Will Abbas survive the elections crisis? – The Jerusalem Post

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took a huge gamble when he announced the Palestinian general elections on January 15.
Not only had he not resolved his dispute with Hamas, but he had no guarantee that Israel would allow him to hold the elections in Jerusalem. Moreover, he was risking a crisis of unprecedented proportions in his ruling Fatah faction.
On Thursday, Abbas took an even bigger gamble by indefinitely postponing the elections.
His decision has enraged many Palestinians, including senior members of Fatah. Besides putting another nail in the coffin of his credibility, Abbas is now facing intense criticism from Palestinians from across the political spectrum, who consider his argument laughable that he had to call off the elections because of the controversy surrounding the vote in Jerusalem.
The decision has even drawn sharp criticism from European Union and United Nations officials, who have called on Abbas to set a new date for the elections.
While the postponement of the elections has seriously harmed Abbas’s credibility, it is nevertheless unlikely to bring about an end to his autocratic rule.
The small street protests organized by his political rivals in the West Bank and Gaza Strip over the past few days do not pose a direct threat to Abbas.

For now, it seems that most of the protests are taking place on social media, where many Palestinians are venting anger and frustration over the delay of the first elections in 15 years.
But the 85-year-old Abbas has repeatedly shown that he does not care about taking a lot of flak for his controversial and unpopular decisions.
 In 2009, Abbas sparked outrage when he decided to drop his support for a vote at the UN Human Rights Council on a report by South African judge Richard Goldstone accusing Israel and Hamas of committing “war crimes.”
In 2018, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets of Ramallah to protest Abbas’s decision to impose financial sanctions on the Gaza Strip as a way of undermining Hamas’s rule over the coastal enclave.
And late last year, Abbas decided to resume security coordination with Israel, a move that also drew sharp criticism from many Palestinians. Abbas suspended the security coordination six months earlier, in protest of Israel’s intention to extend its sovereignty to Jewish communities in the West Bank.
Despite these unpopular decisions, Abbas has always managed to weather the storm, much to the dismay of his foes.
Now, he is also expected to survive the current crisis triggered by his decision to call off the elections.
Hamas does not have the means to stage a coup against Abbas’s regime, and his political rivals in Fatah do not have sufficient backing for launching mass protests in the West Bank.
By holding Israel responsible for obstructing the elections, Abbas succeeded in making it appear as if those who oppose the postponement of the vote do not care about Jerusalem.
The message Abbas sought to send to the Palestinian public is this: I was forced to take this decision, because I can’t allow Israel to impose its dictates on us by preventing us from holding elections in our capital, Jerusalem.
Abbas, in other words, is telling the Palestinians that those who insist on holding the elections without Jerusalem are traitors, because they are ready to give up the Palestinians’ right to the city.
Abbas was also keen to create the impression that the decision to delay the elections was taken by the leaders of Palestinian factions, and not him alone.
That’s why he convened a meeting in Ramallah of the faction leaders and later announced that the decision was endorsed by a “vast majority of the Palestinian leadership, factions and national personalities.”
BUT IT’S hard to say that the decision came as a surprise to many Palestinians, especially those who argued from day one that Abbas was not serious about holding the elections.
His critics and political opponents pointed out that this was not the first time Abbas had promised to hold elections, only to backtrack sometime down the road.
Palestinians still remember the president’s recurring and unfulfilled threats to resign, dismantle the PA, rescind all signed agreements with Israel and revoke the PLO’s recognition of Israel.
Abbas, however, did surprise Palestinians this time by proceeding with the electoral process, despite the split in Fatah and increased signs that Hamas could again win the parliamentary elections, as it did in 2006.
By ordering the PA security forces to stop arresting and harassing Hamas members in the West Bank to facilitate the electoral process and “boost public freedoms,” Abbas seemed to convince his opponents that perhaps this time he was serious about holding the elections.
The PA leadership’s massive diplomatic campaign to exert pressure on Israel, to allow the elections to take place in Jerusalem, also seemed to impress Abbas’s political enemies that he might finally be serious about allowing his people to cast their ballots.
Despite the cautious optimism, the first sign of the possibility that the elections could be called off came two weeks ago, when Nabil Shaath, a senior Abbas adviser, announced that it was “highly likely” that the vote would be delayed due to Israel’s failure to respond to the Palestinians’ request regarding the vote in Jerusalem.
Shaath’s announcement was followed by similar statements made by several PA and Fatah officials, who stressed that the elections would not take place without Jerusalem.
These statements finally convinced many Palestinians that Abbas was moving toward calling off the elections.
ON THURSDAY night, Abbas confirmed the suspicions of his political enemies by announcing his decision to delay the elections because of the dispute over Jerusalem.
More than half of the electoral lists had warned Abbas against using the Jerusalem dispute as an excuse for calling off the elections. They argued that the Palestinians should engage in a “battle” with Israel over Jerusalem rather than capitulate to Israeli “dictates.”
The controversy over the Jerusalem vote provided Abbas with a good excuse to call off the elections. There’s nothing better than blaming Israel for obstructing the planned elections – or anything else.
This option is certainly much better than having to face the challenges from disgruntled Fatah officials and Hamas.
Fatah is already witnessing a serious crisis, especially after the decision by Nasser al-Kidwa, a veteran official of the faction, to form his own list for the parliamentary election together with jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti.
The Kidwa-Barghouti alliance and the list belonging to exiled Fatah operative Mohamed Dahlan, an archrival of Abbas, meant that Fatah was running on three separate slates.
The past five months have shown that the challenges Abbas is facing from within Fatah are no less serious than those posed by Hamas. The president was also undoubtedly wary of the fact that most of the 36 electoral lists that had registered for the parliamentary elections included candidates known for their public and strong criticism of him and the old-guard leaders of the PA.
Abbas may have found a way to climb down from the high tree of the elections – but there is no way to weasel out of the serious challenges he is expected to face in the aftermath of his decision to delay the elections.
Judging from the strong reactions of the decision’s opponents, the political crisis in the Palestinian arena appears to be headed toward escalation.
Abbas’s exclusive control over Fatah is now at stake, and his dispute with Hamas is likely to intensify. His decision is likely to end the honeymoon between Fatah and Hamas, which surfaced thanks to former US President Donald Trump’s “hostile” policies and decisions against the Palestinians.

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Will Abbas survive the elections crisis? – The Jerusalem Post

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