Does the US want Abbas out?
Fatah leaders warn of a plot thickening against Mahmoud Abbas, aiming to replace him with compliant pro-US premier Salam Fayyad, writes Saleh Al-Naami
The sudden attack by Fatah leading figure and Palestinian MP Najat Abu Bakr on Salam Fayyad and his government, accusing him of administrative and financial corruption, was sharp and harsh. Abu Bakr proposed that he should be put under siege until his government is overthrown. She elaborated on the "corruption" of his cabinet, citing reports in the Palestinian media that Fayyad is using a British bodyguard company for protection. As evidence of his corruption, double standards and lack of patriotism, she said: "Since Fayyad represents the head of sovereignty and the Palestinian political regime, he should not use a foreign company to protect him. This increases spending and compounds the financial crisis that Fayyad is touting all the time. It is more proper for the Palestinian Authority [PA] to protect him, not private security companies."
Abu Bakr continued: "Fayyad is acting on the principle that if you possess money, you own security and decision-making. Had he been fair in his position and achieved some level of social accord, he would not feel he needs security agencies other than sovereign ones that are supposed to protect him." She further criticised the prime minister for not residing in Ramallah, but in occupied Jerusalem. "This is another problem that would need further questioning and accountability; it is unacceptable that our rulers live in Jerusalem."
President Abbas, leader of Fatah, has done all he can to empower Fayyad as head of the government, many times wasting opportunities to reach agreement with Hamas to end internal division only because Hamas leaders insisted on Fayyad's removal as prime minister. It is true that Fatah leaders were greatly disappointed in Fayyad because he snubbed them when choosing his cabinet, but this never manifested into a smear campaign against him by leaders of his own group on this scale. This is especially true since there are others within Fatah who are making the same demands as MP Abu Bakr.
But are Fatah leaders truly disturbed by the "corruption" of Fayyad's government or are there other motivations behind their actions? The Palestinian parliament and PA oversight bodies have submitted many reports on corruption in previous Fatah governments, and Fayyad's cabinet is not especially corrupt compared to its predecessors. The main reason Fatah leaders are attacking Fayyad is because they feel he is collaborating in a US-Israeli plot to overthrow Abbas and have Fayyad replace him.
This sense is triggered by a recent series of developments: suddenly US President Barack Obama is holding Abbas responsible for the freeze in the "peace process", accusing him of blocking a final settlement to the regional conflict. Obama is ignoring praise voiced by all US officials who have played a role in negotiations between Israel and the PA that Abbas is "moderate" and in particular their appreciation for his determination to reject armed struggle as a means of establishing the national rights of the Palestinian people.
These officials, including Dennis Ross, Obama's former Middle East adviser and former US Ambassador to Tel Aviv Martin Indyk and others, also appreciate Abbas's relentless defence of continued security cooperation between the security apparatus of the PA and the Israeli army. Meanwhile, many Israeli writers and journalists hold their own Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu personally responsible for the dead end in efforts to reach a political settlement to the conflict. Obama has also ignored the daily measures Israel takes that undermine any chance of reaching a political settlement, including expanding settlements in the West Bank and continued Judaisation of Jerusalem.
Meanwhile, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even issued a direct threat to Abbas during a meeting in Paris, warning him that the US will stop transferring aid money to the PA and shut down the Palestinian representation office in Washington if Abbas applies for a Palestinian seat in the UN. In parallel, US Congress members launched a coordinated campaign on Abbas's person and accused him of using aid money for his and his children's personal gain.
It is clear that the recent campaign by the Americans is similar to the one the previous US administration launched against late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in 2002, which gave Israel cover to get rid of him in the end. Evidence that the US is acting according to a thorough and coordinated plan is the fact that Fayyad made it clear for the first time that he is considering competing for the PA presidency in the coming elections. In the past, Fayyad always distanced himself from any discussion about his disputes with Abbas.
Thus, the question now is why the inclination to get rid of Abbas. "Since direct negotiations came to a halt, there have been direct and indirect indications by the US and Israel that Mahmoud Abbas should leave power and be replaced by a new leadership that can make peace by restarting talks without preconditions, which complies with Israel's demands," commented Palestinian political analyst Hani Al-Masri. He believes that the US and Israel fear that if Abbas continues in power this could result in a deterioration of conditions in the region in a way that does not serve US interests.
Nonetheless, Al-Masri believes that it would be very difficult for the alleged US-Israel plot to succeed. "President Abbas's refusal to restart talks without a freeze on settlements and other well-known requirements is almost unanimously agreed on by the Palestinians," he explained. "In fact, there is a strong and growing popular and political demand that this situation will lead to a new Palestinian strategy, as an alternative to the Oslo strategy that did not succeed in defeating occupation or establishing statehood."
Al-Masri added that there are no influential Palestinian groups with a strong popular base that oppose Abbas's policies or view him as an obstacle to peace. "This reinforces the refusal to remanufacture such absurd talks [the peace process] once again, and supports Abbas. Israel before and after Yasser Arafat proved to one and all that it does not want peace and it is the one who stalled all efforts and initiatives to achieve peace. Also, that it opposed any new efforts or initiatives. We even notice that most Palestinians are frustrated about the possibility of reaching a solution that achieves the minimum of Palestinian demands -- even according to compromises that Palestinian negotiators have made after more than 20 years of negotiations."
The political expert added that if Abbas were removed from power, he would be replaced by Hamas, not Fayyad, because of its popularity. He added that despite recent moderation in Hamas's positions, it is still ostracised by the US because it refuses to accept the conditions of the International Quartet -- namely recognition of Israel, commitment to signed agreements, and rejection of forcible resistance against the occupation.
Al-Masri noted that the alleged US plot is hampered by the fact that Abbas has power and control over Palestinian institutions belonging to the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the PA and Fatah that not even his charismatic predecessor, Arafat, had. This bolsters his position and makes it difficult to replace him.