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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

Mahmoud Abbas Against Freedom of Expression

Filed under: Israeli Security, Palestinians

The political behavior of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas in relation to the Palestinian opposition is no different from any other ruler in an Arab country. In other words, this is another dictator who knows how to suppress his opponents using various pretexts.

Abbas’ bitter rivalry with Mohammad Dahlan and the deep hatred Abbas has towards Dahlan has resulted in some unusual steps, the latest of which was a directive given by the Palestinian Foreign Ministry to all the PLO representatives abroad to restrict the activities of Dahlan in Europe because of a conference he organized two weeks ago in Paris.

Political rivalry is normal and legitimate, but the PA chairman crossed “red lines” by setting his security forces against his political opponents, at the head of which is Dahlan – just as tyrants do in dictatorships.

In recent weeks, Abbas’ security forces have been working to locate hundreds of Palestinian youths who participated in several conferences organized by Dahlan for Fatah activists in Ein a-Sukhna, Egypt.

Some of the students were located and interrogated, and ten of them were transferred to administrative detention, accused of having attempted to co-operate with Egyptian intelligence in an attempt to overthrow the PA chairman.

One of the most sensitive issues for Abbas is the Palestinian security coordination with Israel, set according to the Oslo Accords. Abbas is careful to maintain the security cooperation, and even once defined it as “holy.” The PA Chairman knows that the war on terror and his insistence on security coordination is his oxygen pipeline that allows him to continue to rule.

Israel is the one providing Abbas with this oxygen. The IDF safeguards the main routes throughout the West Bank, enabling the proper functioning of PA institutions in Ramallah. The Israel Defense Forces has already thwarted two major Hamas plots to topple the PA. Every month the PA receives hundreds of millions of shekels from Israel used to pay the salaries of thousands of PA officials.

Last week, the Palestinian police brutally dispersed demonstrations in Ramallah and Bethlehem against the prosecution of five wanted men including Basel al-Araj, who was killed in clashes with IDF forces in Ramallah.

The demonstrations took place during the visit of U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt in Israel. According to sources in the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas wanted to demonstrate to the U.S. administration how he maintains security coordination with Israel and with an iron fist crushes any criticism against him.

Suppression of Journalist and Political Activists

Abbas’ right-hand man in his struggle against critical press is General Majed Faraj, Head of Palestinian General Intelligence. This intelligence apparatus works to locate Abbas’ critics in the media and social networks.

Its activities have been ongoing for several years. In October 2016, Palestinian General Intelligence arrested journalists Muhammad Abu Guheisha and Nidal al-Natasha for allegedly cursing and denouncing the PA and Mahmoud Abbas. In Qalqiliya, journalist Qais Abu Samra was summoned for a warning by the Palestinian police. In Nablus, journalist Tareq Abu Zayd was prosecuted for blaspheming the PA.

Imad al-Faranji, head of the Palestinian Press Club, said that the journalists and political activists in the territories were very concerned about the PA campaign of terrorizing journalists and activists.

The PA also operates abroad against its critics. According to Fatah sources, last October, Mahmoud Abbas sent a letter to Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki, in which he asked to prepare a file on all Facebook activists who criticize him and live in the United States, Europe, and Arab countries. In fact, the PA has prepared a “black list” of these activists.

Abd al-Rahman Thaher, a film producer based in Jordan, said he had received threatening phone calls for criticizing the PA, transferring money to Abbas’ opponents, and allegedly acting on behalf of the Jordanian intelligence service.

Sources in Fatah said that the Palestinian General Intelligence had handed over to the Palestinian Foreign Ministry a list of all the opponents of Mahmoud Abbas living abroad so that he could turn to the foreign ministries in those countries to curb the criticism.

Foreign Minister al-Maliki denied the report, but the Rai al-Yom newspaper reported on October 14, 2016, that the Palestinian Foreign Minister had sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asking that they act against political activist Fadi al-Salamin on charges of supporting terrorism and incitement against peace.

The letter included a request to prevent al-Salamin from criticizing the PA and Mahmoud Abbas on his Facebook page. Al-Salamin is one of the sharpest opponents of the PA in the United States.

Another Palestinian journalist, Hanin Warda al-Abed, who lives in Turkey, has also been pressured not to criticize the PA.

Earlier this month, Palestinian security forces in Hebron arrested journalist Amer Abu Arfa, but was released after a day of interrogation.

Tracking Social Networks

The PA, as might be expected, denies that it is persecuting political activists and journalists.

According to Palestinian sources, on March 9, 2017, the Prime Minister and Minister of Justice, Rami Hamdallah, sent a letter to General Ziad al-Harih, head of PA Preventive Security, instructing him to step up oversight and monitoring of the accounts of people on social networks that “incite against our institutions.”

This message, which was leaked to several Arabic-language websites, attests more than anything else to the PA’s attitude toward freedom of expression.

This is not an issue of opinions published in the media, but in posts published by residents living in the West Bank and Palestinians living abroad.

Summary: The PA continues to persecute its critics wherever it can.

The PA chairman cannot tolerate any criticism. The criticism is not only political, but involves criticism of acts of corruption attributed to him, his two sons, Yasser and Tarek, and other PA officials.

Palestinian residents of the territories, who live near Israel and see Israeli democracy close up, understand very well that they live in a dictatorship under Abbas. Palestinians understand that they will be forced to live under that dictatorship in a Palestinian state if it is established.