Mahmoud Abbas He is the president of the Palestinian National Authority, embryo of the Palestinian State agreed upon in the Oslo Accords in 1993. He is the commander in chief of the Palestinian Armed Forces, appointing the prime minister (now, Rami Hamdallah) and ambassadors abroad. He exercises partial control over the West Bank, which is mostly occupied by the Israeli Army. He came to power after the death of the historic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. He has always been considered a moderate and pragmatic man. He belongs to the Al Fatah party, secular and opposed to Hamas. He is also known by his Arabic “kunya”, Abu Mazen (Mazen’s father, the name of his firstborn). He is 88 years old. When he was born, Israel did not exist.
Abbas is the interlocutor of the United States, the EU or countries like Spain. And yet, the Palestinian politician appears these months in a blur, relatively far from the political and media focus. He rarely gives interviews. And that is precisely at a time when Palestine is suffering the worst massacre in its history. The number of civilian deaths confirmed by Gazan authorities, around 27,000, is twice as many as are estimated to have died in the first Arab-Israeli war of 1948. It was the Nakba, or “disaster,” when hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were forcibly expelled from their lands and forced to take refuge in Loop and West Bank.
“The ANP is quite silent, and that silence is very surprising, precisely because it is thebiggest tragedy since 1948 and one would expect a more vocal role from those who on paper are the leaders of all the Palestinians,” Jorgen Jensehaugen, senior researcher at the Oslo Peace Institute, explains to this newspaper. They have little room for action, in any case, and They compete with one of the largest public relations machines, the Israeli one.
“The United States talks to the Gulf countries, with Egypt, with Israel, but the Palestinians are only the object of the discussion. The problem is that the Palestinians They are considered either victims or terrorists, but rarely interlocutors. The exceptions were the negotiation phases (1990s and early 2000s). Now it seems that we return to a situation in which we deal with the Palestinians, but there is no dialogue with them.”
In spite of the Abbas’s insistence on the peaceful path (he was always from the moderate wing of the Al Fatah party) and to cooperate with Israel on security issues, the Government of Benjamin Netanyahu has disparaged him and has systematically undermined his authority, promoting the rise of the Islamist party Hamas. Divide and conquer.
Lack of legitimacy
This intentional political weakening by the occupying power is part of the problem, but it is not the only one. Both Abbas and the ANP have a low legitimacy among their own. The last elections were held in 2006, 18 years ago. Israel prevents the elections in East Jerusalem, one of the three parts that make up Palestine along with Gaza and the West Bank. And Abbas knows that he will surely lose in new elections.
An opinion poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research published last December shows a clear rejection of President Abbas: Nine out of ten respondents believe that he should resign.
“The ANP has three problems: first, it is perceived by many Palestinians as an extension of the Israeli military occupation, as a kind of first instance of Israel’s security. Second, they are perceived as corrupt. Finally, they have authoritarian tendencies, they exercise censorship and control the NGO sector,” explains the analyst.
The Palestinian population reproaches them for not having managed to advance towards the Palestinian state promised in the Oslo Accords of 1993. Nor have they had a clear partner with whom to negotiate on the Israeli side most of the time. Benjamin Netanyahu first came to power in 1996, with an agenda openly aimed at derail those peace agreements. Since then, he has ruled Israel for nearly a decade, and has never shown interest in negotiating but rather in drastically increasing the occupied Palestinian territory.
Furthermore, the security situation in the West Bank, ANP territory, is bad. Just this year, before the war started, 205 Palestinians had died at the hands of the Army or Israeli settlers. They continually suffer from incursions by Israeli forces, settler violence, infrastructure demolitions and movement restrictions. After the Hamas massacre in Israel on October 7 (around 1,150 dead, according to official figures), madness has broken loose: at least 358 Palestinians have been murdered in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Risk of collapse
“I was already warning of the risk of collapse of the ANP before the attacks of October 7, mainly because they had a bad budget situation, with a lack of liquidity; and a complicated political situation, with an enormous lack of political legitimacy among its population,” says Jensehaugen.
Now the outlook is much worse. Especially for the threats to cut UNRWA funding, the United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees. It is responsible for providing basic services to six million Palestinians: education, health or food… Since Israel claimed that a dozen of its 30,000 workers had collaborated in the Hamas massacre, the United States, Germany and Sweden, among other major donors, have said that they are suspending all aid until the internal investigation underway to determine responsibilities is resolved. .
If the threat of cutting off funding is carried out, chaos awaits the West Bank refugee camps (small towns). Schools, hospitals, and garbage collection will not operate.
“If the fields collapse there is a great real risk that they will drag the ANP itself with them, that it would go bankrupt,” warns the analyst.
Within Israel two visions coexist, that of the ideologues and that of the pragmatists. The former want both UNRWA and the Palestinian Authority to disappear. On that side they would be the ultra-orthodox and the ultra-nationalists, whose objective is the establishment of Israel in the entire territory from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Pragmatists consider both structures necessary to maintain the status quo.
Because, if UNRWA runs out of money, Would Israel, as the occupying power, bear the costs derived from basic services for millions of people in the occupied territories? If there is no authority with control of the security forces in the Palestinian cities of Ramallah, Nablus and Jenin, would the Israeli Army be in charge of guaranteeing its own security at the same time in Gaza and the entire West Bank?
A new Palestinian leader?
The scenario is very uncertain for the Palestinians. The bombings of Gaza and the destruction of 60% of its homes and infrastructure have already caused an unprecedented humanitarian crisis. The Israeli Army is preparing to attack the south of the Strip, the place where the bulk of the 2.2 million Palestinians are taking refuge. They have ordered their evacuation, even though there is no longer anywhere else to live. This is the worst time for the Palestinians.
Eventually, Netanyahu will leave power as soon as the war concentration government ends. His support is scarce. After his eventual departure, it is to be expected a sort of international peace process. It will take a strong leader on the Palestinian side.
Many point to Marwan Barghouti, a charismatic politician, former leader of Hamas’s military branch, Tanzim. But he is imprisoned in Israel, charged with murder for allegedly directing attacks and sentenced to several life sentences.
Others, such as the American analyst Ezra Klein, mention Salam Fayyad, who was prime minister from 2007 to 2013, is considered a technocrat and was praised by President Barack Obama for his management and approach to negotiations with Israel. Those were better times than these for the Palestinians.