Abdel Bari Atwan, Editor-in-Chief of Rai al Youm, an Arab world digital news and opinion website, recently wrote an article entitled “The Palestinian People’s Principal Problem Is Their Own Leadership.”
I could not agree more.
While I cannot put myself into the minds and hearts of the Palestinian people, I have traveled to Palestine enough times and listened to a great many people to understand the deep distrust they have toward President Mahmoud Abbas. Since his election in January 2005, he has offered his people nothing new. In his last eight speeches, delivered each time to an almost empty United Nation Assembly Hall, he has repeated the same old phrases. The same appeals for international sympathy. Even the wording of his complaints about Israel’s failure to respect agreements has not changed. And his declaration that the United States is not an honest broker we have heard at least a million times.
We know President Trump will not heed Abbas’ demands to rescind his recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. We also know by now that East Jerusalem will not be the capital of a Palestinian state because there will be no Palestinian state.
Since Abbas came to power, nothing has changed for the Palestinian people. The occupation, the repression, the assassinations, the incursions into villages, the nighttime raids into homes, the house demolitions, the collective punishment, the control of water supplies, the settlements built on Palestinian land and the Separation Wall construction all continues as do the daily humiliations at Israeli checkpoints. I discuss these abuses in great detail in my book Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with both Sides
Something not included in that list of human rights abuses is the security cooperation Abbas allowed when he became president in 2005. Then, US Lieutenant General Keith Dayton formed the US Security Coordination Team (USSC) tasked with maintaining law and order within the West Bank, essentially taking over the job as the occupation enforcer for the Israeli government. The USSC has rightly earned the name of “Dayton’s Army.” There is legitimate concern, and I have heard reiterated many times, that the role of Dayton’s army has been both to stem the influence and power of the legally elected Hamas and to consolidate and enforce Abbas’ power across the West Bank. One prominent Palestinian activist has argued that in the West Bank “there is a systematic plan to target any resistance to Abbas through oppressive acts carried out by Dayton’s army, including killing, arrest and torture.
The USSC has essentially taken over the occupation for Israeli forces, as opposed to operating as a truly independent national force accountable to the majority. Accusations of torture and the lack of legal justification for a number of arrests has become commonplace. Recently, B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, raised concerns after a prisoner died in PA custody as a result of suspected torture.
To support these claims, I am reminded of President Trump’s recent and dramatic cuts in aid to the Palestinians. The only aid that was maintained and its funding increased was for the USSC.
It is time for Mahmoud Abbas to step down. He has shamefully acted as lackey for both the Israeli and American governments in order to hold onto his presidency for far too long. The Palestinian people, both in the diaspora and the homeland, deserve a better leader.
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