Dif­fi­cult days for Mah­moud Ab­bas

The Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity pres­i­dent is taunted by Is­raelis as be­ing ei­ther weak or an in­citer, and many of his own peo­ple have turned away in frus­tra­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BYWILLIAM BOOTH wil­liam.booth@wash­post.com Su­fian Taha in Ra­mal­lah and Carol Morello in Washington con­trib­uted to this re­port.

—It is a tough time to be Pales­tinian leader Mah­moud Ab­bas, a man with­out a coun­try— or a pop­u­lar man­date or much of a plan.

The Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity pres­i­dent is strug­gling to lead, or just sur­vive, as his pop­u­lar­ity plum­mets and Is­raelis taunt him as be­ing ei­ther weak or an in­citer. His own peo­ple, es­pe­cially youths, have turned away in frus­tra­tion.

The West Bank is quak­ing with vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions, with daily knife at­tacks by “lone wolf” Pales­tinian teenagers against Jewish Is­raelis, coun­tered by deadly fire by Is­raeli sol­diers at ri­ot­ers, in­clud­ing chil­dren.

In the re­cent un­rest, more than 1,000 Pales­tini­ans have been wounded in clashes with Is­raeli sol­diers. Four Is­raelis have been killed and oth­ers wounded by knives and stones.

A week ago, the 80-year-old Ab­bas re­turned to Ra­mal­lah from New York, where he cel­e­brated the U.N. de­ci­sion to raise the “State of Palestine” flag at the world body.

It should have been a vic­tory, even a small diplo­matic one. At home, no­body re­ally cared. Many Pales­tini­ans said it was a sym­bolic ges­ture that did noth­ing to end the al­most 50-year mil­i­tary oc­cu­pa­tion by Is­rael.

“The flag was a good thing, but it was noth­ing,” said Ra­jab Ha­mad, 27, a welder.

The ap­plause at his red-car­pet home­com­ing in Ra­mal­lah was tepid and oblig­a­tory. Crowds were bused in. A mu­nic­i­pal em­ployee told The Washington Post that his at­ten­dance was manda­tory.

“What you don’t un­der­stand is that we don’t care who the Pales­tinian pres­i­dent is any­more. What we want are re­sults and an end to this hu­mil­i­a­tion,” said Hamzi Suli­man, 25, a chef in Ra­mal­lah.

Re­cent polling by the Pales­tinian Cen­ter for Pol­icy and Sur­vey Re­search found that two-thirds of the Pales­tinian public want Ab­bas to re­sign. Pales­tini­ans haven’t held a pres­i­den­tial elec­tion since 2005, so Ab­bas’s le­git­i­macy de­pends in part on such polling.

The same sur­vey re­vealed that eight in 10 Pales­tini­ans think the chances for es­tab­lish­ing a sov­er­eign state next to Is­rael in the next five years are “slim to nonex­is­tent.” A grow­ing num­ber of Pales­tini­ans also said they sup­port “armed re­sis­tance” against Is­rael.

“Abu Mazen is al­ways tak­ing the sides of the Jews,” said Mo­ham­mad Rayed, a propane de­liv­ery­man, us­ing Ab­bas’s pop­u­lar nick­name. He and another worker ap­plauded the “op­er­a­tion” al­legedly car­ried out by a five-man Ha­masaf­fil­i­ated cell, which am­bushed and killed a Jewish cou­ple in front of their chil­dren this month.

The Pales­tinian men said the vic­tim was a top gen­eral in the Is­raeli army. They were wrong. He was a rabbi.

“But he was def­i­nitely a set­tler,” one of the men said, shrug­ging.

Is­raelis are filled with anx­i­ety that a third pop­u­lar upris­ing, or in­tifada, is brew­ing.

The Is­raeli lead­er­ship has done lit­tle to sup­port Ab­bas, who has pledged non­vi­o­lence and over seen un­prece­dented se­cu­rity co­or­di­na­tion be­tween Pales­tinian po­lice and Is­raeli forces, ac­cord­ing to Is­raeli mil­i­tary com­man­ders.

Is­raeli min­is­ters have branded Ab­bas “a ter­ror­ist in a suit” and “in­citer in chief.” They mock him as weak, even as they de­mand that he stop — or at least pub­licly con­demn — the shoot­ings and knife at­tacks on Is­raelis.

The Reuters news agency re­ported Satur­day that two Pales­tini­ans were shot dead by po­lice af­ter stab­bing at least four Is­raelis in sep­a­rate at­tacks near Jerusalem’s Old City. The news agency also said Is­raeli se­cu­rity forces fa­tally shot two Pales­tini­ans, ages 12 and 15, in protests along Gaza’s bor­der fence.

Is­raeli lead­ers have blamed Ab­bas for the spike in ten­sions at a holy site in the Old City revered by Jews and Mus­lims, known to Mus­lims as the Noble Sanc­tu­ary and to Jews as the Tem­ple Mount.

Is­raeli Pres­i­dent Reu­ven Rivlin on Wed­nes­day called out Ab­bas, who said last month that Pales­tini­ans will not al­low their mosque to be soiled by the “filthy feet” of Jews who want the com­pound opened to Jewish prayer and who visit ac­com­pa­nied by armed forces. Ab­bas praised the mosque’s vol­un­teer guardians — out­lawed by Is­raeli de­cree— who shout at Jewish visi­tors.

“We bless ev­ery drop of blood that has been shed for Jerusalem,” Ab­bas said.

Sec­re­tary of State John F. Kerry talked with both Ab­bas and Is­raeli Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu on Satur­day, ex­press­ing con­cern about the wave of vi­o­lence. Ac­cord­ing to the State Depart­ment, Kerry said it was im­por­tant to up­hold the sta­tus quo at the holy site and of­fered U.S. sup­port in ef­forts to re­store calm.

On Thurs­day, the Con­fer­ence of Pres­i­dents of Ma­jor Amer­i­can Jewish Or­ga­ni­za­tions de­manded that Ab­bas and the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity be “held to ac­count.”

In re­cent days Ab­bas has tried to walk a fine line. He has ex­pressed sup­port for “pop­u­lar re­sis­tance” to the Is­raeli oc­cu­pa­tion — mean­ing large, of­ten vi­o­lent demon­stra­tions — while in­sist­ing that the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity does not want to see a “mil­i­ta­riza­tion” of the con­flict, mean­ing armed re­sis­tance and ter­ror­ist at­tacks by Pales­tinian fac­tions.

Ab­bas has a se­cu­rity force that is not al­lowed to en­force law and or­der in 60 per­cent of the West Bank or in East Jerusalem. He is op­posed and con­strained by the mil­i­tant Is­lamist move­ment Ha­mas, which con­trols the Gaza Strip, is in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar in the West Bank — and is stok­ing ten­sions.

Is­raeli par­lia­ment mem­ber Anat Berko, who served in mil­i­tary in­tel­li­gence, said Thurs­day, “I don’t think Abu Mazen and the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity want an es­ca­la­tion. “Be­fore, we saw a lot of in­cite­ment,” she said, but now Ab­bas “is try­ing to calm things down.”

But many Pales­tini­ans are not tak­ing their cues from Ab­bas.

“I say this as some­one who sup­ports Abu Mazen. No­body is pay­ing at­ten­tion to him,” said Mah­moud Bad­ran, 27, a bar­ber.

Khalil Shikaki, a re­spected Pales­tinian poll­ster, said Ab­bas is in a tough spot.

“The peo­ple are an­gry with him, be­cause they are an­gry about the sit­u­a­tion,” he said, “and the sit­u­a­tion has not changed.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.