Who does Mahmoud Abbas represent?

Mark Perry reports on the latest incident in the West Bank which indicates that the Palestinian acting president, Mahmoud Abbas, can now only impose his authority by force.

On Aug. 25, one week prior to the opening of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, a group of Palestinians held a conference in Ramallah to discuss – and protest — President Mahmoud Abbas’s decision to travel to Washington to attend the talks. The Ramallah gathering, to be held at Ramallah’s Protestant Club meeting house, had been meticulously planned by a prominent coalition of political activists that included Palestinian businessmen, acknowledged leaders in Palestinian civil society and respected leaders of Palestinian political parties. “This was to be an open forum, an assembly to debate and discuss,” Munib al-Masri, the founder of the Palestine Forum and one of the meeting’s organizers said in an interview from his home in Nablus. “Our intention was to exercise our right to assemble and debate. Tragically, that’s not what happened.”

As the crowd of attendees (later estimated at between 250-300 people) began to gather at noon on Aug. 25, a group of about 100 non-uniformed officers from the Palestinian General Intelligence Service entered the hall carrying placards featuring Abbas’s picture and shouting pro-Abbas slogans. Across the street, at the headquarters of Al Haq — an independent human rights organization — Shawan Jabarin, the organization’s director (who had been invited to attend the meeting), heard of the commotion and decided to walk to the meeting hall. Jabarin described the scene: “This was going to be a large and important meeting,” he said, “so there were already 200 to 300 people in the hall at noon. But it was clear they wouldn’t be allowed to speak. The security people were shouting slogans, intimidating people. I saw a sign — ‘Stop Supporting Iran.'”

Inside the hall, those disrupting the meeting (Israeli journalist Amira Hess described them in Haaretz as “young men of similar appearance — well-developed muscles, civilian clothes and stern facial expressions”) began to shout down the first speaker, Dr. Mamdouh Al Aker, the director of the Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights (PICCR). When Aker asked for a moment of silence “in memory of those who gave their lives for the Palestinian people and the Arab nation” he was whistled down and the crowd of young men began to shout in unison: “With our blood and our souls, we will redeem you, Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas].” The young men, now a phalanx of intimidating muscle and anger, began to push and shove the attendees out of the building. “People were frightened and were pushed outside, shoved out by the security people,” Al Haq’s Jabarin remembers. “It was outrageous, so I directed my staff to take pictures.”

Mustafa Barghouti, the head of the Palestinian National Initiative (a leading and increasingly strong political movement inside Palestine) and one of the most prominent leaders scheduled to speak at the meeting was in the crowd as it was pushed out of the meeting house. He attempted to maintain order and separate the meeting’s attendees from the group disrupting the gathering. “People were pushed into the street,” he remembers, “and that’s when the beatings began. It was very violent. The General Intelligence people were pushing people to the ground.” On the street in front of the Protestant Club, meanwhile, members of the Al Haq staff began to document the incident. “We had a camera, one of my staff members had a camera,” Jabarin says, “and we were trying to take pictures. But my staff member who had the camera was pushed down and the security official attempted to take the camera, to break it. This man was beating him and when one of my other staff members tried to help him, she was pushed to the ground and beaten. They got the camera.”

Standing nearby, Bassam al-Salhi, general secretary of the Palestine Peoples’ Party (and a former candidate for president), also attempted to stop the beatings. “This was mob violence,” he says. “But I thought that if we could somehow move up the street we could stop the confrontations.” Facing continued harassment, the group decided to walk to a nearby park, but were prevented from doing so by the Ramallah police. “They didn’t participate in the violence,” Salhi says of the police, “but they didn’t try to stop it either. Eventually, we had nowhere to go – so people just ran away. They had no choice.” The leaders of the conference, meanwhile, decided to take their protest of the incident to the headquarters of Watan, a local television station. But when they appeared on camera, a vocal group of security officials shouted them down, waving their placards in front of the Watan cameras. Inevitably, perhaps, the continued intimidation of the speakers was successful – and the crowd at Watan dispersed.

Meanwhile a Hamas commander, Iyad As’ad Shelbaya, was killed by the IDF on Thursday after Israeli soldiers claimed he ran towards them in a threatening way and ignored requests to stop. The Ma’an News Agency, however, reports that Shelbaya was shot in bed.

Israeli forces entered the home of a Hamas leader in Tulkarem on Friday morning and shot him three times in the neck and chest before withdrawing, family members said.

Medics at the Thabit Thabit Hospital in Tulkarem confirmed that 38-year-old Iyad As’ad Shelbaya, a known Hamas leader, was dead, killed by three bullets to the neck and chest.

