Is a coup being plotted against PA President Abbas?

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends an extraordinary meeting with the members of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) after the death of Palestinian official Ziad Abu Ein who died due to the tear gas which was fired by Israeli police during a demonstration on December 10, 2014. Anadolu Agency/Rimawi Issam

By: Orouba Othman

Published Friday, December 19, 2014

While the Palestinian Authority (PA) fights a battle at the Security Council, there is fire in Ramallah burning under the embers. PA President Mahmoud Abbas faces a test of leadership within the Mukataa, the president’s headquarters, amid overlapping political and personal issues. This suggests Abbas may be on the cusp of implementing a number of decisions to sack figures who are no longer toeing his political line, especially since his phobias about conspiracies targeting him have shifted from his known opponents to figures who were once close to Abbas.

Gaza – Just like there is no smoke without fire, there can be no sudden security measures and movements in the media without a real, if not also a major, dispute. In Ramallah, there is an open-ended battle now between PA President Mahmoud Abbas on the one hand, and PLO Secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo and former Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, on the other. The dispute is added to the major rivalry with expelled Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan, who has emerged as a kind of a Trojan horse in the Palestinian political landscape, slipping in through the cracks that have started to appear. For the first time in eight years, his supporters are appearing in public in Gaza carrying his portraits, with Hamas’ consent.

It is a Fatah-Fatah message from Dahlan to Abbas. Dahlan said what is happening is the first step to “break the silence after we patiently put up for long with the deviant approach of the small tyrant.” It is also a message from Hamas to blackmail Abbas, taking advantage of Dahlan’s tentacles that extend to the Gulf and Egypt.

For his part, Yasser Abed Rabbo is a new-old foe. The most recent confrontation with Rabbo erupted when Abbas-affiliated TV host Maher Shalabi accused Abed Rabbo, Dahlan, and Fayyad of meeting in secret with US Secretary of State John Kerry in the UAE. The accusations, which were made on Shalabi’s program on the official Palestine TV channel, were enough to further fuel the fire that has been raging between Abbas and Abed Rabbo for more than three years. Abed Rabbo responded to the claims in a sharp tone, saying, “[…] what Shalabi said is a deterioration and is meant to disrupt the patriotic line we defend in light of the aggression on Gaza, the reconciliation [with Hamas], and the battle at the Security Council.”

Abed Rabbo under siege

Abbas did not wait long to exploit the accusations Shalabi mentioned to clip Abed Rabbo’s wings. Abbas stripped Abed Rabbo of his duties related to the PLO’s financial allocations (Abed Rabbo’s real role was always a mystery, being a very powerful figure within the PLO despite not being affiliated to Fatah).

However, Fatah Executive Committee member Ghassan Shaka denies that there is a link between the differences between Abbas and Abed Rabbo, and stripping the latter of his financial and administrative duties.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Shaka said, “Stripping the secretariat of the Executive Committee of functions that are originally entrusted to the Palestinian National Fund is not a political issue. There is no need for an intermediary to handle financial allocations.” Shaka added, “An office was opened for the National Fund in the West Bank run by Ramzi Khoury. All financial matters were referred to the Fund recently.”

Shaka continued, “Abed Rabbo continues to serve, and was present at the most recent meeting of the Palestinian leadership to discuss the move at the Security Council.” Furthermore, Shaka defended Abed Rabbo by saying. “[He is one of the] figures who steers clear of maneuvering,” noting at the same time that the sacking of an Executive Committee member is not in the hands of the president alone, but involves “legal steps that govern accepting or rejecting dismissals and resignations.”

Despite Shaka’s statements, there are signs that the exclusion of Abed Rabbo from the political front is imminent, though no presidential decree in this regard has been issued yet. However, the move by the head of the anti-corruption court, Rafik Natsheh, to tackle corruption in civil society organizations prepares solid ground for Abbas to banish the mastermind behind the Geneva Initiative on grounds related to graft. Abed Rabbo heads a civil society organization, the Peace Alliance, which he established in 2000 following the initiative, and so does Salam Fayyad, who heads Palestine Tomorrow, a very active civil society organization.

Reports of Natsheh’s move agree with statements made by Al-Akhbar sources, who said, “The president’s decision (financial referral) has entered into force, despite Abbas being certain that the most recent security report related to the secret meeting in the UAE is inaccurate.” The sources continued, “[Abbas] is considering two options to get rid of Abed Rabbo, either by sacking him directly, or preparing charges of financial corruption against him.”

The second solution is the most probable in light of the position of the leadership, as the first option would bypass the decisions of the National Council. In this regard, member of the Executive Committee Jamil Shehadeh told Al-Akhbar, “The National Council was not convened yet as the party in charge of deciding on dismissals. Furthermore, the meetings of the Committee did not discuss anything about sharp disputes between the two sides at all,” noting that the disputes are just “differences in opinion.”

Abed Rabbo does not have any official capacity in the PA, which makes it difficult to force him to retire, as happened with Jamal Zaqout days ago, Zaqout being a close associate of Abed Rabbo. On December 8, Abbas issued a presidential decree forcing Zaqout to retire. Zaqout was adviser to former PA Prime Minister Fayyad for six years, and member of the final status negotiations delegation led by Abed Rabbo. Al-Akhbar contacted Zaqout, who refused to speak in detail about the sudden measure, but said, “This is a very arbitrary decision, because it was made without explaining the real reasons.”

