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Abbas’s resignation from PLO could mean consolidation of power, ouster of rival

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Mahmoud Abbas, the 80-year old chairman of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and president of the Palestinian Authority (PA)whose rule over the post-Oslo, post-Intifada years has come under increasing criticism for his inability to end Israel’s occupation or to hold elections for more than ten yearswill resign next month. But he will remain president of the PA, and his resignation from the PLO chair is only temporary.

Abbas’s critics say the step is a gambit. He is trying to initiate a legalistic reshuffling of top positions in his government that could oust his chief rivals.

Joining Abbas, five other members of the PLO Executive Committee also declared Saturday their intent to bow out of the government. In order to call a vote to refill the positions, Abbas will need a total of 10 of the 18 members of the caucus to resign. Once he and the other committee members vacate, the PLO’s legislative branch, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), will then swear in new members. While those close to Abbas cite the elections as a reinvigoration of the PNC and PLO, critics consider it a one horse race balloted by a defunct legislature, citing the fact that the PNC has added new seats twice since electing its representatives over two decades ago.

“There is a plan, or let’s say an ongoing discussing on convening a PNC meeting on September 21st,” said Ashraf Khatib, a spokesperson for the PLO and an advisor to Chief Palestinian Negotiator Saeb Erekat, one of the executive committee members who also plans to resign. “We’re still trying to get everybody on board,” Khatib added. As of now, no resignations have been made official.

“These things are still in the pipeline,” Khatib noted, “he [Abbas] is trying to facilitate this move, he is trying to pump new blood into the PLO.”

Other observers say Abbas’s hands are tied and he will be unable to fill the PLO with up and coming leaders. Former PLO spokesperson Diana Buttu pointed to PLO regulations that forbid new candidates outside of the PLO from throwing their hats into the race, limiting the pool of candidates to those already serving in the government.

“He is trying to make it seem as though he is actually legitimate by having one of the Palestinians’ policy bodies re-elect him, and he is trying to get rid of those who openly dissent,” Buttu said. “He is using an illegitimate mechanism to make him legitimate.”

When Abbas convenes the PNC next month, it is expected that his majority faction will re-elect him as chairman and dismiss Yasser Abed Rabbo, a detractor and until one month ago Abbas’s second in command. Abed Rabbo was the Secretary-General of the PLO, a position regarded as a stepping stone to head the PLO; Abbas held the same office under the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. With no clear succession path in place for Abbas, who is keen to tighten power around him rather then prepare conditions for a replacement, Abed Rabbo was seen as a possible next-in-line.

“We have no idea what will happen next when this man will finally decide to say goodbye,” Buttu said. “We are getting to the point where everything is consolidated to him.”

Over the past year Abed Rabbo has publicly decried Abbas’s leadership, which has perhaps cost him a continued role in Palestinian politics. He was removed from theSecretary-General position on June 30th, on the personal order of Abbas, bypassing PLO protocols on firings and hirings for public offices, and Saeb Erekat—a key Abbas ally—was appointed to the job.

Speaking to al-Monitor, Abed Rabbo lamented the confused process that ended his term as Secretary-General, but kept him in the executive committee. “It was just a paper signed by the president and is not a legal way of appointing. This will create problems for him,” Abed Rabbo said. Further elaborating on his rift with Abbas, Rabbo told al-Monitor he did not see their differences as so significant as to warrant plucking him from government. Abed Rabbo also rejected murmurs that he had conspired to build momentum inside of the PLO to unseat Abbas.

“There were rumors in the media about a plot or a coup. This is hallucination. We don’t exclude some differences concerning how to solve the division of Gaza. Maybe we differ on freedom of expression and freedom of trade unions, but this doesn’t justify anything to take such measures. We differ, and we don’t belong to one party. The composition of the PLO is a coalition of different parties from right to left. This is normal. I have been in the PLO for 40 years, and we always had this tradition of trying to find common ground between different positions. We cannot substitute the concept of a coalition of a national front by a kind of one-man rule, and everyone should obey,” Abed Rabbo said.

Last week Abbas again shortened Abed Rabbo’s political career in a rare move, by shutting down his non-governmental organization, Palestinian Peace Coalition (PPC), a partner of the Geneva Institute that advocates for a two-state solution based on the pre-June 1967 line with limited land swaps and East Jerusalem as a future Palestinian capital.

The PLO Executive Committee decides policy for the Palestinian people in the international area. Over the past three years it has passed a flurry of orders to open a new diplomatic front with Israel in order to secure a recognized Palestinian state and an end to Israel’s occupation of the territory conquered during the June 1967 war.

In 2012 through the PLO, Abbas won non-member observer status for “the State of Palestine” at the United Nations. Last winter the group opened an investigation into Israeli war crimes with the International Criminal Court (ICC). Looking forward, the PLO intends to submit a second proposal to the United Nations Security Council to set a deadline on an end to the Israeli occupation. Israel is fiercely opposed to the idea.

Allison Deger
About Allison Deger

Allison Deger is the Assistant Editor of Follow her on twitter at @allissoncd.

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11 Responses

  1. diasp0ra
    August 27, 2015, 10:35 am

    While Abbas’ movements are deplorable, as usual, it’s dangerous to show Abd Rabbo as the underdog victim when he has done exactly the same to so many people under him.

    Abd Rabbo is another of the corrupt cream of the PLO, his center, the PPC is a normalizing hub of sell outs. The proposals for the 2 state coming from that center are abysmal and have no support among Palestinians. Like the rest of the PLO, for Abd Rabbo it’s better to reign in hell than to serve in paradise. Even if he had power in a disjointed federation of bantustans, it’s better in his eyes than having nothing in his current position.

