By SEAN SAVAGE JNS.org
May 8 marks what many consider an unceremonious 10-year anniversary of Mahmoud Abbas becoming the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA), though his official term has been expired for more than six of those years.
Since Abbas took over for Yasser Arafat, who died in 2004, the political and economic situation in the West Bank has become as untenable as ever. With no clear successor to Abbas in the fold and reports of rampant corruption, nepotism, and cronyism, the PA faces an uncertain future.
“The state of affairs in the PA right now is paralysis,” Jonathan Schanzer, vice president for research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank, told JNS.org. “Abbas has a stranglehold on political power, and he appears to be intent on remaining in office for the foreseeable future. There is no vice president. There is no succession plan, and there is no oxygen for political challengers to articulate their vision for the future.”
Established by the Oslo Accords peace treaty in 1993 as an interim Palestinian government, the PA—which has been dominated by the Fatah political party and its parent organization, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO), throughout its existence—has languished in political and economic limbo for the last several years under Abbas. Peace talks with Israel from 2013-14 crashed, and the Hamas terrorist group continues to grow its popularity among Palestinians.
Under Abbas, the PA has not held formal elections since 2006 and only maintains control in the West Bank after being ousted from Gaza by Hamas in 2007. Abbas has had a tenuous relationship with Israel, maintaining close security ties with the Jewish state out of a shared fear of Hamas, but also seeing Israel repeatedly cut off tax transfers to the PA, mostly recently due to Abbas’s moves to gain unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state in international agencies.
Many fear that if the Palestinians held an election, Hamas, which won the last election in 2006, would beat out the Fatah once again. Many Palestinians cite Fatah’s notorious legacy of financial and administrative corruption as their reason for supporting Hamas.
A recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research did find that Abbas has seen a rise in support—with 40 percent support among would-be Palestinian voters, up from 35 percent in the last such survey. Yet Abbas, according to the poll, would still lose in an election to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, who was supported by 47 percent of respondents. The same poll found that 77 percent of Palestinians believe that PA institutions are corrupt.
“The main concern is that the weakness of President Abbas in the West Bank could enable Hamas to gain more ground there,” Bassem Eid, co-founder of the Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group and a commentator on internal Palestinian politics, told JNS.org.
A recent sign of Hamas’s growing popularity in the West Bank may come from the group’s recent victory in the April 22 student council election at Birzeit University, which is located near the PA’s de facto capital of Ramallah. Hamas won 26 seats on the student council versus 16 for Fatah. Taking note of the growing threat of Hamas in the West Bank, Abbas and the PA’s security forces have launched a widespread crackdown on Hamas supporters on university campuses, with dozens of student supporters of the terror group being interrogated and detained, according to the Gatestone Institute think tank.
Meanwhile, accusations are swirling that the Abbas family has become wealthy at the expense of the Palestinian people—and even American taxpayers. On April 24, a U.S. appellate court upheld a decision to dismiss at $10 million libel suit from Yasser Abbas, one of the PA president’s sons.
Yasser Abbas filed the suit against Foreign Policy magazine for a 2012 article by FDD’s Schanzer titled “The Brothers Abbas,” in which Schanzer questioned whether or not Mahmoud Abbas’s sons—Yasser and Tarek—are growing rich as a result of their father’s political position, and whether or not U.S. foreign aid to the PA was contributing to their wealth.
According to Schanzer’s 2012 article, Yasser Abbas chairs the Palestinian corporate conglomerate Falcon Holding Group, which received $1.89 million from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to construct a sewage system in Hebron. Additionally, Yasser Abbas holds leadership positions in two other companies, Al-Mashreq Insurance Company and First Option Project Construction Management Company, which received roughly $300,000 in USAID funds from 2005-08.
The international community has also sounded the alarm on the Palestinian economy’s struggles, as the World Bank said in September 2014 that Palestinian unemployment is rising to “alarming levels,” citing the ongoing political uncertainty surrounding the PA as a contributing factor.
“The PA is a system where the rich get richer and the poor languish. The elite continue to benefit from the system while a rather educated lower and middle class struggle to cash in,” Schanzer told JNS.org.
At the same time, though Abbas recently turned 80, there has been little talk of who will succeed him.
“There is basically no plan for Abbas’s succession,” said Schanzer. “According to Palestinian basic law, the speaker of the Palestinian parliament would take over those duties temporarily. Currently, the speaker is Aziz Dweik of Hamas. Beyond that, it is unknown who would run from the Fatah faction or the PLO. Abbas has not tapped an heir apparent. Nor has he named a vice president.”
Bassem Eid said the failure to appoint a successor is largely a result of Arab cultural bias against that concept.
“The Arab culture does not allow the concept of a ‘vice president,’ the president is the only supreme ruler,” he said. “No one talks about President Abbas’s possible demise since all the Palestinians tend to say that even the prophet Muhammad died and the world survived, hence all others.”
Schanzer blames Washington for the current impasse in the West Bank, saying that U.S. peace negotiators have “failed to push the Palestinians to create a functioning system.”
One person being widely promoted as a successor to Abbas is Mohammad Dahlan, a longtime rival of the PA president.
