The IDF as leader of the Palestinian Authority?
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The IDF as leader of the Palestinian Authority?

Is Mahmoud Abbas about to quit? And if so, who’ll take over?

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, January 4, 2015 (Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, January 4, 2015 (Flash90)

A wave of attacks. Escalation. Intensification. We have heard these expressions many times in recent months in connection with the situation in the West Bank. So perhaps it is necessary to define this anew: This is the reality in the West Bank. This is the face of things. This is the status quo.

The government of Israel and those leading it are convinced that they are capable of managing the conflict, but they are not striving to resolve it. And this weekend illustrated the price — two stabbings, an attempted arson attack at a gas station, and a few other relatively minor incidents.

There will be those who will try to call this a “radicalization” and place the blame on “incitement from the Palestinian Authority.” But that claim doesn’t bear out on the ground: Most of the Palestinian public is indifferent to the point of despair. Even the dreadful July 31 firebombing murders of the Dawabsha family in the village of Duma — allegedly by Jewish terrorists — didn’t bring thousands out into the streets. The ongoing hunger strike by Mohammed Allaan, an Islamic Jihad man (who, before his incarceration, was leaning towards Salafi Jihadist ideology), has prompted only minor demonstrations in Ramallah thus far.

As for the Palestinian Authority, security cooperation with Israel has remained in place, and the PA’s security apparatus is working with vigor against Hamas and the Islamic Jihad. Just recently the PA uncovered a network financing Hamas activists and their planned attacks in the West Bank. According to the PA, millions of dollars had been transferred to the West Bank from abroad for this purpose.

And yet, not everything is “business as usual.”

The Palestinian media has stepped up a gear and is now intensively focusing on the possibility that PA President Mahmoud Abbas will soon resign, possibly as early as next month.

A senior Hamas member in Gaza, Razi Hamad, recently called on Abbas to retire as he has reached the age of 80 and, according to Hamad’s Facebook post, has failed in advancing the national agenda.

Abbas — who at the weekend hosted the members of two Palestinian soccer teams, al-Ahly from Hebron and Shejaiya from the Gaza Strip, to congratulate them on participating in the Palestinian cup final that the Hebron team won 2:1 — is saying nothing. No confirmation. No denial.

A well-known editorial writer who is close to the PA leader, Hafaz al-Barghouti, published an article on the website Donia al-Watan in which he made clear that if Abbas steps down, there will be no successor. Rather, what he called the “Israeli occupation” will have to administer matters in the West Bank. “The successor,” Barghouti wrote, “will be IDF Civil Administration head Yoav Mordechai.”

The general assessment at the moment on the Israeli side, and amongst the Fatah Central Committee, is that Abbas won’t resign next month but is poised for a dramatic step of some kind. Perhaps, the declaration of Palestine as a state under occupation and a public threat of resignation.

He has not even told the Fatah leadership of his intentions, but he is pushing for a summit of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council in order to appoint a new leadership for the organization. He wants to convene “The Seventh General Assembly” of Fatah, at which the movement would also appoint new leadership.

Will he announce his resignation at one of these events? Again, for now, Abbas is saying nothing.

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