Analysis: Is a Palestinian revolt against Mahmoud Abbas brewing? (TELEGRAPH UK) By Adrian Blomfield, Ramallah 05/04/12)
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As a deadline for elections passes, Palestinian frustration towards a
leadership seen as inept, out of touch and repressive is rising to
It was meant to be a day of catharsis and rejoicing, marking the
fulfilment of a visionary government strategy to end years of
debilitating political cleavage and create a formidable platform to
challenge Israel´s occupation.
But instead of going to the polls as they were promised this Friday,
Palestinians are remaining at home, betrayed once again by bickering
leaders whose quarrels have contributed to an increasingly dangerous
sense of malaise across the West Bank and Gaza.
For many ordinary Palestinians, the failure to hold legislative
elections as promised represents the culmination of a deeply
disappointing year in which politicians had sharply heightened their
expectations only repeatedly to dash them.
Last September, ecstatic crowds gathered in the centre of Ramallah,
the West Bank´s de-facto capital, to celebrate the submission of a
formal Palestinian application for statehood before the United
The request was seen as a moment of glorious defiance, the belated
repudiation of the Middle East peace process that, for Palestinians,
had been bankrupted by Israel´s persistent refusal to halt Jewish
settlement construction on their land.
But an even more important moment had come some months earlier when
the two main Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, confounded
expectations by announcing that they would end their differences and
The two movements had fought a short but brutal civil war in 2007
that had left the Palestinians geographically and politically riven.
Gaza fell under the control of the Islamists of Hamas while the West
Bank remained in the hands of their secular rivals Fatah, led by
Mahmoud Abbas, the moderate president of the Palestinian Authority.
The schism was a scar on the Palestinian consciousness, with many in
both territories arguing that a people so divided could never hope to
confront Israel or lay the ground for the creation of a viable
Fatah-Hamas reconciliation, polls showed, was the single most
important issue for most Palestinians, outstripping even peace talks
with Israel and the many perceived injustices of the occupation.
By presenting the rapprochement between the two factions, which was
supposed to culminate in elections on Friday, as an integral part of
his statehood bid, Mr Abbas appeared finally to have convinced his
people that he had a grand design to fulfil their aspirations.
Instead, both initiatives have floundered. Faced with muted
international support and outright hostility from the United States
and Israel, Mr Abbas has essentially shelved his UN bid and no
movement is likely until after the American elections in November,
Political reconciliation has likewise stalled. Neither Hamas nor
Fatah can agree how to share power in an interim government or to
merge their respective security forces.
With Friday´s election deadline passing, Palestinians are growing
increasingly disillusioned. An opinion poll published last month
indicated that support for Hamas and Fatah has fallen to historic
lows, with 50 per cent of respondents saying they would vote for
neither party were an election actually to be held.
Their frustration has only been compounded by the Arab Spring, which
has left many Palestinians feeling they have been left behind by the
democratising tide washing across the region.
Palestinians are keenly aware that while Egypt and others have
discovered that real elections are chaotic and often violent affairs,
they are being given a genuine choice at the ballot box for the first
Not only have Palestinians had that option ripped away from them,
they also have a leader who has essentially been in power
unconstitutionally for more than three years. Mr Abbas´s term
officially expired in January, 2009.
Fatah and Hamas have both blamed Israel for their woes but for many
Palestinians such protests have a hint of hollowness about them --
and their leaders are aware that popular resentment towards them is
reaching potentially dangerous levels.
"The embers of discontent are there and the authorities in the West
Bank and Gaza are aware of this, but their reaction has been one of
repression," said George Giacaman, a prominent Palestinian political
Fearful of the precedent set by the Arab Spring, Mr Abbas has been
accused of responding to public frustration by becoming increasingly
In the past six weeks, according to the Palestinian human rights
network Al Haq, nine bloggers and journalists have been slung into
prison on charges of offending public officials, often Mr Abbas
Ismat Abdul-Khaleq, a university lecturer in the West Bank, spent a
fortnight in jail last month accused of defaming Mr Abbas by
allegedly describing him as a "traitor" on her Facebook page. She has
since been released on bail.
Jamal Abu Rihan, a blogger, has been in prison for the past month
after he created a Facebook page with the title "The People want an
end to Corruption", a slogan that echoed the rallying cry of the Arab
Spring: "The People want the downfall of the regime".
In another sign of intolerance towards press freedoms, nine news
websites supporting one of Mr Abbas´s rivals in Fatah have been
blocked in the West Bank on the orders of the Palestinian Authority´s
The policy has caused disquiet among more progressive politicians in
the West Bank. Hanan Ashrawi, the veteran Palestinian leader, took
the rare step of making her opposition known to the public.
"Palestine should not promote censorship, whether on the internet or
in other forms of communication," she said in a statement.
"The blocking of Palestinian news websites and other measures that
prevent access to information and curb freedom of expression are in
complete contradiction to the principles enshrined in the Basic Law."
Palestinians may complain that such warnings are not being heeded,
but there are doubts that they are ready to take to the streets in
the same way as their Egyptian brethren.
Even so, an increasing number of observers are asking how long their
patience can last. Apathy and indifference may remain the prevailing
mood among the majority, but faced with a government whose legitimacy
is being steadily eroded by inaction and division Palestinians are
quite possibly closer to erupting against their own leadership than
ever before. (© Copyright of Telegraph Media Group Limited 2012.
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