“Mohammad Dahlan is one of the leaders of the young generation,” Eid said. “He is corrupt, but I prefer a young corrupt to the old corrupt like Abbas. I believe that the younger generation [of Palestinian leaders] will be more moderate than the older ones, who speak more about the past and history without mentioning the future.”
Dahlan, 53, represents that so-called “younger generation.” As a rising star in the PLO in the 1990s, he was promoted to head of security in Gaza. In 2006, he won a seat in the PA’s legislative body. But in 2007, when Hamas ousted Fatah and the PA from Gaza, many inside the PA blamed Dahlan for Hamas’s emergence. His fall from grace continued in 2011 when he was charged with corruption and embezzlement by Abbas, and stripped of his legislative seat. Dahlan fled the West Bank that year, and currently resides in both the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
Nevertheless, Dahlan still enjoys popular support among some Palestinians and in recent years has worked with businesses and charities in the Arab Gulf states to support the Palestinian people, including providing funds to Gazan Palestinians who were affected by last summer’s Israel-Hamas war. In December 2014, thousands in Gaza turned out for a rally in support of Dahlan, despite Hamas’s firm grip on the coastal enclave.
According to the Financial Times, Dahlan has become a close adviser to Abu Dhabi’s crown prince, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, helping the prince crack down on Muslim Brotherhood Islamists. Dahlan also supported Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi’s ouster of former president Mohammed Morsi (a Muslim Brotherhood leader) in 2013. The Muslim Brotherhood is Hamas’s parent group.
“Abbas will leave only ruins, and who would be interested to be a president or vice president on these ruins?” Dahlan told the Associat
ed Press in 2014. “What I am interested in is a way out of our political situation, not a political position.”
Dahlan has criticized Abbas’s unilateral moves at the United Nations, telling Sky News Arabic in January that an eventually-defeated PA resolution in the U.N. Security Council resolution, which called for Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem, was a “hasty and reckless decision that wasn’t made with the unified consensus of the Palestinians.”
To many observers, the political situation in the West Bank may seem like a mild crisis compared with the chaos in nearby Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya. But while Abbas’s stagnant rule continues, Schanzer views the PA as a “powder keg” that could ignite at any moment.
Israeli show satirizing students in the US who give blind support to Hamas
If you want to take a break from the tension that comes with following every bit of news associated with Israel’s war on Hamas watch this hilarious video satirizing the stupidity of US college kids who give unqualified support to Hamas: https://twitter.com/LeviYonit/status/1721272323087401428?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E1721272323087401428%7Ctwgr%5E833a2a425e6d7029d6ef37b7c9042c1d81dbf8ba%7Ctwcon%5Es1_c10&ref_url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.timesofisrael.com%2Fisraeli-satire-shows-mocking-of-us-student-support-for-hamas-goes-viral%2F
Report from Israel
By BRUCE BROWN (Posted Nov. 4) Rehovot, Israel
What was once considered relatively banal is no longer routine. With Israel at war and all.
Last Friday we decided to go out for dinner, a quick bite in Tel Aviv. At our Favorite hamburger joint – Prozdor and highly recommended next time you, dear reader, visit Israel. Whether even to go was driven by unusual considerations. Do we really want to leave the relative safety of our abode, where our den-cum-saferoom is only a few steps away. And enter Tel Aviv, which seems to absorb the brunt of evening missile barrages. And what about the twenty minute drive – need to refresh the Homefront command instructions on how best to respond should missiles fly overhead while driving.
Once agreed that we need the distraction. A break from the routine of another evening at home, watching the news and waiting for missiles to fall. We then argued about who should drive, the determining factor being who would be calmest at the wheel should we encounter a missile on the way. My daughter, an ex-combat soldier, was voted designated driver. Although I still think I’m pretty cool under fire. During the drive, we nervously exchanged scenarios about where best to pull over -there are some stretches of highway without a shoulder- and how far from the car we should scramble. If the situation should occur.
Then once we arrived at Prozdor. The first thing we did was stake out the nearest bomb shelter. The kindly restaurateur pointed out the shelter across the road, next to a parking lot and beneath a hotel. In Tel Aviv you have ninety seconds to reach safety. Seems doable. Better be doable!
And while usually a bustling place, the restaurant was barely a third full. People just not venturing out these days. Because of safety considerations, who wants to get blown up while eating a hamburger. How banal is that?! And anyway the nation is really not in the mood for enjoying a good burger. Well except for us and a few others looking for a diversion from the monotony of another evening at home in war time.
Our meal arrived. As did the missiles. Was enjoying my first bite with a couple french fries when the siren sounded. And in a surprisingly orderly fashion, after all we are Israelis, together with forty other diners we cautiously walked round the tables, out the door, down the steps and across the street into the bomb shelter. Strangers. Huddled together. Texting family and friends with an ‘all safe’ message. Ten minutes later we walked back across the street, up the steps, into Prozdor, around the tables and to our waiting meals. A bid colder but still tasty. Amazing how a bit of existential excitement can trigger the taste buds.
