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memri
August 20, 2019 No.
8233

Former Palestinian Authority Minister Criticizes Palestinian Leadership: There Is A Rift And Mistrust Between The Palestinian People And Its Leaders Who Fail To Keep Their Promises

On August 19, 2019, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud 'Abbas ordered all his advisors fired, their contracts cancelled, and all benefits that went with their posts revoked. He also ordered all members of the previous PA government to pay back the PA treasury for illegal funds they had received in the form of salary supplements, grants, or reimbursement for housing expenses.[1]

'Abbas's actions appears to be a response to the resentment in the Palestinian street about how the PA is operating, in light of its deep economic crisis and political paralysis. This resentment has also been expressed in articles in PA establishment dailies criticizing the PA's economic inefficiency, the absence of democracy in it, and the absence of a political strategy and failure to follow through on political decisions – such as the PA leadership's decision to "stop acting in accordance with the agreements signed with Israel."[2]

Particularly scathing criticism was expressed by former PA prisoners' affairs minister Ashraf Al-Ajrami, who, on August 7, 2019, wrote in the Al-Ayyam daily that there is a rift and mistrust between the Palestinian public and the Palestinian leadership, and that Palestinian officials have evolved into a separate class with extra rights and privileges that has distanced itself from the people and is no longer responsive to their needs.

In his article, Al-Ajrami criticized the failure to hold elections and the lack of democratic processes, and stated that ordinary citizens feel that they have no path to replacing failed or corrupt leaders. The Palestinian public, he added, is increasingly frustrated at the stagnated political process, and the Palestinian leadership constantly reiterates slogans about major national goals but fails to either keep its promises or implement its decisions.


Former PA prisoners affairs minister Ashraf Al-Ajrami (Source: samanews.ps, September 16, 2017)

The following are translated excerpts from Al-Ajrami's article:

"There has recently been a noticeable decline in the Palestinian masses' responsiveness to calls by the [various Palestinian] leaders and factions, from across the political and ideological spectrum, [for them to participate in any suggested activity]. For instance, [most] people did not take part in an important protest in Ramallah against the dangerous Bahrain [June 25-26 Peace to Prosperity] workshop [organized by the Trump administration to advance the economic aspect of the Deal of the Century] – there were fewer protestors than there were journalists and photographers [at the demonstration]. Even in the Gaza Strip there is a noticeable decline in participation in the weekly marches [at the Israeli border fence]...

"There are many reasons for the drop in the popular activity [held in compliance with] the factions' calls and decisions. One reason is that there is a government that has created a clear differentiation between the citizens and the officials, such that the officials have distanced themselves from the [ordinary] people and become a separate class with extra benefits and privileges... while the citizens remain on a different level. The worst thing is the lack of communication [between this government] and the masses – even with those who enjoy [government] salaries, social welfare, and services...

"Most of the people do not think that that what this government gives [them] is an achievement for which it [i.e. the government] can take credit. On the contrary – they believe that it [i.e. the government, is giving them] less than what it should. There is a constant overwhelming stream of complaints against the PA and its officials. This is true not only regarding the PA and how it is handling the distress and demands of the citizens in the West Bank and in Gaza, but it is also true regarding the de facto [Hamas] government in Gaza, which excels at taking and not giving, and at benefiting a particular party [i.e. itself] at the expense of the vast majority of the people.

"Maybe the PA doesn't know how to communicate with the masses, and to market itself as concerned about their interests and their legitimate demands and [to show] that despite the difficult and complex situation in which Palestine finds itself, it can achieve something [that will allow] people to persevere in the struggle against the settlement enterprise and the uprooting that are driven by the most extreme rightwing government Israel has ever had. The PA also has not [managed to] convince the people that it [offers] a mechanism for punishing corruption, and that citizens are equal before the law. It appears that the absence of a democratic process is one of the reasons for the drop in [public] confidence in the leadership. The public feels that it has no means of settling accounts with those who they think are not meeting their obligations, are corrupt, or are taking advantage of their position.[3]

"The problem [of the leadership] concerns the large factions which hold the reins – Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. One way or another, the rest of the factions follow the same path as the two large ones. There appears to be no chance in the near future of establishing a third influential stream alongside these two factions. This is because the [Palestinian] leftwing is crushed and weak and is at best dragged along [behind Fatah or Hamas] – even if some of [the left's] factions claim that their position is different and independent– and the other [Palestinian] movements are in no better shape.

"The second important reason [why the public has no confidence in the Palestinian leadership] is the frustration caused by the general situation, since there are no developments in the political process and on the path to realizing the main national goals – on the contrary, things are getting worse. The crises on the national level have always motivated the masses into the street to carry out operations of struggle – for the most part, this has saved and helped leadership. But that came at a time when the relationship between the leadership and the people was good, and there was trust between them. In today's reality, the frustration is reflected in regression and passivity more than it is in aspirations for change...

"A third reason that negatively impacts the activity in the [Palestinian] street is the leaders' reiteration of slogans that are not even partially actualized. Our leaders have become accustomed to [making] grand, poetic statements that the people can't possibly see as viable. This goes for everyone, in the West Bank and in Gaza. Were the leadership to focus on slogans and specific positions – even minor ones – and implement them, it would earn the people's trust... The best proof of this is [the failure to implement] the National Council and the [PLO] Central Council decisions in recent years – among them the decision to stop security coordination[4] and ['Abbas's] recent decision to stop acting in accordance with the agreements signed with Israel.

"It would be better for us to have [implemented] the decisions in gradual steps, so the implementation could have begun right away, starting with minor [issues] on the path to implementing major [ones]. This could rebuild the trust between the leadership and the people, while at the same time leading the [Israeli] enemy to understand that we are serious [about] carrying out all our decisions. Even the marches in Gaza, which began as marches for the right of return and turned into marches to break the siege, have recently become [marches to] obtain paltry funds [from Qatar] that have no power to break the siege or to solve the big problems of the people [in the Gaza Strip] – and [have also become] support for Hamas more than they are [a way of] achieving [any kind of] national demands..."[5]

 

[1] Wafa.ps, August 19, 2019. A month before issuing these orders, 'Abbas had announced mandatory retirement for all judges over 60, disbanded the PA's High Judicial Council, its supreme court, and established a temporary transitional council to operate for a year, with its most important task being to restore restoring public confidence in the judicial system. See: wafa.ps, July 18, 2019.

[2] Wafa.ps, July 25, 2019.

[3] It is important to note that in a previous article the writer called for elections for Palestinian institutions: Al-Ayyam (PA), June 19, 2019.

[5] Al-Ayyam (PA), August 7, 2019.