Abbas fires deputy Abed Rabbo in PLO power struggle

In a bid to sideline potential rivals, Palestinian Authority chief sacks long-time critic; cabinet asks PM for reshuffle

Yasser Abed Rabbo speaks to journalists in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 16, 2014. (AFP/Abbas Momani)
Yasser Abed Rabbo speaks to journalists in the West Bank city of Ramallah on October 16, 2014. (AFP/Abbas Momani)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas fired a long-time critic from the No. 2 job in the Palestine Liberation Organization, in what is seen as his latest move to sideline potential rivals, an official said Wednesday.

Ahmed Majdalani, a senior PLO member, said Yasser Abed Rabbo was removed as PLO secretary general in a leadership meeting late Tuesday headed by Abbas, the organization’s leader.

Abed Rabbo had been a vocal critic of Abbas’s policies and leadership style. Abbas has alleged in closed-door meetings that Abed Rabbo is part of a group of Palestinian politicians trying to undermine him with the aid of financial support from the United Arab Emirates.

Unnamed Palestinian officials told The Times of Israel that the two had longstanding disagreements over budget allocations, and that Abbas saw Abed Rabbo as a threat to his leadership.

Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Salam Fayyad (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

Participants in Tuesday’s session noted that Abbas told them he’s sacking Abed Rabbo for failing to attend recent meetings and gave no other reason.

Abbas’s office had no immediate comment Wednesday.

The position held by Abed Rabbo was previously held by Abbas when he served as deputy to former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In recent months, the Palestinian Authority chief has moved to consolidate his power base in the organization, silencing critics and distancing potential rivals from leadership positions.

Last week, Abbas froze the bank account of former Palestinian prime minister Salam Fayyad and accused him of laundering money through his nonprofit organization, Future for Palestine.

According to unnamed sources, Abbas was purportedly wary that Fayad, together with former Fatah strongman Mohammed Dahlan, might use millions of dollars worth of funds provided by the United Arab Emirates against him.

‘Temporary cabinet shuffle’

At the same meeting, Palestinian leaders asked PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah for a “temporary” cabinet reshuffle, as infighting between political factions further dampened chances of a unity government, officials said Wednesday.

“During the night, an agreement was reached that Hamdallah enact a reshuffle to his government that will not affect more than five ministries,” Ahmed Majdalani, a senior PLO official, told AFP.

“It’s a temporary reshuffle,” he added, saying the line-up would remain “while negotiations are ongoing between all parties, including Hamas, to form a national unity government.”

An aide to Abbas said last month that Hamdallah had presented his resignation, but other officials denied it, as rumors swirled over the disbanding of an ineffectual cabinet that has had more than a year in office.

Officials say the move has been under discussion for several months because of the cabinet’s inability to operate in Hamas-dominated Gaza.

In April 2014, Abbas’s Fatah party, which dominates the PLO and by extension the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, signed a unity deal with Islamist movement Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

The deal was meant to end a years-long split, and the two sides approved a government of independent technocrats to take over administration of Gaza and the West Bank.

But disputes over the payment of Hamas-appointed employees in Gaza, and control of the territory, mean Hamas remains in control of the Strip.

A brutal war in July-August 2014 between Israel and Hamas also set back any efforts at reconciliation.

After reports of Hamdallah’s resignation several weeks ago, Hamas warned it would not accept any “one-sided change in the government without the agreement of all parties.”

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