The background of the disputes

The dispute between Abbas and Abed Rabbo dates back to September 2011, when the former accused the latter of trying to disrupt his political efforts for international recognition of Palestinian statehood. Abed Rabbo and Fayyad were accused of hinting to Arab capitals that the PA president was not serious about obtaining recognition. Following a battle of statements and counter-statements, Abbas removed functions related to overseeing the official PA media including radio and television from Abed Rabbo, describing what happened as a “stab in the back at a critical historical moment.”

The breaking point came a short time later, when Abed Rabbo and Fayyad declined to participate in a Palestinian delegation tasked with relaying Abbas’ message to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, something that observers saw as the “straw that broke the camel’s back.” At the time, the dispute reached a peak, and Abbas barred Palestine TV from hosting Abed Rabbo and Fayyad, before he removed the ban for a period of time. Now, the ban is in place again.

This has happened despite the fact that Abed Rabbo has been one of the leading “peace doves” and advocates of normalization with Israel and the United States, since he was appointed to the PLO in 1971. During the most recent war on Gaza, however, Abed Rabbo made statements unusual for him. Responding to Abbas at the time, he said, “Gaza is not a sponsor of terrorism, but a shield that has endured against the occupation. Woe to us Palestinians if Gaza is broken.” Abed Rabbo had also said, “Neither Hamas nor its weapons are to blame for what is happening, rather it should be criminal Israel.”

Last month, Abed Rabbo intervened on the back of the crackdown on trade unions and the arrest of the president of the Union of Public Employees, Bassam Zakarneh, and the Union’s vice-president, Moein Ansawi. As Abed Rabbo attended the meeting called by the electoral lists commission in the Legislative Council afterwards, he said, “The PLO can only be on the side of the voices calling for the executive branch to stop its assault on the freedom of trade union work.”

Fayyad and Abbas’ succession

By contrast to the battle with Dahlan and Abed Rabbo, the battle between Abbas and Fayyad is not public. It seems that Fayyad is benefiting from the Arab resentment on account of Abbas remaining in office, to sell his stocks in the Palestinian street and strengthen his relations with outside powers. Before going into details, however, it is important to note that the Third Way electoral list launched by Fayyad in the general election of 2006 was secretly steered by Abed Rabbo and backed by the UAE.

The dispute between Fayyad and Abbas had surfaced sharply in 2012, when Fayyad resigned following a clash with Abbas over accepting or rejecting the resignation of then-Finance Minister Nabeel Kassis, as Fayyad had held that portfolio for years. Since Fayyad’s resignation, the man has retreated from overt political work, and focused his efforts on the Palestine Tomorrow Foundation, which is active in “achieving sustainable development and improving the quality of services offered to the neglected areas of the West Bank and Gaza.” The foundation has caused a lot of controversy within Fatah and the PA because of its huge financial capabilities and links to donor countries and local organizations .

As a result of Fatah’s hostility, the Preventive Security Service – which is not authorized to deal with NGOs – raided Fayyad’s foundation and requisitioned electronic documents, and even summoned Fayyad himself for interrogation in August. Although Palestine Tomorrow’s assets have not been frozen and it did not shut down, the prevailing view is that Abbas will continue pressing in this direction.

Other sources told Al-Akhbar, “Fayyad has a good reputation among donor countries. He is trying to expand his popular base to become a strong presidential contender, benefiting from his close ties to the security leaders and capitalists in the PA, in addition to his attempt to market himself as a successor to Abbas in American and Israeli circles, which have not objected to this yet.”

Thus a threefold headache now surrounds Abbas, who has yet to set a time for the presidential election or express his intention to step down. Abbas’ concerns have been made worse by the fact that the minister of civil affairs and the liaison between the Palestinian and Israeli sides, Hussein al-Sheikh, told him about a planned coup staged by Abed Rabbo, Fayyad, and Dahlan, as well as former intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi, and other members of the Fatah Central Committee, according to sources who spoke to Al-Akhbar.

On Thursday, Gaza woke up to large posters accusing Abbas of treason and threatening him of a major Fatah event mid-next month. A person close to Dahlan said, “Abbas no longer trusts anyone, especially that he is suffering from symptoms related to his old age and wants to eliminate what is left of collective leadership.” The man added, “All of Abbas’ concerns are delusional. The Palestinian situation is complex and it is not easy for anyone to take over the helm.”

On the other hand, Fatah leader Yahya Rabah said, “Those who move in an individual capacity outside the legitimate framework and overstep their jurisdictions should be punished.” He added, “It is not the right of any PLO member to deal with outside parties on the basis of his personal perspective away from laws and regulations,” in reference to the alleged secret meeting in the UAE.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

I don't know enough about the workings of the Palestinian leadership & the political arena surrounding it, to comment. But I will say, that it is in the best interests of the players of that political arena for the situation to remain as it is, or they would be out of a profession.
Ambition must also be on the list as one of the 7 deadly sins, I think.

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