April 14, 2016 Special Dispatch No. 6387

Picture Of PA President 'Abbas Burned At PFLP Protest In Gaza; Severe Tension Between 'Abbas, PFLP

April 14, 2016
Palestine | Special Dispatch No. 6387

There have recently been intense tensions between the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership, in particular PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas. These tensions peaked after pictures of 'Abbas and PA Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki were burned during a PFLP protest in Gaza.

'Abbas and the PFLP differ substantially on relations with Israel and on the promotion of the Palestinian cause in general. The PFLP is known for its opposition to the Oslo Accords, criticizes 'Abbas's policy on negotiations with Israel, and calls to escalate the intifada and carry out armed resistance vis-a-vis Israel. Moreover, the PFLP demands that the PA immediately halt its security coordination with Israel and implement the March 5, 2015 PLO Executive Committee decision to end it.

The PFLP's scathing criticism of 'Abbas's policy grew worse after an interview he gave on March 31, 2016 to the Israeli Channel 2 program "Uvda", in which he expressed, for the first time, opposition to stabbing attacks carried out by Palestinian youths against Israelis, and also stated that he desired to continue the  security coordination.[1] On April 3, 2016, the PFLP issued a press release demanding that the PLO's Central Council and Executive Committee come out against 'Abbas's statements in the interview and hold him accountable on these matters.[2] PFLP Central Council member Rabbah Mhanna called on his Facebook page for 'Abbas to resign, claiming he had "crossed all national red lines."[3] The PFLP also criticized a March 29, 2016 condolence visit by a PA delegation to the family of Chief Brigadier General Mounir Amar, the head of Israel's Civil Administration in the West Bank, who had been killed in a plane crash on March 26, 2016.[4]

Another reason for the tensions was the PFLP's harsh criticism of the PA's conduct in the case of the assassination of PFLP member 'Omar Al-Nayef, who was killed on February 26, 2016 inside the Palestinian embassy in Bulgaria. PFLP officials accused the Palestinian foreign ministry of slanting the investigation into the assassination and of hiding key details in the case.[5]

On April 11, 2016, PFLP officials said that 'Abbas, serving as the head of the PLO, had ordered the head of the national treasury to halt funds to the PFLP. According to PFLP officials Rabbah Mhanna and Dhu Al-Fiqar Swairjo, the order was given verbally and the PFLP received no official notice on the matter.[6] A statement issued by Mhanna read: "We are continuing our activity and we will never back down from our correct positions. If the PA persists in halting the distribution [of funds], we will issue a communique against this decision and present it to members of the PLO Executive Committee."[7]

Later, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) announced that 'Abbas had ordered to halt PLO funds to this movement as well.[8]

The PFLP's fury at the PA leadership and 'Abbas in particular boiled over on April 12, 2016, the day after the announcement that funds to the movement had been halted. The PFLP in Gaza held a protest marking 40 days since the assassination of 'Omar Al-Nayef and supporting Palestinian prisoners and families of martyrs whose bodies are being held by Israel. Protestors burned pictures of Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki, of Palestinian ambassador to Bulgaria Ahmad Al-Madhbouh, and of Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas. The protest also included calls to carry out armed resistance in order to secure the release of the Palestinian prisoners and the bodies of the martyrs.[9] It was attended by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) members, including Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri, Hamas official Isma'il Radwan, and PIJ official Khaled Al-Batsh.

Following the protest, official Fatah spokesman Fayez Abu 'Aita issued a press released demanding that the PFLP apologize for the burning of 'Abbas's pictures, which he called "despicable behavior on a national and moral level." He added that the national treasury had rejected the decision to halt PFLP funds.[10]

PFLP's official Facebook page posts photo of protestors burning 'Abbas picture with the caption "Leave, 'Abbas, leave!" (, April 12, 2016)

Burning pictures of Al-Maliki and Al-Madhbouh with the caption "Murderer" (, April 12, 2016)

Protestors carrying coffins for the martyrs. The parade included Hamas and PIJ members (, April 12, 2016)

The Palestinian media widely covered the tensions between the PFLP and PA officials. Several articles on the topic were published, both by writers close to the PFLP and by 'Abbas supporters.

The following are excerpts from the articles:

Articles On PFLP Website: 'Abbas's Regime Is Corrupt, Autocratic

In light of this tension, articles on the PFLP website harshly condemned the suspension of funding to the PFLP, and attacked 'Abbas's policies and the character of his regime.

Jibril Muhammad, who writes on the website, accused 'Abbas and his associates of corruption: "The decision-maker ['Abbas] knows that [the amount of money] the PFLP receives by right in a single year does not come close to what [a single] corrupt [official] in the [PA's] bureaucracy, or [one] wheeler-dealer, steals in just a few days. He also knows that all [the money] he grants to the PFLP does not equal the funds spent in a single year by one of the heads of the bodies linked to the government... We are tired of how this national faction [the PFLP], that has long been patient and placed national interest above partisanship, is being treated...

