Is Abbas the Last Palestinian Authority President?

By Mudar Zahran

After Israel's most recent military operation in Gaza, which ended with a cease-fire, Hamas has been claiming victory and enjoying popularity with the Palestinians, which comes as a setback for Hamas's rivals; Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction.

With Hamas popularity on the rise, Abbas was left with one desperate option to boost his image: pressing his quest for UN recognition of Palestine as an independent state.

Still, Abbas has other problems in his own house; there is friction within Abbas's Fatah, as Abbas's rival, Muhammad Dahlan, is still very influential and has a huge following.

Dahlan was a senior member of the Fatah Central Committee and the chief of the Palestinian Preventive Security Service. For years, he served as the main Palestinian counterterrorism coordination figure with Israel.

Abbas's Fatah managed to expel Dahlan in June 2011 following allegations by Abbas that Dahlan had murdered Arafat using poison.

Dahlan lives in exile now, but he has the money and the followers to disrupt Abbas nonetheless, if not necessarily to topple him. It is not unlikely that rivalry between Abbas and Dahlan would evolve into further friction between their followers should Abbas exhibit further signs of weakness or step down.

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In addition, the Arab Spring has drawn attention from the Palestinian cause as a whole and from Abbas as the poster child for the Arab-Israeli conflict; the media now has Syria, Egypt and other hot-spots to cover over Abbas's heart-felt speeches, or his meetings with world leaders.

As a result, Palestinians in the West Bank are no longer seeing Abbas in the international media, or mingling with world leaders, and are therefore focusing more on their miserable living conditions, which, as revealed by a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 70 percent of them believe are due to PA corruption.

Last October, prominent Israeli political scholar and Arabist Mordechai Kedar told a crowd in London that "the biggest victim of the Arab Spring is the Palestinian cause, as the world's media is no longer occupied with it" - and with the fading significance of the Palestinian cause goes Abbas's own significance.

Adding to Abbas's woes is that the Palestinians in the West Bank do not seem to be too enthusiastic about his quest to gain UN recognition for Palestine as an independent state.

While Abbas's UN stunt succeeded - Palestine is now an observer state in the UN - its very success could cause Abbas's disappearance from the political scene, because the Oslo peace agreement requires the Palestinians to not unilaterally seek international recognition as a state, and therefore Abbas's stunt gives Israel the full legal right to end Oslo altogether.

But say he does disappear, due to a "Palestinian Spring," a coup by his rivals or even retirement - the man is 77 after all - would the PA survive? First of all, the PA is not favored within its own jurisdiction, as confirmed by the above-mentioned poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research. In 2005, renowned scholar Daniel Pipes reported Palestinians under the PA were already saying that "Israel's hell was better than Arafat's paradise," and considering that Arafat had much more credit with the Palestinians than does Abbas, one can only imagine how Palestinians would view a PA without even Abbas.

In fact, a 2011 poll conducted by Pechter Middle East Polls in partnership with the Council on Foreign Relations, when asked if they preferred to become a citizen of Palestine, with all of the rights and privileges of other citizens of Palestine, or a citizen of Israel, only 30 percent chose Palestinian citizenship."

True, Abbas's second in command, Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayad, has a reputation for transparency and decency, but since Abbas appointed him in June 2007, the Palestinian Legislative Council has not confirmed his appointment. It is therefore unlikely he would be able to secure the presidency.

With no heir apparent for Abbas, who could secure public support and control the various military factions? With the PA's reputation for corruption and the disapproval of it among the Palestinian public, it is possible that the PA's future will be in jeopardy if Abbas steps down, quits, or retires.

While there are a few who argue that the West Bank should be handed to the Hashemite regime in Jordan, King Abdullah faces his own domestic challenges. Despite the media's low coverage of unrest in Jordan, there is an on-going, relentless public call to topple the Hashemite regime. Those hoping the Jordanian regime could play a future role in the West Bank ignore the possibility that the Hashemite regime itself might not exist in the near future.

It is about time those concerned with peace and regional stability start considering contingency plans for a West Bank without Abbas, and possibly even without the Palestinian Authority. There is much to consider, and not necessarily as much time.

The writer is a Palestinian-Jordanian living in the UK.

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