With the West's Backing, Abbas Doesn't Need to Worry About Local Support

New poll shows that 62 percent of Palestinians want the Palestinian Authority president to resign, but his leadership does not depend on democratic elections

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, May 3, 2017.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, with U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington, May 3, 2017.Credit: YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is sticking to his guns: he’ll make Hamas capitulate by punishing all of the Gaza Strip's residents. At his request, Israel continues to reduce the amount of electricity it sells Gaza (it provided 70 megawatts, instead of 120, on Monday).

Because of a suicide attack on Egyptian soldiers in northern Sinai, the electricity lines from Egypt have also been down since last Friday, so Gazans must make do without the 28 megawatts Egypt usually provides. As a result, on Sunday and Monday the border town of Rafah received even less than Gaza’s usual four-hour minimum of daily electricity.

Moreover, the supply of Egyptian diesel to Gaza, on which Hamas and Cairo agreed a few weeks ago, was interrupted for several days. The power plant that depends on this fuel produced only 42 megawatts on Monday.

The Gaza power authority, which is subordinate to Hamas, claims that the fuel supply was halted because the Palestine Monetary Authority in Ramallah froze bank transfers to Egypt, including payments for fuel. This happened as Abbas was visiting Cairo last weekend.

The Ma’an news agency reported the power authority’s claim on Sunday, as well as its promise to find other ways of making the payments. On Monday, for whatever reason, the fuel supply from Egypt resumed.

Ma’an’s report didn’t say whether the monetary authority had confirmed or denied the freeze on bank transfers, but other punitive measures against Gaza by the PA have followed a similar pattern.

One especially dramatic one was slashing the number of seriously ill Gazans being referred to Israel or the West Bank for treatment.

The Gaza-based Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported Monday that despite the official denial by the Health Ministry in Ramallah, the PA authorized only 500 Gazans for treatment outside the Strip in June – down from 2,190 in March. “Hundreds of patients are awaiting their deaths in hospitals in Gaza for lack of any chance of obtaining treatment outside it,” the center said.

Another such measure was stopping salary payments to 37 Palestinian legislators affiliated with Hamas from the West Bank or East Jerusalem. They discovered last week that they alone, among all the Palestinian legislators in these areas, hadn’t been paid. (Ramallah stopped paying their Hamas colleagues from Gaza 10 years ago, following the Hamas-Fatah civil war.)

The Finance Ministry in Ramallah offered no explanation for the nonpayment, saying only that it is merely an executor of others’ orders.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights said the order to stop the payments was apparently given verbally. It added that this order violates the Palestinian law and the principle of the separation of powers.

These measures aren’t helping Abbas’ popularity. A poll by Dr. Khalil Shikaki’s Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, whose results were released last week, found that 62 percent of Palestinians want Abbas to resign (that figure was 64 percent three months ago). An even larger majority, 84 percent, opposed his request that Israel reduce the power it supplies to Gaza, while only 10 percent supported it (opposition in the West Bank was even higher than in Gaza, at 87 percent and 80 percent, respectively).

Abbas is evidently untroubled by either the catastrophic situation in Gaza caused by the power shortages or his waning popularity. His leadership and position are stable because they do not depend on democratic elections or the satisfaction of his people, but on the political and financial support that the United States and other Western countries continue to give him thanks to his devotion to preserving the status quo with Israel.

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