    He is incredibly unpopular, and a huge opportunist, he created a split in the DFLP -FIDA- so he could be its leader (of course he claims ideological differences). He resigned from his own party after he was outvoted in it, he ran for elections to parliament in 2006 and didn’t get enough votes to qualify, he lost big time.

    His only claim to power was that he was really close to Arafat. Abd Rabbo now senses a shift in public opinion regarding Abbas, and is sucking up to Marwan Barghouthi by trying to make himself seem like the supporter of resistance and criticizing Abbas’ lack of resistance, even though in the second Intifada he criticized all forms of resistance. Because that was what was popular back then to get ahead (again, massive opportunist).

    I don’t want this post to seem like I have a personal beef with the guy, I don’t. But I think it’s important for people who might read this and are uninformed about internal Palestinian politics not to hold up Abd Rabbo as a poor victim of Abbas corruption, when he is as much an agent of it as any other PLO crony.

  2. MHughes976
    August 27, 2015, 4:16 pm

    The headline might better have read ‘alleged resignation’ – he’s never meant anything by these promises/threats before and it’s not likely that he’s about to start now. He’s certainly in a situation where colleagues and protégés evolve into rivals but it does rather look as if no serious rival has emerged and that there’s no alternative ideology or policy being debated. The same seems to be true in Israel, I suppose.

  3. gracie fr
    gracie fr
    August 28, 2015, 12:18 pm

    ABUNIMAH: Well, first to clarify one thing is that Mahmoud Abbas did not resign as leader of the Palestinian Authority. He and these ten others resigned as members of the executive committee of the PLO.

    Now, that distinction is important because he hasn’t really given anything of substance up. And the PLO executive committee, although it is on paper the highest decision-making body of the PLO, really doesn’t represent anyone. The PLO long ago became a defunct organization. But what is happening here is that Abbas and his group feel very embattled and want to consolidate their power. This is a maneuver to force this vote or this meeting by the Palestine National Council, which is the PLO’s parliament in exile, and to use that to bring in more Abbas loyalists.

    • Hostage
      August 28, 2015, 7:18 pm

      ABUNIMAH: Well, first to clarify one thing is that Mahmoud Abbas did not resign as leader of the Palestinian Authority. He and these ten others resigned as members of the executive committee of the PLO.

      Now, that distinction is important because he hasn’t really given anything of substance up.

      It’s true enough that this is probably a political manuever, but Abunimah is not a reliable source of information on the subject of the PLO or PA. The PLO Executive Committee is the Provisional Government of the State of Palestine, that applied for UN Membership, and which was recognized as a UN observer state, NOT the Palestinian Authority. It is an interim creature of the Oslo Accords between the PLO and Israel and the 2003 Draft Basic Law as amended to fulfil the 2004 Middle East Quartet Road Map criteria. It has always been subordinate to the PLO.

      And the PLO executive committee, although it is on paper the highest decision-making body of the PLO, really doesn’t represent anyone. The PLO long ago became a defunct organization.

      This rises to the level of disinformation coming from a guy whose Dad still works for “The King of Jordan.” Hint: The King governs a couple of million Palestinians and Jordanians, who never voted for him either and there are no elections planned for the head of state position in that country.

      From 1993 to 1994, Mr Abu Nimah was a member of the Jordanian delegation to the peace talks between Jordan and Israel, which took place in Washington, DC. It normalized relations with Israel without resolving the status of the citizens of Jordan still living in East Jerusalem or the Palestinian refugees in Jordan. Understandably enough, there were riots in Palestine on the day the treaty between Jordan and Israel was signed.

      But you’d never know that from reading the only article about the subject on EI written by Hasan Abu Nimah himself: Peace with Jordan: Another opportunity missed by Israel

      It’s also a mystery how Abu Nimah has managed to retain his Jordanian citizenship, when everyone else from the West Bank supposedly had theirs revoked and became stateless in 1988. Interview: Jordan revoking citizenship from Palestinian refugees

  4. Mayhem
    August 30, 2015, 8:35 am

    I think Abbas is planning to retire to the $13 million palace he is building for himself.

    • diasp0ra
      August 30, 2015, 12:42 pm

      I’m no fan of Abbas or the PLO but the palace is not a personal residence. Until now there are no official state structures to host visiting diplomats or special guests. This building is for that.

      It’s a show of “sovereignty” since any real state has a place like this. It’s in attempt to show the world that we have official institutions to have our own state and that the PLO is serious about its own state.

      • Hostage
        August 31, 2015, 5:43 pm

        Until now there are no official state structures to host visiting diplomats or special guests. This building is for that.

        It isn’t a retirement home for Abbas. As usual those propaganda reports originated with the Israeli media.

        The Palestine Economic Council for Development and Reconstruction was setup under the Oslo Accords to plan public works projects performed by local Palestinian companies employing Palestinian labor and materials. Even when projects are paid for by the Finance Ministry, the international donors are still the main source of its funding. So, lighten up, its a Palestinian public works jobs program.

        The same Palestinian agency is also responsible for submitting the detailed plans and bills of material for the reconstruction of Gaza. So far, the international donor money hasn’t materialized for any of these projects or for the UN reconstruction projects.

  5. echinococcus
    August 30, 2015, 11:54 am

    “Abbas is planning to retire to the $13 million palace he is building for himself”
    As a bought slave of the Zionists, he should know that his masters are so penny-pinching greedy that they’ll take back every cent paid out of American taxpayer money.

  6. Accentitude
    August 31, 2015, 2:56 am

    This is a great article on Abbas and his manipulation of the PLO and PNA.
    See here:

    Honestly, we don’t live in a “democratic society” despite all of Abbas’ speeches and statements to the international community. I hope I am wrong but I have a tremendous fear that the writer of the article I’ve linked might be “visited” by a couple of Abbas’ men.

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