The West Ignores Palestinian Leaders’ Autocratic Tendencies

Western officials are turning a “blind eye to the increasingly autocratic tendencies of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas,” writes Grant Rumley in Newsweek magazine (“Barack Obama’s West Bank Strongman: Mahmoud Abbas,” May 2, 2016). Rumley is an analyst at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.

Rumley noted that Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority (PA) and the head of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), has “cracked down on journalists, teachers and political rivals without serious rebuke from Europe or the U.S.” The PA president is currently in the eleventh year of a four-year term, having refused to hold subsequent elections.

The FDD analyst provided a brief list of some of the more authoritarian measures taken by Abbas in the last couple of years. Rumley pointed out that Abbas has set up “an entirely new judiciary body to reinforce his rule. Earlier this month, Abbas issued a presidential decree forming a Palestinian constitutional court that would, naturally, confirm his own presidential decrees. The nine members of the court are all hand-picked by Abbas.”

Abbas has ignored complaints from rivals that this action bypasses the PA’s legislature, whose speaker is a member of Hamas, the U.S.-designated terror group that rules the Gaza Strip.

In addition to subverting his legislature and creating his own kangaroo court, the PA president has targeted directly those who criticize him.

Najat Abu Bakr, a member of Abbas’ own Fatah movement that dominates the PA, accused an authority minister named Hussein al-Araj, of graft. As a result, Palestinian security services attempted to arrest Bakr in March 2016. In turn, Bakr staged a protest at the building that housed the long inoperative legislative council before other PA officials intervened to prevent her arrest.

Abbas also has fired those who challenge him. Rumley noted:

“When a member of his own Fatah party challenged him over peace process tactics in 2013, Abbas simply replaced him with his intelligence chief. When the No. 2 official in the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization challenged him last summer, Abbas fired him and appointed his long-time peace negotiator Saeb Erekat to the position….And when the governor of Nablus criticized the PA’s leadership earlier this week, Abbas fired him.”

Autocratic Abbas gets a bye from the West
When the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), two U.S.-designated terrorist groups also belonging to the PLO, found fault with Abbas, Abbas promptly cut their funding.

It’s not only political rivals who have faced the brunt of Abbas’ autocratic methods.

As CAMERA has noted, Palestinian teachers striking alleged PA corruption, and were harassed by Abbas’ security forces (“Journalist: Striking Palestinian Teachers Show PA Corruption,” March 9, 2016).

Rumley highlighted a report by the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms, a Palestinian non-governmental organization, which “found that 60 percent of the nearly 200 violations of media freedoms in 2015 occurred in the PA-controlled West Bank as opposed to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.” In addition to political rivals and journalists who face PA harassment; as CAMERA pointed out, ordinary Palestinian Arabs have been imprisoned for social media postings. Rami Hamdullah, the PA prime minister, admitted that torture “happens” in the authority’s prisons (“Where’s the Coverage?” Palestinian Official Admits ‘Torture Happens,’” March 28, 2016).

How does Abbas get away with these displays of tyranny? In Rumley’s opinion, it’s largely because the West lets him. “Western leaders have only two apparent demands for the Palestinian leader: continue to maintain security coordination with Israel, and pay lip service to the moribund peace process. So long as Abbas continues to check these boxes…his Western flank is secure. Abbas knows this all too well.”

A February 2016 letter from U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) and 10 U.S. House members asked the Obama administration to investigate claims that Israel had committed “gross violations of human rights” against Palestinian Arabs (“Leahy asked State Dept. to Investigate Israeli human rights ‘violations,’” Politico, March 29, 2016). The pattern of abuse by Abbas asserted by Rumley sounds like a news lead. News media publications and the policymakers they inform would do well to take note.

Grant Rumley’s Op-Ed in Newsweek can be found here.

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