Future Palestinian leadership

Mahmoud Abbas has not missed an opportunity to wriggle his way out of committing to reaching an agreement with Israel.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey, December 13, 2017 (photo credit: REUTERS/KAYHAN OZER/POOL)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during an extraordinary meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul, Turkey, December 13, 2017
‘There is no peace partner on the Palestinian side.” It appears that this common Israeli claim received extra reinforcement this week following Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas’ speech, in which he made statements condemning US President Donald Trump’s policies.
Abbas has not missed an opportunity to wriggle his way out of committing to reaching an agreement with Israel. It’s as if Abbas wants to make sure that no agreement is reached during his term.
Many in Israel and around the world are surprised or angry about Trump’s statements regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Regardless of how blatantly Trump expresses himself, however, it’s difficult to challenge the content of his statements.
Trump only said publicly what most Israelis and perhaps people all around the world have been thinking. There was nothing new in his declaration or recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
Jerusalem has been the official capital of the State of Israel since its establishment, and has been the capital of the Jewish people for over 3,000 years. On this subject we do not need to obtain approval from Abbas or anyone else.
Moreover, it must be noted that Abbas’s claim that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine has no historical basis whatsoever.
The only reason he keeps repeating it is that he knows it will never come to pass, and so he’s free to claim that as a result, the Palestinians cannot reach any sort of a peace settlement with Israel.
This is the same reason he insists on demanding the right of return for all Palestinian refugees, and all the other demands that are devoid of any logical or practical basis.
Trump has presented his own initiative for how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fact that he chose to visit Israel at the start of his term and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as with Abbas attests to the importance he attributes to reaching peace. Although Abbas did not stop incitement against Israel even for a moment, he did call to boycott Hamas in the Gaza Strip, to stop transferring tax revenues to it, and declared in Washington that he was fully committed to reaching a peace agreement with Israel.
Despite attempts to place the blame on the Israeli government, the main obstacle to reaching peace is – not surprisingly – the Palestinian side. Abbas inherited from his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, a poorly functioning government. It has been a failure on political, social, leadership and administrative levels. The PA has remained in the exact same stage of disrepair it was in 10 or even 20 years ago. It still relies wholly on contributions from various countries around the world so that it can pay for electricity and transportation infrastructure provided by Israel.
Moreover, the PA has not developed any industry whatsoever in all these years, and has continued to rely exclusively on Israel; almost every Palestinian household relies on salaries paid by Israeli employers. If you enter a Palestinian refugee camp today, you will be entering a time warp that has not changed one bit since 1991 when Israel withdrew its military forces from Judea and Samaria. In all these years, the PA has done nothing to improve the living conditions of these refugees.
Abbas has turned out to be an extremely weak leader, lacking in charisma or any leadership capabilities. He has not carried out even one important act for his people. As a result, Hamas in recent years has begun gaining support in Judea and Samaria, and is planning to take control in a way that would cause Fatah to disappear, just as it did in Gaza.
Even Fatah leaders have understood for a long time that Abbas apparently won’t take any significant steps before his time in office ends. The struggle for a Palestinian successor began two or three years ago, even though Abbas never officially announced an end to his term. He has threatened to resign a number of times, but these were idle threats that were meant for making newspaper headlines and nothing more. A number of opponents from within Fatah have stood up to Abbas over the years, the most prominent among them being Muhammad Dahlan and Marwan Barghouti, both of whom covet Abbas’s position and would jump at an opportunity to inherit his leadership position.
But there are other Palestinian figures, loyal to Abbas, who are hoping to be the next in line for Palestinian leadership.
There’s Jibril Rajoub, a former head of Preventive Intelligence in the West Bank and currently the head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, and Majid Faraj, who is currently head of Palestinian intelligence and Abbas’s loyal confidant.
The most likely scenario is that nothing sensational will take place during Abbas’s term, and he will disappear into the annals of history without leaving any significant imprint. He will continue making demands that will never be met; he will curse the Americans and Israelis; he will claim that Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine and incite his people to rise up against Israel. The question is, what does the future hold? It appears that Abbas is grooming Faraj to take his place, and the latter already has open access to the halls of government in Washington.
Dahlan and Barghouti, however, do not intend to sit around idly and watch as power slips away from them. Dahlan has been channeling millions of dollars into the West Bank and Gaza to build streets for his supporters in refugee camps, cities and villages.
Barghouti, who is serving a life sentence, has also been gaining tremendous support among Palestinians. Dahlan, of course, still claims publicly that he’s not interested in vying for the presidency, and that he supports Barghouti in this role, but it’s common knowledge that he’s only saying this to garner even more support. In his heart, Dahlan hopes sincerely that Barghouti will never be released from Israeli prison.
The most likely scenario is that there won’t be any serious changes in the Palestinian leadership, and that Israel won’t have a partner with which it could reach a peace arrangement in the near future.
As a result, the American initiative is also likely to encounter a brick wall, with Abbas blocking the only door. Let’s hope that the next leader of the PA will have enough courage and leadership skills to lead the Palestinian people toward a type of peace arrangement that is also acceptable to the Israeli people, one that is devoid of fantasy and unreasonable aspirations.
The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.