The mock trial in the Gaza Strip of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may seem like some sort of bizarre comedy act. The "trial," however, is designed to send a signal not only to Abbas, but to any Palestinian who even thinks of making peace with Israel or recognizing its right to exist. Pictured: Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly, September 20, 2017. (Photo by Kevin Hagen/Getty Images)
The Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas has made no secret of its desire to see Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas stand trial for betraying the Palestinians for his alleged "collaboration" with Israel and sanctions against the Gaza Strip.
Last year, a senior Hamas official, Ahmed Bahr, called for bringing Abbas to trial for "great treason" -- a crime punishable by death. Abbas is not only refusing to make peace with Hamas, he wants it to hand over its weapons to his government, Bahr said. "For that, he should be brought before a popular and constitutional court on charges of great treason."
Earlier, another Hamas official, Marwan Abu Ras, called for Abbas to be executed by hanging in accordance with Islamic sharia law. Abu Ras, accusing Abbas of "collaboration" with Israel, claimed that the Palestinian president was depriving the Gaza Strip of international financial aid. "Abbas is the biggest traitor the Palestinian cause has known," he said. "He should be put on trial in the center of the Gaza Strip and sentenced to death by hanging in line with sharia law."
Hamas's leaders are angry with Abbas: they say that he recognizes Israel's right to exist and is even prepared to accept US President Donald Trump's upcoming plan for peace in the Middle East, known as the "Deal of the Century."
They also say they want to hang Abbas because his security forces conduct security coordination with Israel in the West Bank and because of the economic sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip. The sanctions include cutting salaries to thousands of Palestinian employees there.
Above all, Hamas's leaders say the organization does not -- and will not -- recognize Israel's right to exist.
They seem to think, moreover, that chances of ever seeing Abbas stand trial for his alleged "crimes" is unrealistic to the point of being nearly impossible to achieve. Abbas is sitting in Ramallah, the de facto capital of the Palestinians, where he is protected not only by his security forces, but also by the Israel Defense Forces. Abbas undoubtedly knows that were it not for Israel's presence in the West Bank, Hamas would have overthrown his regime, dragged him to the center of Ramallah and hanged him for his alleged betrayal of the Palestinians.
Hamas's supporters know that Abbas is not going to show up in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip anytime soon, if ever. Abbas is also not about to hand himself over to Hamas and other Palestinians who clearly want to put him on trial for his treachery.
So impatient are Abbas's political foes, however, that they decided to hold their own trial for the "traitor" and "collaborator."
On March 10, a Hamas-affiliated group called the Popular Movement for National Salvation held a mock trial for the 83-year-old Abbas at the Rashad Shawa Cultural Center in Gaza City. Hundreds of Palestinians, including heads of clans, university students, and employees whose salaries have been cut by Abbas, attended the "trial." Many in the audience carried small signs calling on Abbas to "go away."
The court "prosecutor" read out 17 charges against Abbas. They included "usurping authority since 2009" (Abbas's four-year-term in office expired in January 2009), causing the death of dozens of Palestinians by depriving them of medical treatment, cutting welfare payments to orphans and widows, cutting the supply of electricity (to the Gaza Strip), and complicity with Israel in imposing a blockade on the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave to prevent Hamas from importing weapons.
Those who attended the "trial" also charged Abbas with "inciting" Israel to launch military strikes against the Gaza Strip, violating the Palestinian Basic Law, obstructing the work of the Palestinian parliament, committing war crimes against the Palestinian people and perpetrating hundreds of acts of torture against Palestinian detainees. In addition, the charge sheet against Abbas accused him of conducting security coordination and promoting normalization with Israel, as well as abusing his position for personal and family interests.
At the end of the "trial," the "court" announced its verdict: guilty. The court found Abbas guilty of deliberately committing all of the crimes attributed to him and announced that he should be punished with the most severe penalties in accordance with Palestinian Penal Code -- a reference to the death sentence.
To some, the mock trial in the Gaza Strip may seem trivial, or like some sort of bizarre comedy act. The "trial," however, is something else entirely: it is designed to send a signal not only to Abbas, but to any Palestinian who even thinks of making peace with Israel or recognizing its right to exist. The "trial" is aimed at showing what awaits any Palestinian who dares to work with Israel by conducting security coordination or normalizing ties with it. Verdict: Any Palestinian who accepts a peace plan with Israel will also be found guilty -- and signing his own death warrant.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.