Thursday,21 February, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1337, (23 - 29 March 2017)
Thursday,21 February, 2019
Issue 1337, (23 - 29 March 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Abbas faces new discontent

Palestinians are disappointed in Abbas’s leadership

Abbas faces new discontent
Abbas faces new discontent
Al-Ahram Weekly

Palestinian experts and political analysts expect talks between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Israel to restart after US Envoy Jason Greenblatt met with President Mahmoud Abbas and other key figures. Abbas also received confirmation by the US administration that an initiative is in the works to re-launch direct negotiations under regional and US auspices.

Greenblatt presented the PA with several requirements to re-launch the peace process and forge new relations, according to the Israeli press. The first requisite is a return to negotiations between the PA and Israel without any preconditions, and agreeing to the direct participation of Arab countries in talks, namely Egypt, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Meanwhile, Israel will be obliged to halt the construction of new settlements, but not halt construction in existing ones.

Another condition is to support general statements about combatting terrorism with action on the ground, such as changing the names of streets named after martyrs, ending “incitement” in the media and changing school curricula. Also, changing the doctrine of security agencies by not just arresting those Greenblatt described as “terrorist” and later releasing them. Instead, they should be prosecuted and the sources of their funding investigated. He also wants funding to “terrorists” – meaning detainees and their families – to stop, including those who are still in Israeli jails. A final demand is “regulating security agencies and not allowing dual jobs, as well as not sending salaries and appropriations to Gaza and leaving that burden to Hamas.”

After making this long list of demands, Greenblatt asserted the US believes in a “two-state” solution, which complies with the previous choice of the PA, and rejects a one-state outcome.

Israel is trying to impose a new reality on the ground by razing homes in East Jerusalem and pushing non-Jewish residents from the Holy City, by putting them under siege, imposing high taxes and fines, as well as pursuing Judaicisation, especially in the area of Al-Aqsa Mosque, through new gardens and streets that alter familiar landmarks in the city.

The radical right-wing government – which does not conceal its disdain for a two-state solution – wants to change the agenda of negotiations with the Palestinians by adding new topics to the well-known six final status issues (namely, Jerusalem, water, borders, security, the diaspora and bilateral relations).

Shortly before Greenblatt left Israel, Israel’s Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman quickly announced that the Palestinian National Fund (PNF) is now on the so-called “terrorism” list and will be dealt with as a terrorist entity. Lieberman said his decision was based on Israel’s anti-terrorism laws, accusing the PNF of many activities supporting “terrorism”, including paying salaries to the families of detainees and martyrs who carried out attacks against the Israeli army and “vital” Israeli targets. “The PNF gives economic support to fund armed operations against Israeli targets,” stated the decision. Lieberman threatened to take steps against the PNF soon, including confiscating its assets.

The Palestinian presidency said Lieberman’s declaration was “a fundamental violation of the Oslo Agreement signed by the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and Israel.” The statement added that, “the National Fund is an entity of the PLO and operates according to signed agreements and international criteria in transparency and under international oversight.”

It continued: “While the US administration – by talking to the parties and via Trump’s envoy in the region – is trying to create an atmosphere conducive to peace making, this declaration is an attempt by Israel to obstruct, abort and mock US efforts.”

The presidency stated: “We reject this decision entirely and call on the Israeli government to address this issue immediately and withdraw the decision because it will torpedo the foundation of the agreement and legal relationship with Israel.”

It also called on world countries to reject the declaration and “to protect the agreement sponsored by the US and the world.”

The PA pays a pension to the families of detainees and martyrs via the PNF, which is an arm of the PLO with its headquarters overseas. PA officials believe Israel is trying to place crippling conditions on future negotiations, in order to blame the Palestinians for their anticipated failure, such as stopping pensions to the families of martyrs and detainees.

The PNF pays pensions to the families of 25,000 martyrs, 7,000 wounded, and thousands of freed prisoners who spent more than five years in jail. It would be very difficult for the PA to stop these pensions to families who mostly have no other source of income.

The PA made significant changes in school curricula, including confining “Palestine” to areas occupied in 1967. However, Israel wants curricula to embed recognition of the State of Israel. The US administration asked Israel to stop offering tenders for the construction of new settlements, but Israeli analysts and writers believe if the government agrees to the US demand, it would put the cabinet in crisis.

After a quick stop in Qatar, Abbas headed to Egypt for consultations with President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, after Cairo invited him to discuss the agenda of the Arab Summit in Amman, especially relating to the Palestinian issue due to recent contacts between the Palestinian leadership and the US administration. The talks come prior to an anticipated visit by Al-Sisi to Washington in early April. Egypt currently has a seat in the UN Security Council and is working with regional and international players to create an atmosphere conducive to restarting the Middle East peace process, and encouraging the Palestinians and Israelis to return to the negotiating table.

The visit also comes after tensions between the PA and Cairo, which peaked when Egypt received leading Fatah figure and MP Mohamed Dahlan, as well as hints he could replace Abbas. Meanwhile, Jibril Al-Rajoub, Palestinian leader and Fatah Central Committee chairman, was recently prevented from coming to Cairo. There are protests on Palestinian streets against PA policies under Abbas, such discontent and displeasure no longer limited to Gaza but extending to the West Bank, which should be pro-Abbas. Disapproval of the PA’s performance, especially heavy-handed treatment of activists and journalists by security agencies, and public disapproval of security coordination with Israel, has increased, seen recently in the case of martyr Bassil Al-Araj with louder calls for change.

A mass march in downtown Ramallah last week was the first of this size in years, protesting assaults by Palestinian security agencies against journalists and participants in a demonstration outside a law court to protest the prosecution of martyr Al-Araj and his comrades. Protestors raised slogans demanding the overthrow of the PA and its security agencies, and to avenge the late Al-Araj.

Israeli forces killed Al-Araj, 33, inside a house in Ramallah on 6 March and snatched his body.

The head of the Palestinian Press Syndicate, Nasser Abu Bakr, said at the march that there will be a boycott of all official news about the PA.

“We asked Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah to take immediate and firm measures against those who assaulted journalists, and he was responsive,” stated Abu Bakr. “He told us he formed a neutral committee to investigate what happened with journalists.”

Hamdallah said the findings will be binding on the government.

“We will pursue violators in court and have started procedures,” continued Abu Bakr. “Journalists have submitted their evidence. We know it is a difficult situation in Palestine, but we must protect journalists and freedom of the media. That is our role.”

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