"[This measure of] halting funds in response to the PFLP's political position will never weaken it, but will further tarnish the reputation of the one who gave [the order]..."[11]   

PFLP member and former prisoner Fayez Rashid likewise leveled harsh criticism at 'Abbas, and even accused the PA leadership of abandoning the PLO. He wrote: "The Popular Front is the [movement] that adheres most closely to the [PLO's] Palestinian National Covenant, and this is a truth known to all. Among those who deviate from the PLO covenant, the most prominent are the PA, and its chairman and his associates. Naturally, those who do not deserve to receive funds from the PLO are the ones who deviate from its covenant, not those who adhere to it. Since the establishment of the PA, which effectively [operates] under occupation, the PLO and all its institutions have been deliberately neglected. Returning to [the PLO] has remained a [mere] slogan that is waved by those who control [the PLO] only when the PA is in political trouble. Many Palestinian organizations, chief among them the PFLP, have called for reform in the PLO and its institutions, and agreements were signed in this matter. However, those who control [the PLO] have no political incentive to start these reforms, for reasons of their own, and as a result the reform and reassessment of the PLO and its institutions have remained nothing but a slogan whose implementation never began.

"'[Abbas's] autocracy, hegemony and monopoly are not confined to the PLO's finances, but impact all the position[-holders] in its institutions, without exception. We demand not only to receive the funds allocated to the PFLP, but also to redistribute the funds."[12]

Columnists In PA Dailies: The Burning Of 'Abbas's Pictures Was A Shameful Act; PFLP Leadership Must Apologize

'Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul, an Al-Hayat Al-Jadida columnist and an advisor to former PA prime minister Salam Fayyad, wrote: "The burning of the pictures of Palestinian President Abu Mazen the day before yesterday by a group of PFLP members during a protest in Gaza [is an act that] cannot be understood as part of a [mere] disagreement. Burning the picture of the PLO chairman is a shameful act and a black mark [that mars] the fraternal relations between the PFLP and Fatah, and between the PFLP and President 'Abbas...

"In the past it already happened that funds to the PFLP were halted, and the matter was resolved in a friendly manner after the national forces, including Fatah leaders, spoke with President Abu Mazen, and [thus] the matter was handled without straining the atmosphere of national [unity]. So why resort to childish pranks and fall over stumbling blocks [in a way that] contravenes the national Palestinian spirit? What interest does the PFLP have in burning pictures of President Abu Mazen?... Has Abu Mazen deviated from the program of national consensus? Has he abandoned the interests of his people? Why do some of you now make hasty, rash and irresponsible remarks?

"You are entitled to criticize any position taken by Mahmoud 'Abbas, the Fatah leadership or any national institution if it is not to your liking or you disagree with it. You are entitled to boycott meetings - but you do not have the right to burn pictures of President Mahmoud 'Abbas, because he is [our] chief national emblem.

"If the PFLP leadership at home or abroad has any courage, political wisdom dictates that they should apologize to the people, to the Fatah movement and to president Abu Mazen [himself] immediately, before it is too late..."[13]

Another Al-Hayat Al-Jadida columnist, Fatah movement member Muwaffaq Matar wrote in an article that the calls against the PA leadership harmed the Palestinians' national unity: "Our friends in the PFLP, wake up!... Do not be like a Trojan horse. The Palestinian unity, which we built together, is greater and more precious than all of the funds of the 'lackeys.'"[14]

He added: "I searched in vain for a PFLP condemnation of what the group of young men did, [those men] who claimed to be PFLP members and who burned pictures of President Mahmoud 'Abbas. But, as of 18:00 p.m. yesterday, I could not find [such a condemnation], and I started to think that the PFLP leadership approved of burning the picture of the Palestinian people's president. Such behavior is inexcusable, especially when it occurs as part of activity which, to judge by photos circulated on social media and on YouTube, was an organized [protest], since it was headed by officials from the [PFLP] political bureau, who made statements to an Arab satellite channel. In other words, the [picture-burning] incident occurred right in front of [these officials], and even if it did not, they learned of it later and deliberately disregarded it..."[15]



[2], April 3, 2016.

[3], April 4, 2016.

[4], March 30, 2016.

[5], March 3, 2016.

[6],, April 11, 2016.

[7], April 12, 2016.

[8], April 12, 2016.

[9],, April 12, 2016.

[10], April 13, 2016.

[11], April 12, 2016.

[12], April 12, 2016.

[13] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 14, 2016.

[14] Presumably a reference to an April 13, 2016 report in the Lebanese daily Al-Akhbar, which claimed that the PFLP wished to receive funds from Iran and called on it to avoid this.

[15] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 14, 2016.

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