Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow for Middle East Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. This piece is reprinted with permission and can be found on Abrams' blog “Pressure Points” here.
Several news stories in recent days about Palestinian politics are linked by a thread that may not immediately be apparent.
First, there was a raft of stories about the feud between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad; here’s one. The two men were not even speaking for several days, though they have now met and patched things up – on the surface at least. They have been feuding for at least a year, and it was widely known that Fayyad thought little of the drive Abbas was making at the U.N. to get a vote on Palestinian statehood. That Fayyad was right, and that the drive failed and damaged the Palestinians, cannot have made Abbas feel any better about Fayyad. More recently, Fayyad refused to deliver to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a letter from Abbas with whose contents and timing he did not agree.
Second, Abbas has removed Yasser Abed Rabbo as head of Palestinian Authority broadcasting. Abed Rabbo was supposed to go along with Fayyad in delivering the Abbas letter to Netanyahu, but he too refused. Abed Rabbo remains secretary-general of the PLO, second only to its chairman, who is Abbas. There has been speculation in the press that Abed Rabbo will also be removed from his PLO post.
Third, Abbas has shut down several websites critical of him and the PA leadership. Of course this is a press freedom issue, and the United States has expressed its concern about press censorship. But there is another angle here: The Associated Press reports that “the sites belong to an Abbas rival, former Gaza strongman Mohammed Dahlan.” As the AP story notes, “Dahlan has been feuding with Abbas for the past year, calling him a weak leader and accusing him of allowing his sons to profit financially from his rule.”
Here’s the thread: No three men were closer to the United States during the years of negotiations under Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush than Fayyad, Abed Rabbo, and Dahlan. Developments in Palestinian politics appear to be reducing, not enhancing, their influence. Dahlan has been pushed to the sidelines, and it seems that Abed Rabbo will be next. Fayyad is, for now, protected by his reputation among donors: “Donor countries have warned Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas against trying to replace Prime Minister Salam Fayyad or confiscate his control over the PA Finance Ministry,” the Jerusalem Post reported last week. But over time, it is likely that politics with the PLO and the Fatah party will turn against Fayyad, who is an official of neither organization. And it is unlikely that the successors to officials like Fayyad and Abed Rabbo will have ties to the United States like they do now or the respect among American officials that they have earned over the years.
From “Pressure Points” by Elliott Abrams. Reprinted with permission from the Council on Foreign Relations.