On the way home we stopped at Dizengoff Square. To view a very haunting war display which literally took my breath away and brought tears to my eyes. It pays tribute to the victims of the October 7th Black Shabbath-Simcha Torah massacre. Including for the more than 240 hostages. Most jarring was the bloodied and blindfolded stuffed teddy bear display. Around thirty of them. One for each of the child hostages held by the brutal and cowardly Hamas. Painful. Sickening.
Driving home in silence, each with our own thoughts of the tragedy behind us. And the long haul ahead of us. On the radio melancholy songs played in the background. As if a score to a sad movie. Two songs in particular struck a chord. Played back-to-back. Their meaning and associations forever changed. George Harrison’s My Guitar Gently Weeps: “I look at the world / And I notice, It’s turning / While my guitar gently weeps / With every mistake / We must surely be learning / Still my guitar gently weeps…” Followed by Paul McCartney’s Blackbird: “Blackbird singing in the dead of night / Take these broken wings and learn to fly / You were only waiting for this moment to be free / Blackbird fly, blackbird fly / Into the light of a dark black night…”
Arriving home. Drained of all energy. From the not-so relaxing hamburger dinner. From the emotionally exhausting war exhibit. From the background music accompanying the evening’s tempo. I went straight to bed for another fitful and sleepless night. Desperately hoping to awake to just an ordinary day….
Now walking the dog should for sure be very routine. But it too can become a memorable war experience. Turning into a ‘run-against-the-clock for simple safety’ event. The other evening my wife was out walking Poncho. She just collected his poop when a missile alert went off. Incoming! Ninety seconds to find a safe spot. She decided to pick up our pooch and make a mad dash to our saferoom. Through the lobby and up four flights of stairs (no elevator at such times). Making it just in time. We all stumbled into our shelter. My daughter. And I. My wife. The pooch. And the poo. In her extreme focus to reach safety, the wife forgot to throw the doggy doo into the garbage bin. Gave us a moment’s respite. Some laughter. At the banality of it all!
With the pool at the country club still closed due to Homefront command considerations. You can’t hear a siren while swimming the breaststroke. I’ve since started a new routine of very early morning walks. But even walking is different these days. Jumpy every time a white pick-up truck drives by (vehicle of choice for the despicable Hamas terrorists). To the uplifting sight of our blue & white flags hanging from balconies and windows along my route. Like an early Independence Day. Barely blowing in the barely non-existent wind of our too dry and too warm winter. The weather possibly another victim of this war. Late to arrive due to the billowing clouds of smoke arising from Hamas missile fails and targeted IAF missile strikes inside Gaza.
Blackbird singing in dead of night while my guitar gently weeps.
Bruce Brown. A Canadian. And an Israeli. Bruce made Aliyah…a long time ago. He works in Israel’s hi-tech sector by day and, in spurts, is a somewhat inspired writer by night. Bruce is the winner of the 2019 American Jewish Press Association Simon Rockower Award for excellence in writing. And wrote the 1998 satire, An Israeli is…. Bruce’s reflects on life in Israel – political, social, economic and personal. With lots of biting, contrarian, sardonic and irreverent insight.
An appeal for help for under-supplied Israeli soldiers from former Winnipegger Jared Ackerman
By BERNIE BELLAN (Posted Oct. 18) first met Jared Ackerman in 2013 when I had the good fortune to interview Jared, along with 4 other students from Winnipeg, when they were all studying at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. (You can still see that interview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P6k8svB2j-0.)
Jared had gone on to serve in the Israeli army. He just posted this impassioned plea for help for Israeli soldiers:
My name is Jared Ackerman and I’m an IDF veteran that served in the Paratroopers (Tzanchanim). I live in Atlanta and have come together with a group of Israelis from across the US, Canada, and Israel to provide an emergency shipment of urgent supplies to the front lines in Israel.
As of right now over 3.5 tons of purely defensive gear (ceramic plates, vests, helmets, medical kits) have been sourced and paid for. We have everything in a warehouse in Toronto, Canada ready to ship to Israel and are continuing to purchase more.
The first units to respond on October 7th have since been totally ransacked of equipment. They were the first ones to arrive at the kibbutzim and Nova on the Gaza border and they are actually withholding extra reserves from joining the warfront because they do not have enough equipment. This is particularly problematic as they lost soldiers in the battle, and many more were injured.
Our next step is to secure additional funding to fly the gear over to Israel via cargo jet.
As of today, no commercial flights are allowing any tactical gear to be shipped and the only option is private cargo planes. We are also working to secure more equipment to justify the high cost of chartering the plane.
I have attached photos and a video here of the equipment that has been sourced and ready to ship from the warehouse.
We have all relevant approvals in Israel with the Ministry of Defense and a logistics hub ready to go to distribute the protective and medical goods.
Timing is of the essence as units are already in the field with below par equipment.
100% of the funds raised are going towards the purchase of equipment and shipment to Israel and not to operational costs as everything is voluntary.
Please use the link below if you are able to donate anything and help get this gear to the front lines. Please also feel free to DM if you can help source any additional equipment or have any connections with securing a cargo plane or have any questions!
Am Yisrael Chai