Palestinian official denies closure of local peace group
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Palestinian official denies closure of local peace group

As critics accuse Mahmoud Abbas of targeting rival Yasser Abed Rabbo, PA official claims shuttering of Ramallah’s Geneva Initiative branch is merely a bureaucratic misunderstanding

Elhanan Miller is the former Arab affairs reporter for The Times of Israel

Israeli Likud and Shas party members meet with senior Palestinian officials Yasser Abed Rabbo and Nabil Shaath at the PLO offices in Ramallah, July 7, 2013 (Mati Milstein/Flash90)
Israeli Likud and Shas party members meet with senior Palestinian officials Yasser Abed Rabbo and Nabil Shaath at the PLO offices in Ramallah, July 7, 2013 (Mati Milstein/Flash90)

A Palestinian official denied media reports Thursday claiming that PA President Mahmoud Abbas had shut down the local branch of the Geneva Initiative, a grassroots organization advocating for the adoption of a peace plan penned in 2003.

According to Reuters, Abbas issued a presidential decree on Tuesday ordering the closure of the internationally funded Palestinian Peace Coalition, the Palestinian partner organization of the Tel Aviv-based Geneva Initiative.

The move was portrayed by Palestinian media as part of a continuing campaign by Abbas to sideline peace coalition head Yasser Abed Rabbo, a veteran Palestinian politician who was dismissed as secretary of the PLO by Abbas in June.

But Muhammad al-Madani, Abbas’s liaison with Israeli society, denied on Thursday that the peace coalition was shuttered by the presidential decree, insisting that it only lost its government involvement.

“As a civil society organization, it was untouched,” Madani told The Times of Israel, explaining that the organization was founded on the orders of deceased leader Yasser Arafat in 2003, but soon became a registered NGO in order to receive foreign funding, mainly from Switzerland.

“The role of the PA in this organization had ended,” he added.

Fatah Central Committee Member Muhammad Al-Madani (photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
Fatah Central Committee Member Muhammad Al-Madani (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

The Geneva Initiative calls for the establishment of a Palestinian State roughly along the 1967 lines with mutually agreed upon territorial swaps. The document practically eliminates the possibility of Palestinian refugees and their descendants being repatriated in sovereign Israel.

An employee of the peace coalition, speaking to The Times of Israel on condition of anonymity, confirmed on Thursday that his Ramallah-based organization continued to operate as normal despite Tuesday’s presidential decree.

“We were surprised by the news,” he said. “We have nothing to do with the political fight between Abbas and Abed Rabbo. We are a nongovernmental organization, and as such are protected by the Palestinian Basic Law.”

Gadi Baltiansky, director general of the Geneva Initiative, said he was told by his partners in Ramallah that their work will continue undisturbed.

“The messages we’ve been receiving are reassuring,” Baltiansky told The Times of Israel on Thursday. “Apparently there was no intention to harm the organization.”

Former PLO secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo speaks at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April 2, 2014 (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Former PLO secretary Yasser Abed Rabbo speaks at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah, April 2, 2014 (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

But some Palestinian observers were less optimistic about the peace coalition’s future.

London-based news website al-Araby al-Jadeed quoted anonymous sources in the PLO’s Executive Committee as saying that PPC’s operations will likely be transferred to Muhammad al-Madani following its dissolution by Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah, who is also interior minister.

Madani, for his part, denied that assessment.

“We are an official body [tasked with communicating with Israel] while [PPC] is a nongovernmental organization,” he said. “As such, it has not been abolished.”

On Tuesday, Abbas met with Israeli opposition leader Isaac Herzog, to whom he reiterated the “strong Palestinian commitment to the peace process.”

Critics of Abbas, however, cite his tendency to shut down civil society organizations associated with his political rivals. In June, Abbas closed “Palestine Tomorrow for Social Development,” an NGO established by former prime minister Salam Fayyad. He had previously cracked down on groups tied to former Fatah Gaza strongman Mohammad Dahlan, an outspoken critic of Abbas.

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