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

The PA Tries to Fool the World

Filed under: Operation Swords of Iron, Palestinians, U.S. Policy

The PA Tries to Fool the World
Card cheating “3-card monte” scam. (ZioDave/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED)

In the aftermath of the October 7, 2023, massacre, the Palestinian Authority and its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, publicly declared their commitment to reassert control over the Gaza Strip and bolster the standing of the PA.

Their determination was dampened by Israel’s reservations but encouraged by the United States. U.S. President Joe Biden declared that “Gaza and the West Bank should be reunited under a single governance structure, ultimately under a revitalized Palestinian Authority….”

Since the word “revitalized” is ambiguous and not often used to convey critical and fundamental changes a failed governance structure needs to undergo, Abbas seized the opportunity to employ the infamous “Three card monty game” to fool the world.

To achieve his goal, Abbas and the PA are implementing several cosmetic changes to claim that the PA has been “revitalized.” While the PA propaganda machine is working to justify the move, the truth is that the changes are predominantly irrelevant.

Abbas does not want change. He has been the PA’s autocratic, corrupt, and widely criticized ruler for the past 19 years. He, his family, and his cronies have amassed huge personal fortunes that, in Abbas’ case, have reportedly reached $100 million.1 His sons have accumulated fortunes in excess of $300 million, controlling monopolies on the import of cigarettes and in the fields of civil engineering, electronics, real estate, and cellular communications.2

The dictator Mahmoud Abbas
The dictator Mahmoud Abbas (Arab social media)

Abbas and the PA constitute a leadership catastrophe for the Palestinian public. The failed PA that Abbas inherited from the previous PA leader, Yasser Arafat, steadily but surely managed to sink to even deeper lows. Every attempt to further the peace process, even entailing Israeli withdrawal, was met with Abbas’s refusal.

Internally, PA corruption is rife. The PA never established an independent judiciary or other vehicles of legitimate governance. PA security organizations popped up and flourished like mushrooms after the rain. At one stage, the PA security mechanisms even boasted more generals than the U.S. Army.3 Abbas regularly blames PA failures on Israel, the United States, or other Western powers.

While Abbas and the PA leadership deflected responsibility to everyone and anyone else, the Palestinian people were not hoodwinked. Already back in 2006, when given the chance to vote in elections for the PA parliament and choose between Abbas’s Fatah party and the internationally designated terrorist organization, Hamas, the Palestinian people chose Hamas.

After the international community rejected the Hamas government, Abbas deposed Hamas and installed a so-called “technocrat” government. The fact that Hamas remains a genocidal terrorist organization did not appear to bother Abbas. He feared the potential loss of control, contracts, and commensurate spoils. The convergence of interests worked well for Abbas. He sidelined Hamas and blamed Israel and the United States for forcing his hand.

Palestinian public opinion polls today show unprecedented public opposition to Abbas and his Fatah party, while Hamas has consistently grown stronger.4

In their relations with Israel, Abbas and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) – also headed by Abbas – used the PA as an effective vehicle to promote the “Plan of Stages” to destroy Israel.5 Adopted by the PLO in 1974, the “Plan of Stages” set out the principles according to which the PLO has since operated. The plan includes the use of terror to achieve its goals and the strategic decision to take any territorial foothold it can gain as a springboard to continue the path to the destruction of Israel.

The PA education system was radicalized and used to educate generation after generation of Palestinians to participate in terror and to teach the subversion of Israel. Terrorist glorification became commonplace. Abbas entrenched the “Pay-for-Slay” terror reward program, spending hundreds of millions of dollars every year paying robust salaries and allowances to terrorists and their families. At the same time, Abbas launched a multi-front international lawfare assault to delegitimize Israel in the international community and international public opinion.

Cosmetic Changes when Surgery Is Required

Given his track record and the U.S. call to “revitalize” the PA, Abbas is again trying to hoodwink the Americans and the international community by adopting cosmetic changes.

