While the European Union, Egypt, the United States and the United Nations are all hoping to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas’ rule by involving the Palestinian Authority (once again) in the reconstruction of Gaza, some 3,000 Palestinians have signed a petition calling for Abbas to resign from his triple position as head of the Fatah movement, head of the PLO and Palestinian Authority chairman.
If the number of signatories seems insignificant, it should be remembered that in every relevant poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research in recent years, about 60 percent of respondents said Abbas should resign. This fact is buried in the Palestinian media, or doesn’t appear at all.
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But the petition, which has been widely circulated on social media, caused a big commotion last week. The uproar may have died down a bit, but the demand for Abbas’ resignation or removal has become part of the public debate, as one of the signers told Haaretz.
“I’m in various WhatsApp groups, including of Fatah members, and I know that intense discussions are going on about the issue,” he said. “And that’s healthy. Abbas has made Palestinian politics another ugly example of an Arab regime. We want to rebuild the PLO, but that’s impossible without the person responsible for the situation leaving the stage.”
The idea of the petition came together a few days after last month’s cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. It was fed by those same contradictory – but complementary – feelings that are shared by Palestinians in Israel, in 1967-occupied Palestinian territory and in the diaspora: shock and pain over the victims and destruction Israel caused in Gaza and the casualties in the West Bank, and the pride and elation over the success of the younger generation overcoming distances, separation fences and closures, and showing fury and common aspirations.
In the past month and a half, the continuous and ever-present reality of the Nakba, which all Palestinians experience regardless of their location and class, was illustrated and defied by simultaneous demonstrations by Palestinians in East Jerusalem, Israel, the West Bank and around the world, and by the young people’s resolve and digital literacy. The planning skill and military capability that Hamas showed have also contributed to an intense expectation of a turning point and elation – mostly among those outside the Gaza Strip and the range of Israel’s bombs.
Those notably absent from the shared suffering and struggle, as the petition states, are Abbas, the PA and “unfortunately, the PLO.”
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Abbas, the authors claim, failed to morally identify with his people and didn’t bother to visit Gaza – a visit that might have become a step in closing the political rift. According to the petition, the Jerusalem intifada “exposed the extent of the paralysis of the president and the way he has constrained a veteran national movement with a glorious history such as Fatah and frozen – if not destroyed – the PLO.”
The petition is an initiative of Palestinian academics, public figures and intellectuals who planned to sign up some 500 of their colleagues, acquaintances and friends.
A person close to the organizers told Haaretz that they decided not to approach academics who are Hamas members, or those known as supporters of Mohammed Dahlan. They didn’t want Abbas’ people to immediately dismiss them and say this was an initiative of the Muslim Brotherhood, or of Abbas’ rivals in Fatah.
Once they posted it to the petition’s app, the roster grew. They couldn’t restrict the signatories, so it’s estimated that 60 to 70 percent of the signers are academics and other intellectuals.
Notable is that most signatories live in the Palestinian diaspora, largely in Arab and Western counties. Some residents of the West Bank expressed support for the petition but didn’t sign it, out of fears that the PA would retaliate and harass them. Among the signers are Palestinians who are citizens of Israel, including former Knesset member Haneen Zoabi and Asaad Ghanem, a political scientist from the University of Haifa. Among the diaspora signers are Salman Abu Sitta, a member of the National Council (the PLO parliament), and the legal expert Anis Qassem.
The petition’s authors quote Abbas himself as having said that the Oslo Accords “will lead us to a state or to a disaster.” They add: “It is our right to stop and ask what is the result and what has the president achieved for his people, and what rights has he achieved?”
The authors answer that the accords led to another regression in the rights of Palestinians and their political struggle. This regression includes the changed PLO charter, the erosion of the right of return, the internal Palestinian rift, the expansion of the settlements and the process of Judaizing Jerusalem. In short, a disaster.
In addition, over the three decades of Oslo, the PA has become “a dictatorial institution controlled by one person who, without oversight or accountability, issues as he pleases presidential edicts called laws.” The cancellation of the general election and the persistence of a regime lacking legitimacy – whether of the ballot box or the struggle against the occupier – are added to Abbas’ list of liabilities.
Among the negative expressions of his rule are, according to the petition, “the insane commitment” to negotiations and the illusions and delusions they have nurtured and the lack of commitment to closing the political rift (between Gaza and the West Bank). The petition’s authors also disparagingly mention Abbas’ opposition to the armed struggle while adhering to the security cooperation with Israel that he has called sacred.
In response to the petition, a number of statements and critical articles have been published and signed by various organizations and authors. They accuse the initiators of “planting the seeds of brotherly hatred,” echoing the words of a Qatari politician who called on Abbas to resign. They also accuse the organizers of dubious motives and hidden intentions to establish an organization to replace the PLO, and all this as Egypt is trying to seal a hudna, or truce, between Israel and Gaza factions and to restore the role of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.
Glorification of Fatah?
Among the organizations that signed the counter-statements are “Palestinian PhD-holders in the public sector,” the Palestinian association of historians and archaeologists, the Sufi Islamic supreme council, and staff at the Al-Quds Open University. One signatory told Haaretz that most of those organizations weren’t previously active or known to the Palestinian public, and the style of condemnation is very similar, suggesting a single source.
But even Palestinians critical of the PA didn’t sign, for a number of reasons. The call for a removal (not just a resignation) could be interpreted as a call to violence to replace Abbas that could deteriorate into a civil war, one of the women who refused to sign says. Another person says the petition contains glorification of Fatah and the PLO, which have lost their relevancy.
Another argument raised was that the problem isn’t personal but structural, and that the system must undergo radical repair; this argument was cited by renowned intellectual Azami Bishara, who did not sign the petition. In a Facebook post, he wrote that calling for Abbas’ removal now is dangerous, as it is not known who is heir is.
“It’s preferable to conduct a learned discussion around the rehabilitation of the PLO and the holding of elections for the [Palestinian] National Council and the Legislative Council,” he wrote.
One of the petition’s organizers, Khaled Hroub, a professor of Middle Eastern studies and the author of research on Hamas, responded on Facebook to the above argument. Proposals and ideas for reform have accumulated over the years, he wrote, to no avail. The demanded resignation of Abbas is not a panacea, but it is impossible to ignore his direct responsibility.
One signer told Haaretz that the fear of a civil war or a violent act is exaggerated. Regarding what looks like excessive praise for the PLO and Fatah, a person close to the organizers said the common view is the need to rehabilitate the PLO, the organization that the entire world recognizes as the representative of the Palestinian people.
“The petition is realistic and aspires to be balanced and not come out with some radical statement that’s looking for a utopia,” he explained.