However much these two reports conflict, the one thing about which we can be reasonably sure is that Shelbaya was not carrying a weapon — had he been armed there’s no question that the IDF would have highlighted that detail.

As for their claim that the incident is now being investigated, it’s also reasonable to assume that the investigation won’t reveal anything. As a B’Tselem report revealed this week, the decision by Israeli authorities to regard the West Bank as an area of armed conflict ever since the second intifada began in 2000, “effectively grants immunity to soldiers and officers, with the result that soldiers who kill Palestinians not taking part in hostilities are almost never held accountable for their misdeeds.”

Writing from Gaza, Laila El-Haddad says:

There is very little patience in Gaza for this latest set of talks. They are not only being conducted without a national consensus by what is broadly considered an illegitimate government, but they also completely marginalise the Gaza Strip and overlook the blockade and asphyxiation it has suffered for more than four years.

“When people started to talk about negotiations and going back to the peace process and all, I thought, wait a minute, who took our opinion before going there?” said Ola Anan, 25, a computer engineer from Gaza City. “I mean, Mahmoud Abbas is now a president who’s out of his presidential term. So in whose name is he talking? In the name of Palestinians? I don’t think so.”

Abu el-Abed, a 30-year-old fisherman who sells crabs in the coastal Gaza enclave of Mawasi said: “We hear about the negotiations on television, but we don’t see them reflected on the ground. They’re not feasible. Gaza’s completely marginalised as far as negotiations go. There’s no electricity, there’s no water. There’s no movement. Living expenses are high. And the borders are all closed.”

Ultimately, Gazans know very little or care very little about what is happening in Washington, because what’s happening in Washington cares very little about them, says Nader Nabulsi, a shopkeeper in Gaza City’s Remal neighbourhood: “These negotiations don’t belong to us, and we don’t belong to them.”

Nabulsi, like many others here, feels the negotiations are farcical given the fractured nature of the Palestinian leadership, but also given the fact that most consider Abbas’s government illegitimate and his term expired.

Reza Aslan writes:

As direct talks between the Israelis and Palestinians drag on in Jerusalem, it should not surprise anyone that militants in the Gaza Strip have stepped up their rocket and mortar attacks into southern Israel. Neither should it surprise anyone that the Israeli government is holding Hamas, which has ruled Gaza since seizing control of it in 2007, responsible for the attacks, accusing the group of trying to derail the peace process.

What is surprising, however, is that it may not be Hamas who is responsible for most of the rockets that have recently been launched into Israel. Rather, a group of Palestinian militants connected to al Qaeda has been repeatedly staging attacks against Israeli targets over the last year as a means of challenging Hamas’s rule over Gaza.

A civil war is brewing in the Gaza Strip between Hamas and a new crop of more radical militant groups like Jaish al-Umma, Ansar al-Sunna, and Jund Ansar Allah, who believe Hamas is not fighting the “Jewish enemy” as aggressively as it should be. According to the Economist, these Palestinian militants have been heavily influenced by time spent in Saudi Arabia, where they apparently absorbed the Kingdom’s ultra-orthodox (sometimes called “Salafist”) brand of Islam — a particularly conservative interpretation of Islam that, until recently, had not taken root in the Palestinian territories.

A spokesman for Jaish al-Umma says his group’s purpose is “to awaken the Islamic nation from the backwardness and the ignorance the tyrant regimes in Islamic countries have caused, and to free the Muslims from the despots.”

Although the leaders of this new movement tend to be doctors and university professors, they draw their rank and file membership from Hamas militants who have grown disenchanted with the group’s attempt to moderate its ideology and accommodate Israeli demands. Unlike Hamas, which has diligently kept its distance from al Qaeda and openly rejected its global ideology, many of these so-called “Salafist” groups are fervent supporters of al Qaeda, and some have referred to Osama bin Laden as their “righteous shepherd” (though a few continue to preach loyalty to the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas).

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7 thoughts on “Who does Mahmoud Abbas represent?

  1. dickerson3870

    RE: Amira Hess described them in Haaretz as “young men of similar appearance — well-developed muscles, civilian clothes and stern facial expressions”
    IN OTHER WORDS: A bunch of goons!
    Definition of GOON
    : a stupid person
    a : a man hired to terrorize or eliminate opponents
    b : enforcer
    SOURCE – http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/goon

  2. Vince J.

    Hamas won a legitimate and fair election. The US and israel rush to punished the palestinian people for their “wrong’ vote.
    Abbas just like to bend over and take it from the criminals in Washington.