At the end of January 2024, the PA announced a slew of reforms, including the appointment of new regional governors (to replace twelve of them who Abbas sacked in August 2023), changes in the recruitment mechanisms of the PA security forces (that were even recruiting terrorists6), changes to the media market (that had shrunk as Abbas consolidated his dictatorial rule), and a restructuring of the health sector. At the time, senior PA officials said Washington requested the measures to achieve a “revitalized PA.”7

Now, the PA government has resigned,8 opening the door for Abbas to feign legitimacy again and appoint a new and “revitalized” technocrat government.

Abbas approved the cosmetic and insignificant changes, assuming they would ensure the survival of the PA. He is bolstered by the U.S. repeated commitments to the “Two-State Solution” and rumors that U.S. Secretary of State Blinken ordered his staff to consider the implications of U.S. recognition of the non-existent “State of Palestine.”

Notwithstanding U.S. declarations, the PA has been an abject failure. Despite tens of billions of dollars of aid over the past 30 years, systematic failures of the PA and its leadership to establish a working and viable government have been clear for more than two decades.

The additional factor that undermines both the bona fides of the reforms and poses an increasing danger is the Russian-driven talks of “Palestinian reconciliation.”9 While reconciliation is often positive, “Palestinian reconciliation” means that a new bond will be formed between Abbas’ hated Fatah party and the genocidal Hamas movement. Reconciliation talks between the two rivals have been going on since Hamas seized control of the Gaza Strip in 2007 – following its electoral win the year before – by killing Fatah members, on some occasions throwing them from the tops of buildings and in others dragging their bodies through the streets of Gaza.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Ismail Haniyeh, Moscow, September 12, 2022
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov with Ismail Haniyeh, Moscow, September 12, 2022. (Russian Foreign Ministry)

Facilitating the survival of Hamas through “reconciliation” and allowing the movement to continue to play a central role in Palestinian society would be unacceptable to Israel, which has sworn to destroy both the military and governance capabilities of the terrorist movement that planned and led the massacre.

If successful, the Russian-led efforts would undermine the efforts of the U.S. administration to assist the Palestinians in fighting terror and undermine the repeated call of President Biden to “eliminate” Hamas.

Policy Recommendations

The piecemeal measures offered by Abbas to effectively “revitalize” the PA are insufficient. To “revitalize” the PA, a two-pronged strategy must be adopted: one that would address its relations with Israel and another to manage its internal governance.

Regarding the PA relations with Israel, Brig. Gen. (res) Yossi Kupperwasser and this author recently mapped out six non-negotiable steps the PA must take as a condition of its reconstruction.10 These steps include the need to condemn the October 7 massacre, abolish the PA/PLO’s “Pay-for-Slay” policy, recognize Israel as the State of the Jewish people, cease incitement to murder and glorifying terror against Israelis, halt all PA political assaults on Israel in international fora, while actively combatting terror.

Regarding the PA’s internal workings, several necessary steps must be adopted.

First, 88-year-old Abbas must resign. Now in his 19th year of his first four-year term, Abbas was never popular among the Palestinians, and his overt corruption resulted in broad public demand that he vacate his position as PA leader. New PA elections should be held under international supervision, both for the position of PA Chairman and PA parliament. Internationally designated terrorist organizations such as Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine would not be allowed to participate, whether running under their own name or any other pseudonym. The new PA Chairman and Parliament would function under strict international stewardship to prevent their radicalization.

Second, the leadership and staff of the PA Ministry of Finance would need to be replaced by agreed-upon international personnel, who would ensure the elimination of corruption, that the PA budget be spent for the purposes for which it was designated, as opposed to enriching Abbas’s family or Fatah cronies or to incentivize, support, and reward terror.

Third, the PA judiciary over which Abbas has taken complete control must be disbanded and reconstituted under the guidance and control of agreed international authorities.11

Finally, the PA must sever its ties with the PLO, whose members still include internationally designated terror organizations and to whom the PA funnels hundreds of millions of dollars annually without justification.12

Only once these preliminary steps, both internally and in its relations with Israel, are adopted, would it be possible to further assess what a truly “revitalized” PA would look like.

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