On the eve of US envoy Jason Greenblatt's visit to Ramallah last week, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrated in the city, calling on Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas to resign. The protesters also condemned the ongoing security cooperation between the PA and Israel.
"Listen, listen to us, Abbas; collect your dogs and leave us alone," the Palestinian protesters chanted during what has been described as the largest anti-Abbas demonstration in Ramallah in recent years. They also called for the abrogation of the Oslo Accords with Israel, and denounced Abbas as a "coward" and an agent of the Americans.
It is not clear if Greenblatt had been aware of the large anti-Abbas demonstration, which came in protest against PA security forces' violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators in Ramallah a few days earlier.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with US envoy Jason Greenblatt (left), in Ramallah, on March 14, 2017. (Image source: NTDTV video screenshot)
At that protest, PA security officers used excessive force to disperse Palestinians who were demonstrating against the PA's decision to prosecute four Palestinians for illegal possession of weapons. PA security forces arrested -- and later released -- the four suspects, although they had reportedly planned to carry out an attack against Israelis. One of the suspects, Basel Al-Araj, was killed in an armed clash with Israeli soldiers. (Al-Araj was wanted by Israel for planning an attack on Israelis. When Israeli soldiers surrounded the house where he was hiding, he opened fire from at them before he was killed.)
The killing of Al-Araj and the PA's decision to prosecute his friends triggered the first protest that was brutally suppressed by the PA security forces. The second demonstration in Ramallah, a few days later, came in response to the excessive use of force by the PA security forces against the protesters.
The protests in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians, are yet another sign of growing discontent among Palestinians with Abbas and his autocratic regime. The Palestinians are particularly enraged over the Palestinian Authority's security coordination with Israel, which is primarily aimed at combating terrorism and preventing Hamas from seizing control over the West Bank.
Yet this was far from a simple a protest against Abbas and his security forces. It was also a rallying cry for pursuing with further vigor the armed struggle against Israel.
"No to peace and no to all the nonsense, we want bullets and rockets," some of the protesters chanted. Notably, these calls in favor of an armed struggle against Israel were coming from the streets of Ramallah and not the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The protests also reflect Palestinians' rejection of the so-called peace process with Israel. In addition to the calls on Abbas to step down, the protesters demanded as well that the PA leadership cancel all agreements with Israel, first and foremost the Oslo Accords.
In other words, Palestinians are trying extremely hard to get their message across: Israel is our enemy, not our peace partner.
In a desperate bid to contain the growing resentment on the Palestinian street, Abbas ordered an inquiry into the police violence against the Ramallah protesters. In that episode, journalists and lawyers, too, were among those who were brutally beaten by Abbas's security officers.
Still, many Palestinians voiced skepticism about Abbas's intentions, and pointed out that previous commissions of inquiry into police violence have rarely led to punitive measures against those responsible. "The formation of a commission of inquiry into the police violence is another attempt by Abbas to contain the anger of the Palestinian street and avoid an intifada against his regime," remarked a Palestinian journalist in Ramallah. "Abbas's Zionist Palestinian Authority poses a threat to the Palestinian cause."
As Abbas was meeting with the US envoy, a public opinion poll published in Ramallah showed that a majority of 64% of Palestinians would like to see their president resign. Another 61% of Palestinians expressed dissatisfaction with Abbas's performance. The poll also found that if presidential elections were held in the West Bank and Gaza Strip today, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would receive the same percentage of votes as Abbas.
None of this -- not the protests of rage and not the Palestinians' expressions of disgust -- appears to bother Abbas.
This is a president who seems utterly unconnected to reality -- namely that a large number of Palestinians are disillusioned with him and see him as a puppet in the hands of Israel and the US. For now, he does not seem to care what his people think about him. But in the long run, he would never be able to deliver on any peace process with Israel without the backing of his people. Like his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, he does not want to go down in history as a "traitor" who sold out to Israel and the Jews.
Abbas, whose four-year-term term in office expired back in January 2009, is reported to have told the US envoy that a "historic" peace deal with Israel is possible. According to a statement released by the US Consulate in Jerusalem, Abbas also "committed to preventing inflammatory rhetoric and incitement (against Israel)."
So here is a Palestinian leader mouthing off about a "historic" deal with Israel, while only a few hundred meters away his people have made their message of rejection -- of him and of peace -- clear as a bell.
In a further irony, here is a Palestinian leader talking about preventing incitement while he and his media outlets and senior officials still spearhead a campaign to delegitimize and isolate Israel.
Just this week, Abbas decided to decorate for "bravery" senior UN official Rima Khalaf for publishing a controversial report that accuses Israel of "apartheid." Khalaf has become a hero in the eyes of many Palestinians because of her report and subsequent resignation.
Abbas's foreign minister, Riad Malki, has meanwhile voiced outrage over the UN secretary-general's decision to drop the "apartheid" report (the reason Khalaf resigned). Malki said that the PA leadership has instructed all its embassies and representatives around the world to distribute the report as evidence of Israeli "crimes" against the Palestinians.
Abbas's pledge to prevent inflammatory rhetoric against Israel seems to have missed his editors and journalists.
Take, for example, the Palestinian Authority-controlled media's response to last week's Jerusalem marathon. In the PA media, the sports event is depicted as part of Israel's scheme to "Judaize" Jerusalem and change the "Arab and Islamic character" of the city.
In addition, Abbas's media continues to portray visits by Jews to the Temple Mount as "provocative invasions" of the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The Jewish visitors are described as "settler gangs" who carry out "suspicious tours" of Islamic religious sites. It is precisely this kind of terminology that is driving many Palestinians to carry out stabbings and car-rammings against Israelis.
Abbas can make all the promises in the world to the new US envoy. Fulfillment of any of them, however, is a different story altogether.
Abbas has had multiple opportunities to reach a "historic" deal with Israel, yet he has never delivered. Quite the contrary: he has repeatedly rejected offers for holding direct talks with Israel, insisting instead on pursuing his campaign to internationalize the conflict with the hope of imposing a solution on Israel.
Abbas knows anyhow that he would never be able to win the support of a majority of Palestinians for any peace agreement he signs with Israel. No Palestinian leader is authorized to offer any concessions to Israel in return for peace.
The "cordial" and "positive" meeting with the new US envoy will change nothing -- certainly not Abbas's stripes.
Abbas's modus operandi is to flee from his problems at home by presenting himself to the international community as a leader who seeks peace. With every lick of the flames that threaten to engulf his palace of deception, the 82-year-old Abbas runs to seek sympathy among world leaders and international public opinion. Abbas's promises of peace are as empty as the political sway he parades to his Western donors.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.