked Hamas and PIJ gunmen joined thousands of Palestinians at the funeral, which became an impressive show of strength for the two Iranian-backed terrorist groups.

After the funeral, Abbas removed the commanders of the PA security forces in Jenin from their positions and ordered his security forces to step up their activities against Hamas and PIJ.

Abbas also reportedly instructed the PA security services to ban rallies and other events organized by supporters of Hamas and PIJ.

Since then, the PA security forces have used violence to stop Hamas and PIJ supporters in Bethlehem, Hebron, Nablus, Jenin and Tulkarm from holding “reception parties” for Palestinians released from Israeli prison.

But videos and photos of PA security officers confiscating Hamas flags and PIJ banners and assaulting friends and family members of the released prisoners have caused further damage to the PA’s standing. The PA’s political foes and critics are using the images to denounce the Palestinian leadership as “puppets” in the hands of Israel and the US.

Mahmoud Mardawi, a senior Hamas official, said on Monday night, “The decision to prevent the reception rallies and other events came from outside parties. The Palestinian security forces are acting on instructions from Israel and the Americans.”

A former Palestinian security prisoner from Nablus said that he and many Palestinians were “ashamed and disgusted” by the PA security measures against the families and friends of the released inmates.

“These people serve a lot of time in Israeli prisons, but when they are released, they get arrested or beaten by Palestinian security officers,” he said. “The Palestinian Authority is making a huge mistake because there is a consensus among the Palestinians over the issue of the prisoners held by Israel.”

On Monday, PA security officers fired live ammunition and tear gas to disperse hundreds of Palestinians during the funeral of Jamil al-Kayal, a Fatah activist from Nablus who was shot by IDF troops when he tried to throw an explosive device at soldiers.

The officers arrived to prevent masked gunmen from commandeering the funeral, a PA security source said. Nablus residents said that most of the gunmen belonged to Fatah.

The incident drew sharp criticism from many Palestinians, who again accused the PA of “collaboration” with Israel.

Nablus Governor Ibrahim Ramadan said that the PA forces used tear gas to control “unruly elements” at the funeral.

Ramadan scoffed at the masked gunmen who participated in the funeral.

“Where were the gunmen when the Israeli army stormed Nablus and killed the martyr?” he asked. They had the effrontery to appear at the funeral with their guns.”

Ramadan and other PA officials said that the PA security forces will continue to fight against anarchy and illegal weapons. They also pointed out that the PA security forces are in “full control” of the situation.

Palestinian political analyst Fayez Abu Shamalah said that he does not believe the reports about the possible collapse of the PA.

The warnings by some Israeli officials concerning the collapse of the PA, he said, are designed to scare the Palestinian leaders into increasing security coordination with Israel.

The PA, Abu Shamalah added, has stepped up its crackdown on Hamas and other parties in the West Bank because it is worried that their activities will eventually be directed also against the Palestinian leadership.

“Israel has succeeded in linking the fate of Palestinian leaders with ongoing security coordination with Israel,” he said.