Mahmoud Abbas has once again threatened to dismantle the Palestinian Authority which he heads in the West Bank.
This time he chose to make his new old threat in an interview with the daily Haaretz.
“If there is no progress [in the peace process] even after the election I will take the phone and call [Prime Minister Binyamin] Netanyahu,” Abbas said. “I’ll tell him…Sit in the chair here instead of me, take the keys, and you will be responsible for the Palestinian Authority.”
Abbas’s threat was made shortly after he met in his Ramallah office with Meretz Party chairwoman Zehava Gal-On ahead of the January 22 election in Israel.
The threat to disband the Palestinian Authority should be seen as yet another attempt attempt on the part of Abbas to influence Israeli voters.
Abbas is trying to scare Israeli voters by warning them that the re-election of Netanyahu would be a disaster for the “peace process” and would result in anarchy and chaos in the West Bank after the Palestinian Authority is dismantled.
In private, Abbas and his top aides have been talking about the need to strengthen the left-wing in Israel. They were hoping that former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert would run in the election at the head of a left-wing block that would remove Netanyahu from power.
But since Olmert has decided not to run in the upcoming election, Palestinian leaders in the West Bank have resorted to a new tactic to convince voters not to vote for Netanyahu and other right-wing parties.
This tactic is based on sowing fear and panic among Israelis of what could happen if they voted for Netanyahu once again.
By threatening to disband the Palestinian Authority, Abbas is hinting at the possibility that Israel may again find itself responsible for the day-to-day affairs of the Palestinians in the West Bank.
He is telling Israelis that a vote for Netanyahu would mean a return to the pre-Oslo era, when the Israel Defense Forces were fully responsible for the Palestinian education and health systems.
At the same time, Abbas is trying to persuade the Israeli public that he remains committed to the “peace process” and that he is the only Palestinian leader who is willing to make concessions for the sake of peace.
But this is the same Abbas who for the past four years had set pre-conditions for resuming the peace talks with Israel and violated the Oslo Accords by unilaterally asking the UN General Assembly to upgrade the Palestinians’ status, which it did, to a non-member observer state.
In yet another (unsuccessful) attempt to impact Israeli voters, Abbas recently gave an interview to Israel’s Channel 2 TV station, where he signaled his readiness to relinquish the “right of return” of Palestinians to their former homes inside Israel.
Within hours, however, Palestinian media outlets quoted Abbas and several of his advisors as denying that he had offered to relinquish the “sacred right of return.”
What Abbas is not telling the Israeli public is that he simply does not have a mandate from his people to make any form of concessions to Israel.
Abbas himself seems to have forgotten that his term in office expired in January 2009. He is also ignoring recent public opinion polls showing a rise in Hamas’s power and popularity among Palestinians.
This is not the first time that the Palestinian Authority leadership tries to influence Israeli voters.
In the past, Abbas’s predecessor, Yasser Arafat, used to appear in Israeli media outlets on the eve of Israeli elections to talk about his deep commitment to peace and how he was doing his utmost to prevent Hamas and other terrorist groups from carrying out attacks against Israel. Some left-wing Israeli journalists who were close to Arafat spared no effort to help him in his effort to market himself to the Israeli public as a true peace partner.
Back to Abbas’s threats, which so far do not appear to have impressed either Israelis or Palestinians. The Israeli public has long lost faith in Abbas and the “peace process,” and is no longer taking any of his threats seriously.
As for the Palestinians, many wondered this week why Abbas was talking about handing the “keys” of the Palestinian Authority to the Israeli prime minister.
Wouldn’t it be better, these Palestinians asked, if Abbas gave the “keys” back to his people and stepped down? Isn’t there one Palestinian who could replace Abbas?
Why doesn’t Abbas consider the possibility of handing the “keys” to another Palestinian? The answer is clear: Abbas apparently believes that if he cannot lead the Palestinians, no one else should — that if he comes down, then the entire Palestinian Authority should also collapse.
Disbanding the Palestinian Authority will harm Palestinians in the West Bank more than it will affect Israel. The first to pay the price of such a move will be the 150,000 employees of the Palestinian Authority and their families.
This would also prove to be a dangerous step since it would facilitate a Hamas takeover of the West Bank.
The Palestinian Authority needs to stay, but its veteran leaders need to pave the way for new faces.
A changing of the guard in the Palestinian Authority is something that the US and EU, the major funders of Abbas and his associates, could play a major role in bringing about.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an Arab Muslim, is a veteran award-winning journalist who has been covering Palestinian affairs for nearly three decades.