The latest victim of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's effort to intimidate his critics ahead of elections is Nasser al-Kidwa (pictured), a former PA foreign minister and a nephew of former PLO leader Yasser Arafat. Earlier this month, Abbas expelled Kidwa from Fatah and suspended PA funding to the organization he heads: the Yasser Arafat Foundation. He later fired Kidwa from his job as chairman of the foundation and ordered the arrest of his bodyguard, Qadri Ataya. (Photo by Abbas Momani/AFP via Getty Images)
The Biden administration is reportedly planning to "reset" US relations with the Palestinians.
An internal memo presented to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on March 1 states: "As we reset US relations with the Palestinians, the Palestinian body politic is at an inflection point as it moves towards its first elections in 15 years."
The memo reintroduces some of the issues that the George W. Bush and the Barack Obama administrations pushed forward, such as the strengthening of Palestinian institutions, including civil society and media watchdogs.
The document, in addition, mentions the resumption of US financial aid to the Palestinians and "means to advance the prospects of a negotiated two-state solution."
Sadly, while the Biden administration is talking about the "need to protect [Palestinian] civil society through the reduction of arrests of bloggers and dissidents," the Palestinian leadership is evidently moving in precisely the opposite direction.
Instead of enhancing the role of civil society organizations, the Palestinian leadership is hampering their work by imposing severe restrictions on them.
Instead of boosting public freedoms and bringing democracy to its people, the Palestinian leadership is harshly punishing those who speak out against its policies.
While the Biden administration says it wants to strengthen Palestinian civil society organizations, the Palestinian leadership is working to tighten its grip on these organizations.
Recently, Palestinian civil society organizations expressed their absolute rejection of attempts by the Palestinian Authority (PA) leadership to impose severe restrictions on their work. The organizations were responding to a recent decree issued by PA President Mahmoud Abbas that effectively turns Palestinian non-governmental organizations (NGOs) into government-controlled institutions.
Abbas's decree requires the organizations to present to the PA government an "annual action plan and estimated budget." This means that the organizations will be working for the PA government and not in accordance with their vision, mission, goals or programs.
"This [decree] undermines the professionalism, independence and freedom of civic activity, including its monitoring role over the performance of the executive authority and its objective to hold this authority accountable for its violations," several Palestinian civil society organizations said in a joint statement.
"This law by decree was issued within the framework of several ongoing laws by decree that are drafted in full secrecy and behind closed doors... the law hinders the right of assembly and organization and the right to exercise activities independent of ministries and the executive authority...
"The aforementioned law by decree violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 20) and The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 22), which confirms the basic right of freedom of association, independence of activities and financial sources. It also violates several resolutions issued by the UN Human Rights Council, including Resolution (22/6) of 21/03/2013, which calls on states not to impede the functional independence of associations and not to impose restrictions on potential sources of funding in a discriminatory manner."
Abbas's crackdown on Palestinian NGOs came as Palestinians prepare to hold their first general elections since 2006. The elections are part of Abbas's attempt to curry favor with the Biden administration and present himself as a leader who cares about democracy and fair elections. The fact is that Abbas is desperate for US funding to preserve his regime and remain in power until his last day.
The Palestinian parliamentary election has been set for May 22, while the vote for the PA presidency is scheduled to take place on July 31.
The timing of Abbas's move against the Palestinian civil society organizations is hardly coincidental. The 85-year-old Abbas wants to make sure that there is no criticism of him and his regime ahead of the elections.
Abbas is worried that Palestinian civil society organizations, which are not directly under the control of his government, would criticize him or his government on the eve of the planned elections. Such criticism, Abbas fears, will hurt his (and his ruling Fatah faction's) chances of winning the vote.
It is worth stressing that the Biden administration memo completely ignores Abbas's clampdown on the civil society organizations.
Abbas thus now feels free to crack down on any Palestinian who dares to differ with him or challenge his policies.
The latest victim of Abbas's effort to intimidate his critics ahead of the elections is Nasser al-Kidwa, a former PA foreign minister and a nephew of former PLO leader Yasser Arafat.
Earlier this month, Abbas expelled Kidwa from Fatah and suspended PA funding to the organization he heads: the Yasser Arafat Foundation. He later fired Kidwa from his job as chairman of the foundation and ordered the arrest of his bodyguard, Qadri Ataya.
Hassan Asfour, a former Palestinian cabinet minister and editor of the Palestinian news website Amad, denounced Abbas's measures against Kidwa as "political bullying."
Abbas's vengeance came in response to Kidwa's decision to form his own list to run in the parliamentary election. Kidwa is a member of the Fatah Central Committee, the highest decision-making body of Abbas's faction. Abbas was enraged because Kidwa said he wants to run on a separate list, and not as part of the Abbas-led Fatah slate.
In addition to Kidwa, a number of Fatah officials are also planning to run on separate lists in the parliamentary election. The officials are calling for a "radical change" of the Palestinian political system, a reference to the need to end Abbas's dictatorship.
Abbas's punitive measures against Kidwa are aimed at sending a warning to these officials that they would meet the same fate should they run outside the Abbas-led list. Abbas is essentially announcing that anyone who challenges him will be expelled from Fatah and deprived of money and employment.
Abbas is telling the Biden administration: Fund me to the tune of millions, my autocratic rule, assault on public freedoms and intimidation of critics and political rivals be damned.
Instead of holding Abbas to account for his repressive measures, the Biden administration seems to be headed toward financially supporting his totalitarian regime.
According to the internal memo, the US is planning to resume unconditional financial aid to the Palestinians in late March or early April. This means propping up Abbas and his associates ahead of the elections and allowing them to step up their campaign of intimidation against any candidate who dares to demand reforms and an end to rampant corruption.
The Biden administration is about to pump millions of dollars into Abbas's coffers to help him cut off the emergence of new and young leaders and to help him maintain his authoritarian rule over the Palestinians. Once the bounty is paid, Abbas shows all signs of stepping up his repressive measures against his rivals and critics to ensure that he and his Fatah faction triumph in the elections.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.