West Bank volatility

Demonstrations that were originally directed primarily at Fayyad have now begun targeting Abbas as well.

Palestinians protest 370 (photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)
Palestinians protest 370
(photo credit: REUTERS/Darren Whiteside)
When Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called a press conference last Saturday in Ramallah, Palestinian journalists and activists were convinced that their leader would finally be announcing extreme measures designed to combat the difficult economic situation.
Protests against the high cost of living had broken out in a number of cities on the West Bank. And most of the anger on the Palestinian street was being directed at PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, the US-trained economist and former International Monetary Fund official who is the architect of Palestinian economic policy.
But instead of announcing concrete steps to improve the Palestinian economy – which like other economies around the world has been adversely affected by, among other factors, the sharp rise in fuel costs and basic foodstuffs – a flippant and cynical Abbas lashed out at Israel and the US for plotting against the PA.
The Palestinians, Abbas said, were not free, “because we are being surrounded from all directions.”
He attacked Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman for launching a campaign against him (Liberman most recently called Abbas a “liar, a coward and a wimp”). Abbas also criticized the US for opposing the Palestinian bid for statehood in the UN.
He even blamed the PA’s stagnating economy on Hamas, noting that half of the PA’s budget goes to the Gaza Strip.
Just two days later, while demonstrations continued to rage on the West Bank and PA police were being attacked, Abbas left for an official visit – to India.
Palestinians are frustrated. They get the feeling – rightly – that Abbas is not taking the recent demonstrations seriously. The Palestinian public is not stupid.
Not everything can be blamed on “the occupation.”
And if Abbas truly believes that Israel and the US are undermining Palestinian interests, how can he justify remaining the head of the PA, a political body that supports in principle a US-brokered peace agreement with Israel? Further undermining his fragile position is the fact that there have been no Palestinian elections since 2006. Abbas’s mandate to rule ran out years ago.
With a Palestinian leadership that refuses to accept responsibility and instead shifts the blame to others, it is no wonder that Abbas’s popularity is weakening.
Demonstrations that were originally directly primarily at Fayyad have now begun targeting Abbas as well.
With no moderate political options available, the weakening of the Fatah-ruled PA will inevitably result in the rise of Hamas in the West Bank.
Recent claims by senior PA officials that Hamas is exploiting protests against the high cost of living to increase its influence in the West Bank should be taken seriously. Adnan Damiri, spokesman for the PA security forces, claimed he had information about Hamas’s efforts to destabilize the situation in the West Bank.
Undoubtedly it is Abbas’s inept leadership that is to blame for the PA’s falling popularity. And only the Palestinian people are to be blamed for failing to support a more moderate, sane political leadership than either Fatah or Hamas has to offer.
At the same time, Israel is obligated to use what little sway it has over internal Palestinian affairs to help prevent Hamas, a proxy of the apocalyptic mullahs of Iran who are bent on destroying the Jewish state, from making inroads in the West Bank.
That’s why the government’s decision last week to advance NIS 250 million in tax payments to the PA can be justified under the circumstances. And this is true even if we know that the PA pays tens of millions of shekels to terrorists sitting in jails and to the families of suicide bombers.
Perhaps one day the Palestinian people will have the wisdom and courage to support a more moderate political leadership that will be capable of bringing true peace to the region. But until that day comes, Israel must do its best to prevent a dangerous regression on the West Bank.