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Policy expert on Abbas firing PA governors: Like ‘reshuffling deck chairs on ‘Titanic’

Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said the Palestinian leader has failed to inspire confidence in the authority’s ability to operate.

Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas arrives to the Samaria city of Ramallah after his return from Berlin, Aug. 18, 2022. Credit: Flash90.
Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas arrives to the Samaria city of Ramallah after his return from Berlin, Aug. 18, 2022. Credit: Flash90.

Mahmoud Abbas, the 87-year-old ailing Palestinian Authority president, is showing his desperation and corruption by trying to fire more than 80% of the authority’s regional governors, according to Washington analysts who follow the region closely.

“What is clear is that Abbas is losing control over the Palestinian territories,” Shoshana Bryen, senior director of the Jewish Policy Center, told JNS.

The octogenarian, who has grappled with numerous health issues, including bouts of cancer, “believes that he can posture and make demands to the United States, as there is speculation of a deal being made with Saudi Arabia,” she added.

Abbas doesn’t trust the 12 (of 16) Palestinian Authority governors, and he is “posturing” in his effort to can them, according to Bryen. She also called the move an act of desperation, as Abbas has not had definitive control of the Gaza Strip for more than 15 years.

Despite questions about whether the governors will ignore Abbas’s having fired them, Bryen said the Biden administration is inconsistent in how it criticizes Israeli judicial reform, which the president has said threatens Israel’s democracy, and its silence thus far on the firings of the P.A. governors.

“The first constitutes U.S. interference against a domestic democratic ally, while the second is an unwillingness to deal with something that has cross-border implications,” she said.

The White House, U.S. State Department and National Security Council did not respond to multiple requests from JNS for comment, including about whether Abbas’s continued reign since his election in January 2005—ostensibly, for a four-year term—constitutes a threat to democracy.

Jonathan Schanzer. Credit: Courtesy.

‘The P.A. needs to crack down on corruption’

Jonathan Schanzer, senior vice president of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told JNS that Abbas has failed to inspire confidence in the authority’s ability to operate in Judea and Samaria, also referred to as the West Bank.

“This is tantamount to reshuffling deck chairs on the Titanic,” he told JNS of Abbas’s recent efforts to fire the governors.

The Biden administration’s public responses to judicial reform in Israel and lack of comment on Abbas’s announced firings is indicative of a “standard operating procedure,” which former President Barack Obama put in place to criticize Israel while supporting the P.A. unconditionally, according to Schanzer.

“This is a continuation of the Obama administration’s policy of providing assistance to the P.A. without requiring necessary reforms,” Schanzer said. “The P.A. needs to crack down on corruption, end ‘pay for slay’ and name a successor to Abbas, among other reforms.”

“This administration needs to show tough love to the P.A., but it has barely used its voice to address these challenges,” he added.

Schanzer cited the recent two-day, Israel Defense Forces operation in Jenin as an example of the authority’s failure to assert control within its own jurisdiction.

“The P.A. was either unwilling or unable to take care of its own security in the city of Jenin for years,” he said. As a result, Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Lions’ Den “were allowed to run rampant,” he added.

Recent polls show that Abbas is deeply unpopular.

According to a recent report in the P.A.’s Wafa news agency, Abbas dismissed the governors of Jenin, Nablus, Qalqilya, Tulkarm, Bethlehem, Hebron, Tubas and Jericho, as well as the P.A. representatives for North Gaza, Gaza City, Khan Younis and Rafah.

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