Palestinians: Embattled, Weak Abbas Comes to White House

by Khaled Abu Toameh
May 1, 2017

This week, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas and US President Donald Trump will sit down together to talk. This is the first such meeting since the US presidential election, and it comes at a time when the Palestinian scene is characterized by mounting internal tensions, fighting and divisiveness. The disarray among the Palestinians, where everyone seems to be fighting everyone else, casts serious doubt on Abbas’s ability to lead the Palestinians towards a better future. The chaos also raises the question whether Abbas has the authority to speak on behalf of a majority of Palestinians, let alone sign a peace agreement with Israel that would be acceptable to enough of his people.

Abbas, however, seems rather oblivious to the state of bedlam among the Palestinians, and appears determined to forge ahead despite the radical instability he is facing.

He is travelling to Washington to tell Trump that he and his PA leadership seek a “just and comprehensive” peace with Israel through the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.

In the meeting, Abbas is likely to repeat his long-standing charges that Israel continues to “sabotage” any prospect for peace with the Palestinians.

Abbas is not likely to mention the mayhem that the PA leadership is facing at home. Nor is the fact that the Palestinians are as far as ever from achieving their goal of statehood likely to be a preeminent subject. Why bother discussing inconvenient truths, such as the deep divisions among the Palestinians and failure to hold presidential and parliamentary elections, when you can point the finger of blame at Israel?

Abbas’s trip to Washington coincides with a peak of tension between his PA and Hamas, the Islamic movement that rules the Gaza Strip. The rivalry between Hamas and Abbas’s PA, which climaxed in 2007 when the Islamic movement violently took over the Gaza Strip from Abbas loyalists, has created a reality where the Palestinians are divided, physically, into two separate entities.

Since 2007, the reality on the ground is that the Palestinians already have two small states: one in the Gaza Strip and another in the West Bank. These two states have since been at war with each other. The joke among Palestinians is that were it not for Israel is sitting smack in the middle, the two warring Palestinian states would be dispatching rockets and suicide bombers at each other.

This war, which is currently a war of venomous words between the PA and Hamas, has left many Palestinians wondering whether their leaders will ever be able to move beyond their personal animosities and bring the people closer to achieving statehood. Many attempts by Arab countries, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and Yemen, to resolve the dispute between Hamas and the PA have failed. Neither side appears to be willing to make any concessions that would pave the way for national reconciliation in the Palestinian arena.

For the past several weeks, thousands of Palestinians have taken to Gaza’s streets to denounce Abbas as a traitor and Zionist agent. It is worth noting that the protesters are not only supporters of Hamas, but also include many disgruntled PA employees who are protesting Abbas’s decision to slash their salaries by 30%.

Abbas suspects that these employees, who are affiliated with his Fatah faction, have switched their loyalty to his arch-rival, Mohamed Dahlan, the ousted Fatah leader who has been publicly calling for the removal of Abbas from power.

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