  3. Eleonora

    He represents only one person: himself and second his “elite” supporters. He is the illegal president of a non-existing country. The fact that he is the “partner” for discussions with USrael shows how much valued democratical principles are in the polit-USA as well as in polit-Israel – ZERO. The whole set-up is a charade and aims at one thing only: to shove down his throat whatever Bibi sees fit in order to accomodate and put back to sleep the world who grows a tiny bit impatient with the Israeli behaviour. This in stark contrast to the refusal of both Washington and Tel Aviv to talk to the democratically elected Hamas leaders.

    In my opinion Uri Avnery desribed it excellently in his article “Satan of the Details” (http://zope.gush-shalom.org/home/en/channels/avnery/1284192205) of 11th September – it’s worth reading it.

    What ever Abu Mazen will eventually sign – what legal value would it have? IMO none and it could be challenged in any decent non-corrupt court. It’s really sad to see what happens in the OT and the whole world watches. What is it that keeps them at bay one wonders? Is it only self-interest?

    What Amira Hass and Dr. Barghouti describe is what happens countless times in the Arabic countries when there are peaceful gatherings and/or demonstrations (in Cairo the security outnumbers normally the demonstrators 5:1) – their leaders supported and protected/held in place by Uncle Sam. Once these man-made pressure pots explode – and they will it’s just a question of time – than we will look at a French Revolution style event. Somehow I still hope that I won’t be in the shooting line then …

  4. Christopher Hoare

    It’s about time that someone demanded to know why Obama has convened these talks with a PLO president whose term of office has expired and who legally represents nobody. It may be that he and the Israelis think they can put another one over on the Palestinians, but under international law any agreement signed under Abbas’ name will be illegal. One has to assume that legality matters little in today’s Washington.

    If there was an honest reporter in the White House press corps they would surely raise this question. The so called ‘peace talks’ are bogus.

  5. Christopher Hoare

    Another question Americans should be asking — how many of this goon squad were trained by American forces in Jordan? The Palestinians have already been asking whose order these men trained under the U.S. Security Coordinator’s (USSC) mission to reform Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces are supposed to keep. Is it for Palestinian or Israeli benefit?

    Clearly, the reports indicate the goons were on the same side as the Ramallah police, who have been trained by USSC. The USSC and their paramilitaries seems to be tasked with doing Israel’s business.

  6. Colm O' Toole

    Yeah every chance I get I have been mentioning that Abbas’s term as President ended on 8th Jan 2009 his own staff and party Fatah then called a meeting and extended it for a year. Basically ignoring the vote. Hamas won 74 of the 132 seats BTW.

    It unbelievable how little news coverage that gets or how few people even know. Yet Abbas and Obama get to walk around the White House, shaking hands, both men busy pretending that Abbas is the President.

    They just don’t bother even acknowledging that Abbas is no more the President of Palestine than the street vendor in this article is.

  7. kimonakos

    Dear Friends and Dear subcribers
    I am not a Palestinian but I can still see and read the real magor problem of Palestine right this important moment, everybody on the whole world looking towards to the main solution of the Palestinian and Israelis problems that has to do with the acknowlage of the new Palestine State.
    I am really shocked as I read it over here that Mr Mahmoud Abbas he is not a legal president of Palestine anymore.
    I really think that it will be a very diffucalt for both , Palestinian and Israelis to sign a final treaty.
    And if Mr Mahmoud Abbas , he will resign, then it will be more diffucalt for palestine unless the new president, will be a woman, a woman with a lot of knowleghe of the problems in Gaza and the other citys of Palestine territories.
    If Mr Abbas the president of Palestine fail, then no other man one could be able to sign a treaty with Israelis other than one woman.
    It must be a new way of the Presidency, the new Presicdent of Palestine, it must be a person that everyone will support her, and especially, the 2 big parties, Fatah and Hamas
    If the new president will be able to bring these 2 parties together, then we are talking for the bigest Victory in Palestine history.
    The whole world wants to see the 2 nations live armonicaly together, no more victimes and more widows woman in the Gaza area, new life, kids with smiles, and no more prisoners.
    Everyone will be free, working for the best, working for their familys and for their new state.
    I cannot tell you the name of this woman, but what I know is , no matter if she has kids and so many rensposibilities in her life, if the Palestinian authorities ask her to step up for the sake of Palestine, she will do that. she born and raised in Gaza but now she works in other important place of Palestine.
    I hope and I pray to Alaah for the best of this woman and for the best of Palestine also

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