from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Palestinian Authority’s Nasty Little War

June 22, 2015
8:31 am (EST)

Blog Post
Blog posts represent the views of CFR fellows and staff and not those of CFR, which takes no institutional positions.

Most news headlines this weekend regarding the Palestinian Authority covered the visit to Ramallah by French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius.

There Fabius said the region would be "set ablaze" if an Israeli-Palestinian accord were not soon reached. How many times have European (and American) statesmen said the same thing over the last few decades? In fact the region is ablaze, from Iraq and Syria to Yemen and Libya, and it all has exactly nothing to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But the myth that the central issue in the entire region is "Israel and the Palestinians" lives on. One really has to wonder if Fabius, a smart and sophisticated man, actually believes what he is saying.

Meanwhile, the papers largely overlooked a different conflict, this one with the Palestinian Authority lined up against independent Palestinian voices. As ABC News reported in a story entitled "Palestinian Authority Freezes Assets of Former PM," PA president and PLO chairman and Fatah Party chairman Mahmoud Abbas has frozen the bank accounts of former PA prime minister Salam Fayyad. He has also frozen the accounts of his NGO, "Future for Palestine," and accused Fayyad of money laundering.

By way of background, the main Fatah complaint against Fayyad (who is not a Fatah Party member) was always his honesty. He actually fought against and reduced corruption. For the powers that be in Ramallah to accuse Fayyad of money laundering is absurd and disgusting, and no one is going to believe it. So what is going on?

Simple. Fayyad represents an independent voice, an alternative to the Fatah Party cronies of President Abbas. Moreover, Fayyad’s NGO has had support from the United Arab Emirates, with whom Abbas is feuding because the Emirates also backs his rival (and potential successor) Mohammed Dahlan. A political struggle, then, but one in which Abbas uses the power of the state in his statelet to bring criminal charges against his critics and freeze their accounts.

For a very long time (well, six years anyway) U.S. policy has been extremely critical of any Israeli move that the White House did not like but largely silent about PA actions such as the glorification of terrorists. Here’s another PA move that deserves a strong condemnation from the White House and State, and a stronger private warning to Abbas. And Members of Congress who appropriate money for the PA ought to let its "ambassador" in Washington know clearly that this kind of tinpot dictatorship move won’t be tolerated.