Palestine's Crisis of Leadership: Did Abbas Destroy Palestinian Democracy?
08 October 2015
By Ramzy Baroud
The crisis of leadership throughout Palestinian history did not start with
Mahmoud Abbas and will, regrettably, be unlikely to end with his departure.
Although Abbas has, perhaps, done more damage to the credibility of the
Palestinian leadership than any other leader in the past, he is also a
by-product of a process of political fraud that started much earlier than his
Abbas' unforeseen announcement on August 27 that he, along with a few others,
will resign from the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive
Committee and his call for an emergency session of the Palestine National
Council (PNC) is a testament to his poor management. More, it shows his utter
disregard for the minimally-required threshold of responsible leadership.
Abbas, like his predecessor Yasser Arafat, has used and discarded the PLO and
its various, now near-defunct, institutions as his personal political
playground: summoning PNC members to vote on pre-determined and decided
agendas and to cast and re-cast roles within the PLO's Executive Committee as
a way to punish and reward.
Now, at the age of 80, Abbas is obviously concerned about his legacy, the
fate of the PLO and his Palestinian Authority (PA), once he is gone. Whatever
political maneuvering he has planned for the future (including the selection
of new Executive Committee members, which will be overseen by him and by his
allies) is hardly encouraging. According to the Unity deal signed between
Abbas' faction, Fatah and Hamas, the restructuring of the PLO as a
pre-requisite to include both Hamas and the Islamic Jihad in one unifying and
relatively representative Palestinian body was a top priority.
Well, not anymore. Hamas is furious with Abbas' call for reconvening the PNC,
a two-day session scheduled to be held in Ramallah, West Bank next month. The
Gaza-headquartered Movement is calling on Palestinian factions not to
participate. Either way, further Palestinian disunity is assured.
Now that unity remains elusive, Hamas is seeking its own alternatives to
breaking the Gaza siege by conducting what is being described as 'indirect
talks' with Israel, via the notorious former British Prime Minister, Tony
Blair. The latter has reportedly met Hamas leader, Khaled Meshaal, on more
than one occasion. The discussions included a long-term ceasefire between
Hamas and Israel in exchange for the permission of a safe sea passage where
Palestinians in Gaza can enjoy a degree of freedom, bypassing Israeli and
Egyptian siege and restrictions.
Needless to say, if the reports regarding Blair's role in the indirect
negotiations and Hamas' intentions are accurate, it would indeed be a great
folly. On the one hand, Blair's pro-Israel record disqualifies him from the
role of any honest mediation. On the other, Resistance or truce is not a
political decision to be determined by a single faction, no matter how great
its sacrifices or how trustworthy its intentions.
In addition, Abbas is in no position to criticize Hamas for its talks with
Blair. It is particularly disingenuous that Abbas and his party are accusing
Hamas of flouting Palestinian Unity and consensus, while both – Abbas and
Fatah – have contributed to Palestine's political afflictions more than any
other leader or faction in the past. In fact, while Gaza subsisted and
suffered terribly under a protracted Israeli siege and successive wars, Abbas
operated his PA outfit in Ramallah with the full consent of the Israeli
Government. The so-called 'security coordination', chiefly aimed at crushing
Palestinian Resistance in the West Bank, continued unabated.
This is what Israeli political commentator, Raviv Drucker, wrote in Haaretz
in an article that reprimanded Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu,
for failing to appreciate the value of Abbas:
''Our greatest high-tech geniuses working in the most sophisticated
laboratories could not invent a more comfortable Palestinian partner. A
leader with no one to the left of him in the Palestinian political arena and
one who, when his enemy, Israel, bombs his people in Gaza, comes out with a
statement criticizing those who kidnap Israeli soldiers.''
Abbas has shown little compassion for Gaza. Neither has he demonstrated any
respect for the Palestinian people nor has he invested sincere efforts aimed
at making Palestinian unity his top priority. It is rather telling that he is
activating the PNC, summoning its nearly 700 members, not to discuss the
intensifying Palestinian crises – from Gaza to Jerusalem to Yarmouk – but
rather to concoct another cozy arrangement for him and his cronies.
Yet, this crisis of leadership precedes Abbas.
The PNC's first meeting was held in Jerusalem in 1964. Since then and for
years now, despite the Parliament's many flaws, it serves an important
mission. It was a platform for Palestinian political dialogue; and, over the
years, it helped define Palestinian national identity and priorities. But
gradually, starting with Arafat's elections as the head of the PLO in
February 1969, the PNC ceased being a Parliament, and became, more or less, a
political rubber stamp that validated all decisions made by Arafat's PLO and,
specifically, his Fatah faction.
This has been highlighted repeatedly throughout history with several
On November 12, 1988 the PNC convened in Algiers to approve of a political
strategy based on UN Resolutions 242 and 338, the habitual US condition for
engaging the PLO. At the end of deliberation and, based on that approval,
Arafat announced an independent Palestinian State, to be established in the
Occupied Territories, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
Despite this, the US still argued that the PNC statement did not qualify for
an 'unconditional' acceptance of Resolution 242, hence pressing Arafat for
more concessions. Arafat flew to Geneva and addressed the UN General Assembly
on December 13, 1988, since the US refused to grant him an entry visa to
speak at the UN Headquarters in New York. He labored to be even more
However, the US maintained its position, compelling Arafat, on the next day,
to reiterate the same previous statements, this time, explicitly renouncing
''all forms of terrorism, including individual, group or state terrorism.''
This was not the only time the PNC and its respected members were dragged
into the political gambles of Palestinian leaders. In 1991, they voted in
favor of direct negotiations in Madrid between Palestinians and Israel, only
to be hoodwinked by Arafat, who negotiated a secret agreement in Oslo that
paid little heed to Palestinian consensus. PNC was once more summoned to Gaza
in 1996 to omit parts of the Palestinian Charter deemed unacceptable by
Netanyahu and the then US President, Bill Clinton. As PNC members voted,
Clinton, present at the meeting, nodded in agreement.
But unlike Arafat's misuse of democracy and manipulation of the PNC – which
is no longer representative or, with its current factional makeup is,
frankly, irrelevant – Abbas' game is even more dangerous.
Arafat used the Council to ratify or push his own agenda, which he mistakenly
deemed suitable for Palestinian interests. Abbas' agenda, however, is
entirely personal, entirely elitist and entirely corrupt. Worse, it comes at
a time when Palestinian unity is not just a matter of smart strategy, but is
critical in the face of the conceivable collapse of the entire Palestinian
There is no doubt that the moment when Abbas exits the scene has arrived.
That could either become a transition into yet another sorry legacy of an
undemocratic Palestinian leadership or it could serve as an opportunity for
Palestinians, fed up with the endemic corruption, political tribalism and
across-the-board failure, to step forward and challenge the moral collapse of
the Palestinian Authority and the charade of self-serving 'democracy' of
factions and individuals.
– Dr. Ramzy Baroud has a PhD in Palestine Studies from the University of
Exeter. He has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an
internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of
several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include
'Searching Jenin', 'The Second Palestinian Intifada' and his latest 'My
Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story'. Visit his website: