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Rare internal criticism of Abbas

Op-ed by Fatah official Sufian Abu ‎Zaydeh

     ‎“I am revealing no secret nor adding ‎nothing new when I say that the ‎Palestinian people has reached a stage of ‎frustration and loss of confidence in its ‎leadership and its ability to find solutions ‎to the distress and disasters they are ‎facing and find a way out of them. The ‎frustration and loss of confidence do not ‎just concern the ability to end the ‎occupation, protect the holy places and ‎reduce the attacks of the settlers - these ‎are high aspirations no one expects to be ‎realized in the foreseeable future; [rather,] ‎the frustration essentially arises from the ‎shrinking of the Palestinian political ‎system and its reduction to the figure of ‎President [Mahmoud] Abbas.‎

Today, the President directs everything ‎related to the Palestinian people and the ‎Palestinian cause: he is the Chairman of ‎the PLO, the President of the State of ‎Palestine and the Chairman of the PA; he ‎is also the Chairman of Fatah and the ‎Supreme Commander of the [Security] ‎Forces. With the suspension of the PA ‎Parliament (Legislative Council), it is ‎President Abbas who issues legally ‎binding orders – meaning, he has ‎effectively replaced the PA Parliament. ‎With the complete paralysis of the PLO ‎institutions, he is the only decision-maker ‎there…

In truth, no one ever dreamed we would ‎reach our current situation, in which all ‎powers are concentrated in the hands of a ‎single person, and all the most senior ‎positions are occupied by a single person. ‎We never dreamed that a man would ‎come – whatever his abilities or talents ‎might be – who would not only repeat ‎President Arafat’s attempts to consolidate ‎power, but would also receive powers that ‎not even Yasser Arafat himself, with all ‎his symbolic [importance] and greatness, ‎ever received.‎

One of the central reasons that made ‎President Abbas a natural candidate [for ‎the PA Presidency] after President ‎Arafat’s death was that many people were ‎convinced that President Abbas’ ‎administrative policy would be completely ‎different from President Arafat’s, since ‎President Abbas spoke a great deal about ‎the need to build the institutions, to avoid ‎a concentration of power in the hands of ‎one person, to separate the authorities, to ‎‎[re]build Fatah and to stimulate the activity ‎of its governing bodies.‎

In President Arafat’s time, the Palestinian ‎leadership frequently talked about the ‎need for him [Arafat] to appoint himself a ‎deputy in the PA and the PLO… Today, ‎the same mistakes are being repeated, but ‎in a more serious way, since the PA and ‎PLO Chairman has no deputy. The reason ‎for the lack of deputies is not just ‎President Abbas, but the absence of real ‎leaders capable of expressing their ‎positions without fear. Part of the problem ‎is that not only does President Abbas not ‎hear enough voices telling him ‘no’ when ‎necessary, but that most officials let him ‎hear what they think he wants to hear. ‎They tell him, ‘You are the President; ‎there is no alternative besides you; you ‎are our candidate and there is no one else ‎besides you.’ ‎

These [officials] have renounced their ‎right to lead and Fatah’s right to fulfill its ‎pioneering and leading role. It should ‎come as no surprise, then, if the President ‎behaves as if Fatah and the PLO had no ‎leadership. Naturally, there is no PA ‎Parliament fulfilling the role of overseer of ‎the state’s legislative bodies – including ‎the President’s activities – and it is not ‎working to pass laws. Therefore, it is the ‎President who appoints the prime minister ‎and the ministers, firing or keeping whom ‎he pleases in their posts – despite the fact ‎that the resolutions of the Sixth Fatah ‎Convention clearly determine that it is the ‎Central Committee that proposes and ‎determines the names. ‎

Therefore, it should come as no surprise ‎that the majority of President Abbas’ close ‎associates and those who influence his ‎decisions are not affiliated with Fatah and ‎its decisions. It is no coincidence that the ‎resigned prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, ‎was appointed two deputies with no ‎affiliation to Fatah. (Note: PA Prime ‎Minister Rami Hamdallah resigned on ‎June 20, 2013, and Abbas accepted his ‎resignation three days later. However, on ‎September 19, 2013, at Abbas' request, ‎Hamdallah formed a new government.) ‎Neither is it a coincidence that the majority ‎of the ministers who are permanent ‎members of the government are not ‎affiliated with Fatah. The explanation is ‎clear: Fatah senior officials and members ‎renounced their right with submission and ‎humiliation – either because they attained ‎their leadership positions by chance and ‎do not believe they are leaders, or out fear ‎for their interests and positions.‎

This helplessness and fear are linked to ‎the basic problem plaguing the ‎Palestinian political system in general, ‎and the Fatah leadership in particular: the ‎President [Abbas] has complete power to ‎dismiss, appoint and promote. How can an ‎ambassador, a minister, a deputy minister ‎or a security officer oppose a decision or ‎say ‘no’ to the President, when he knows ‎that doing so will cost him his salary and ‎position?‎

An example of the President’s ability to do ‎anything in this Authority is the case of ‎Ghazi Al-Jibali ‎, who returned to ‎Ramallah about a month ago, after being ‎wanted… by order of the Prosecutor ‎General, on charges of embezzlement. Al-‎Jibali returned to Ramallah… but Al-Jibali, ‎whose extradition had been requested by ‎the Palestinian legal establishment from ‎Interpol, received amnesty from President ‎Abbas, and all the cases involving ‎corruption were closed. In Al-Jibali’s ‎exoneration, President Abbas took [upon ‎himself] the role of the prosecution, the ‎Palestinian legal system and the Anti-‎Corruption Commission, which knew ‎nothing of the affair…‎

The absence of the Legislative Authority ‎as a supervising authority and the ‎concentration of power into the hands of ‎one person have made a separation of ‎powers impossible. Ghazi Al-Jibali may be ‎innocent… but who should decide that – ‎the President or the legal system? The ‎President or the Anti-Corruption ‎Commission? Al-Jibali’s case should have ‎ended with either an apology from the ‎Prosecutor General and the Palestinian ‎legal system for having tarnished his ‎reputation– in the event that he was ‎proven innocent – or with a verdict if he ‎was proven guilty. But we are living in the ‎President’s Era.”‎