Abbas, go

Ordinary Palestinians are paying the price for Abbas's lack of leadership and the policies of the oligarchs who surround him.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the West Bank May 1, 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS/MOHAMAD TOROKMAN)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas waves in Ramallah, in the West Bank May 1, 2018
Amid growing pressure from Palestinian protests in the West Bank over the last few weeks, Palestinian Authority officials slammed the US administration for its efforts to improve living conditions in the Gaza Strip. On Monday, a member of the PLO Executive Committee also said the Trump administration was “living in an illusion if it thinks it would be able to find Arab or Palestinian support for its suspicious [peace] plan.”
The latest comments from Ramallah come after a year in which the PA has sought to obstruct and work against the US administration and its efforts at a new peace push. The comments by advisers to PA President Mahmoud Abbas are part of a pattern in which the PA leadership appears out of touch with both the region and its own people. It continues to harass local journalists, crack down on freedom of expression online, and recently sent police to beat protesters who challenged its sanctions on Gaza. It also refuses to hold elections, preferring to govern indefinitely while billions of dollars in Western support fill its coffers. Increasingly it appears as if Abbas, who has had health problems, is clinging to power. Ordinary Palestinians are paying the price for his lack of leadership and the policies of the oligarchs who surround him.
In an interview with Al-Quds newspaper this week, Trump adviser Jared Kushner questioned Abbas’s ability to agree to a new deal put forward by Washington. “He has his talking points, which have not changed in the last 25 years. There has been no peace deal achieved in that time. To make a deal, both sides will have to take a leap and meet somewhere between their stated positions,” Kushner said.
The PA response to the interview was to accuse Kushner of “incitement,” as The Jerusalem Post’s Khaled Abu Toameh reported. The officials claimed the fact that Kushner had to address the Palestinian public through a newspaper was an indication the US administration had failed to win Arab support for the plan. This claim is similar to the one made by PA officials that improving lives in Gaza would “undermine the Palestinian national project.” In both cases the PA seeks to keep the Palestinian people from deciding for themselves what they want and whether a new peace plan is acceptable.
The aging leadership in the PA has fought against change for decades, and many of those who still make decisions and give statements, such as Saeb Erekat, haven’t moved from their chairs since the 1990s. They have systematically undermined and denied a new generation of Palestinians from rising to the top. When the leadership convened the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah in April – after 22 years – there were few young faces or women among the ossifying speech-makers. Abbas spoke for two hours, reiterating the same “talking points” that Kushner mentioned.
For years, the Palestinian leadership benefited from convincing Western leaders that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was the key to peace in the whole region. However, leading regional states such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Jordan have come to realize there are more pressing issues in the region in their own countries such as poverty, the Iranian threat and extremism. The Trump administration has tried to get these key states on board for a peace plan.
The PA hopes that by bypassing the US it can wait until the Trump administration leaves office and get a better deal from the next administration or from the Europeans. It hopes to continue to receive foreign largesse, including aid for its security forces, which are trained and supported by the US. It thinks the US has no other option and no one else to talk to.
Many Palestinians today are concerned about their economic situation. The younger generation has grown up in the wake of the Oslo Accords and has not seen their lives improve. People have been denied a say as elections are continuously postponed. Increasingly, they are more frustrated with the PA’s leadership than with Israel.
It is time for the PA to find new leadership who can talk about peace and give the next generation a real chance.