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Abbas at 80: Probed, Derided and Scapegoated

“We won’t act like them, we will not use violence or force, we are peaceful, we believe in peace, in peaceful popular resistance.” This was part of a message issued by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in October, only days after a few incidents took place in which Palestinian youth were accused of attacking Israeli soldiers and settlers with knives.

The message would have carried some weight were it not laden with contradictions. On one hand, Abbas’ supposed ‘peace’ quest has only entrenched the Israeli Occupation of the West Bank, and all but completely isolated illegally occupied and annexed East Jerusalem.

Moreover, what ‘peaceful popular resistance’ is Abbas, 80, referring to? What war of ‘peaceful’ national liberation has he been leading? And how could a leader, ever so unpopular, be leading a ‘popular resistance’ anyway?

Just two weeks before Abbas made that statement in which he referred to some illusory ‘popular resistance’ under his command, a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in Ramallah revealed that a majority of Palestinians, 65% of respondents, want him to resign.

Of course, while Abbas continues to prophesize about some non-existent peace – as he has done for most of his lucrative career – Israel continues to wreak havoc on Palestinians, using every means of violence at its disposal.

Granted, Israel’s propensity to maintain its violent occupation cannot be blamed on Abbas. It is Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his rightwing coalition that should be blamed squarely for the Occupation, the mistreatment and humiliation of Palestinians on a daily basis.

However, such truth should not detract from Abbas’ terrible legacy and ongoing misconduct. In fact, some urgent questions must be asked in that regard:

If Abbas is such a peacenik, why is his military budget so disproportionately large?

According to information published by Visualizing Palestine, 31% of the PA budget is spent on the military and policing of the West Bank. Compare this to 18% on education, 13% on health and only 1% on agriculture. The latter percentage is particularly troubling, considering that Palestinian land, orchards and olive groves are the main target for Israel, which usurps the land in order to expand its military zones and illegal settlements.

The huge discrepancy between funds allocated to Palestinian security forces – which never confront Israel’s military occupation, only Palestinian Resistance – and those spent to assist farmers in their ‘sumoud’ (steadfastness) while their land is being targeted and confiscated daily, is a testament to the mixed priorities of Abbas and his Authority.

Even Israel, which is obsessed with its security, and manages several fronts of war and military occupation spends only 22% of its total budget on the military, which is still quite high by average standards.

Abbas’ ‘peace’ is, of course, quite selective. He rules over Occupied Palestinians with an iron fist, rarely tolerates dissent within his party, Fatah’s, ranks, and has done his utmost to isolate Gaza and sustain a state of conflict with his enemies in the Hamas movement.

More recently, and due to mere criticism levelled at him by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a prominent Palestinian faction and PLO member, Abbas decided to choke them of funds. In Abbas’ ‘peaceful’ world, there is zero room for tolerance.

The PFLP criticism was a response to statements he made on Israeli television.

In a recent interview, he insisted that security coordination with Israel is a top priority for him. Without such coordination, the PA will find itself “on the brink of collapse,” he told Israel Channel 2 on March 31.

Apart from apprehending suspected Palestinian resisters, the security coordination includes searching school children’s bags for knives, according to the Palestinian leader. “Our security forces are entering schools and checking if students are carrying knives. In one school, we found 70 students with knives, and we told them that this was wrong. I told them I do not want you to kill someone and die; I want you to live and for others to live, too.”

Abbas’ statement on life and death does not, in the least, address the context of oppression, the humiliation of military occupation and the prevailing sense of despair that exists among young Palestinians, caught between a belligerent, violent Occupation, and a submissive leadership.

Convincing them not to ‘kill someone and die, “involved the security forces arresting the students who were found with knives, questioning them, torturing them and threatening their families,” wrote Palestinian commentator, Munir Shafiq.

“We only need to listen to the experiences of many who were tortured by the Israeli Shabak and the Palestinian security agencies, who said that the Palestinian security agencies are harsher, more barbaric and more brutal than the Shabak,” Shafiq wrote in Arabi21. So much for being ‘peaceful’ and ‘believing in peace.’

Writing in Rai al-Youm, Kamal Khalf wonders if it is time to look into the legitimacy of Mahmoud Abbas, a man who has ruled with an expired mandate for years. While refraining from any personal attack on Abbas, Khalf raises the possibility whether the PA President’s emotional and psychological well-being in his old age ought to be questioned, especially when one considers some of his latest statements: attacking Palestinian Resistance, searching children’s schoolbags and avowing his love for Israeli music.

When Abbas Zaki, the well-respected member of Fatah’s Central Committee, returned from a recent visit to Tehran, he was attacked by Abbas who “accused him of receiving $50 thousand from the Iranians and he demanded the money be given to him instead”, he wrote.

The number of Abbas’ bizarre actions and strange statements seem to be increasing with age. It is no secret, of course, that there has been much discussion about succession within Fatah and the PA, once Abbas is no longer in the picture. Until then, such eccentricity should be expected.

However, it is essential that the discussion does not entirely focus on Abbas, for he is merely representative of a whole class of usurpers who have used the Palestinian cause to advance their own positions, wealth and prestige.

There is little evidence to suggest that Abbas’ current position – soft on the Occupation, hard on the Palestinians – is new, or motivated by age and mental health. For the sake of fairness, the arbitrator of the Oslo accords has been consistent in this regard.

Since Arafat’s death in 2004, and his advent to power through a questionable democratic process in 2005, Abbas has worked laboriously to co-exist with the Israeli Occupation but failed to co-exist with his own Palestinian rivals.

True, it has been a decade of unmitigated Palestinian leadership failure, but it certainly took more than Abbas to manage that political fiasco. Now, at 80, Abbas seems to have become a scapegoat for a whole class of Palestinians which has worked to manage the Occupation and benefit from it.

More articles by:

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist, author and editor of Palestine Chronicle. His latest book is The Last Earth: A Palestinian Story (Pluto Press, London, 2018). He earned a Ph.D. in Palestine Studies from the University of Exeter and is a Non-Resident Scholar at Orfalea Center for Global and International Studies, UCSB.

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