Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas rejected the resignation of a top official tasked with reaching out to Israelis, several members of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Committee for Interaction with Israeli Society said on Monday.
Mohammmed al-Madani, the head of the PLO committee, offered Abbas his resignation on Saturday after gatherings of Israelis and Palestinians that the body organized earlier in February faced fierce criticism, mostly on social media.
Abbas informed Madani of his decision to turn down his resignation at a meeting with members of the committee at the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah on Monday.
“The president told Madani that he would not accept his resignation,” Ashraf al-Ajrami, a member of the committee and a former PA minister, said in a phone call. “Madani agreed to stay in his position and he left the meeting reassured and encouraged.”
Madani, a Fatah Central Committee member, has served as the head of the committee since its establishment in 2012 after the Palestinians attained non-member observer state status at the United Nations.
During the meeting on Monday, Abbas told members of the committee that he “salutes” them and that the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership would not accept any person “belittling” them.
“We support you. The presidency and the government support you with all of their might,” Abbas was seen saying in a recording of his remarks broadcast on Palestine TV, the official PA channel.
“I know that the work you are doing is nationalistic,” he said. “We totally appreciate you going to the other side, speaking to them in [their] homes and convincing them that you love and want peace.”
“We will defend and protect you with all possible legal tools. We started doing that today,” he added, without elaborating.
In recent years, the PA has cracked down on dozens of websites and Facebook pages affiliated with the Hamas terror group and other critics of its governance and policies.
The meetings organized by the committee that recently came under fire included a gathering of Israelis and Palestinians in Tel Aviv on February 14 to express their rejection of the US administration’s plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as a series of briefings for Israeli reporters in Ramallah on February 16 with Palestinian officials.
Several Palestinian activists, Hamas and some local Fatah branches in the West Bank had slammed the gatherings as “normalization” with Israel.
In Ramallah, a small demonstration against the meetings took place on February 17 and students at Birzeit University set a picture of the Israeli reporters meeting a senior Palestinian official on fire at a protest on the same day.
Photos and names of Palestinians who participated in the gathering in Tel Aviv were also posted on social media in an apparent effort to shame them.
Jihad Harb, an expert on Palestinian politics, said the criticism of the gatherings the committee recently organized reflected the “frustration and disillusionment” of part of the Palestinian public with the political circumstances, especially following the unveiling of the US plan on January 28.
“Some Palestinians feel so hopeless about the peace process and political situation that they do not want to see any interaction between Israelis and Palestinians,” he said in an interview last week, adding that the US plan exacerbated their despair.
“For this group, it does not matter what positions the Israelis attending these meetings hold on the Palestinian issue,” he said.
Breaking with past US administrations, the plan envisions the creation of a Palestinian state in about 70 percent of the West Bank, a small handful of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, most of the Gaza Strip and some areas of southern Israel — if the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state, disarm Hamas and other terror groups in the Gaza Strip, and fulfill other conditions.
The plan also allows Israel to annex settlements, grants the Jewish state sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and overriding security control west of the Jordan River, and bars Palestinian refugees from settling in Israel.
Harb added that while many Palestinians do not oppose the events the committee organizes, they do not say so publicly.
Ziad Darwish, a member of the committee and a cousin of the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, said that the body had put off some meetings with Israelis last week in the wake of the wave of criticism.
“We postponed a couple of meetings, but we will reschedule them now that we met with President Abbas,” he said
Abbas was among the first Fatah members to seek dialogue with Israelis and has met with several Israelis that the committee has hosted in Ramallah.
According to Darwish, since its founding, the committee has hosted hundreds of meetings with Israelis.
Darwish said that Madani had been disappointed that senior Fatah and PLO members did not immediately come out in defense of the committee when it came under fire last week.
“He was expecting expressions of support when we were facing attacks,” he said. “But everything has now been clarified since the president said he and the leadership fully stand behind us.”