During a celebration in Ramallah marking the 52nd anniversary of the founding of his Fatah faction, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas declared that 2017 will be the "year of international recognition of the State of Palestine." Hailing the recent anti-settlement UN Security Council resolution 2334, Abbas said he was prepared to work with the new administration of Donald Trump "to achieve peace in the region."
But while Abbas and his lieutenants were celebrating in Ramallah, at least 11 Palestinians were wounded in a scuffle that erupted between rival Fatah factions in the Gaza Strip. According to sources in the Gaza Strip, the fight broke out between Abbas loyalists and supporters of estranged Fatah leader Mohammed Dahlan. The confrontation, which was the most violent between the two sides in many years, is yet another sign of increasing schism in Fatah. Moreover, it is an indication of how Abbas's control over his own faction is slipping through his hands. Hamas policemen who were at the scene did not interfere to break up the fight between the warring Fatah activists.
The melee in Gaza exposes as the lie that is Abbas's repeated claim of a unified Fatah, able to lead the Palestinians towards statehood. Incredibly, Abbas seeks global recognition of a Palestinian state at a time when the flames in his own backyard are set to engulf him and his questionable regime.
Abbas says he wants to work with the Trump Administration to achieve peace in the Middle East, yet he cannot even achieve peace in his very own faction.
Abbas's speech coincided with a new public opinion poll that showed that 64% of Palestinians want him to step down. The poll, conducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, also showed that two-thirds of Palestinians do not believe that the current Fatah leadership can achieve their aspirations.
The poll's findings show that the percentage of Palestinians who want Abbas to resign has risen over the past three months from 61% to 64%. More bad news from the poll: if presidential elections were to be held today, Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the terrorist group Hamas, would beat Abbas by 49% to 45%.
The results of the poll should not come as a surprise to those who have been monitoring Palestinian affairs for the past few years. Judging from the sentiments on the Palestinian street, there is good reason to believe that the 81-year-old Abbas, who is now in his 12th year of his four-year term in office, has long ago lost much of his credibility among his people. The real surprise is that only 64% of Palestinians want to see him gone.
Many Palestinians hold Abbas personally responsible for the continued and rapid deterioration in the Palestinian arena. They see his incompetent and failed leadership as the main reason behind the 2007 violent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. As soon as Hamas started shooting, Abbas's fragile, corrupt and strife-ridden Palestinian Authority security forces collapsed. Critics of Abbas say that lack of leadership and decision-making on his part facilitated the Hamas seizure of the Gaza Strip.
Yet over the years, it has become evident that Abbas has not only lost the Gaza Strip and its two million inhabitants to Hamas, but that he is also losing control over his own Fatah faction there. Abbas has managed to alienate many Fatah leaders and activists in the Gaza Strip (most of whom are not necessarily affiliated with his arch-rival, Dahlan) to a point where Palestinians are now openly talking about two different Fatah factions.
Instead of devoting his energies to freeing the Gaza Strip from the iron grip of Hamas, Abbas has spent the past few years waging war against anyone in Fatah who dares to challenge his policies or criticize him. In this regard, he has resorted to a number of punitive measures that have further escalated tensions among Fatah cadres.
These measures include cutting off salaries and pensions to Fatah employees whose loyalty to Abbas is in question or who are suspected of being affiliated with Dahlan. As far as Abbas is concerned, affiliation with Hamas is less of a crime than being affiliated with Dahlan or any of his rivals in Fatah. Another measure that Abbas has taken to punish his rivals in Fatah: stripping them of their parliamentary immunity. The latest victims of this punishment: Mohamed Dahlan, Nasser Juma'ah, Shami Al-Shami, Najat Abu Baker and Jamal Al-Tirawi. Abbas took the decision without seeking the approval of the Palestinian parliament, the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), or any other judicial or decision-making institution. His detractors point out that the removal of the parliamentary immunity is in violation of the Palestinian Basic Law, because the PLC is the only party authorized to take such a decision.
When Fatah legislators protested against Abbas's arbitrary measure by holding a sit-in strike inside the offices of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Ramallah, Abbas ordered his security forces to raid the compound and evict them by force. "This is a grave violation of the legislators' rights and it is completely unjustified," said a spokeswoman for Fatah in the Gaza Strip.
"It is also an indication of the repressive measures taken by the Palestinian Authority security forces. The legislators were holding a peaceful protest inside the offices of the Red Cross after President Abbas's decision to remove their parliamentary immunity. We hold the president, the prime minister and the security forces responsible for the violations against human rights and public freedoms. We also condemn the silence of the Red Cross towards this despicable assault against the legislators inside the (Red Cross) offices."
Abbas's crackdown on his Fatah critics has driven them into the open arms of Hamas. After Abbas's decision to strip the legislators of their parliamentary immunity, six Fatah PLC members participated in a Hamas-sponsored meeting of the PLC in the Gaza Strip. This was the first time since 2007 that such a move had been made.
The PLC has been effectively paralyzed since the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip. However, this has not prevented Hamas from continuing to convene sessions of the parliament in the Gaza Strip during the past few years. Until recently, Fatah legislators have boycotted these meetings because they do not recognize Hamas's rule over the Gaza Strip. Abbas's punitive and vengeful measures, however, have pushed Fatah legislators to change this status quo. This means that Fatah leaders in the Gaza Strip, unlike their colleagues in the West Bank, are de facto recognizing the Hamas rule over the Gaza Strip. This is wonderful news for Hamas, whose leader, Ismail Haniyeh (according to the latest poll) is likely to defeat Abbas in a presidential election.
Emboldened by the growing divisions in Fatah, Hamas leaders are also beginning to flirt with disgruntled Abbas critics who have been hurt by Abbas's measures. For the first time in many years, the Hamas government permitted thousands of Fatah gunmen to hold a military parade in the Gaza Strip this week, marking the faction's 52nd anniversary.
Pictured: For the first time in many years, Hamas permitted thousands of Fatah gunmen to hold a military parade in the Gaza Strip this week. (Image source: YouTube video screenshot)
The Fatah gunmen who marched in the Gaza Strip courtesy of Hamas are not supporters of Abbas, the overall commander of Fatah. Instead, they represent the "other face" of Fatah -- the one that does not believe in any peace process with Israel and shares Hamas's ambition of destroying Israel. The message that the Gaza Strip branch of Fatah wished to send to Abbas: Unlike you and your West Bank Fatah, we will not give up the "armed struggle" against Israel. "This parade sends a message to Abbas that Fatah has not relinquished the armed struggle," explained Palestinian political scientist Ibrahim Abrash.
Meanwhile, Abbas appears to be living on a different planet. His ego prevents him from grasping the news that the polls reveal: most of his people are done with him. He refuses to wake up to the truth that his Fatah faction is falling into pieces, his erstwhile loyalists getting into bed with Hamas. He asks the world to recognize a Palestinian state when his own private residence in the Gaza Strip is forbidden to him. Indeed, it seems that the Palestinians are moving toward a "no-state solution" -- a Gaza Strip run by Hamas and dissident Fatah members and a West Bank controlled by another Fatah that is still loyal to Abbas, largely because he is paying them salaries.
Abbas maintains that he is eager to work with the Trump Administration to achieve peace in the region. But will he have the courage to tell the new US administration some uncomfortable truths -- namely that he has become a political liability to the majority of his people, and that the Palestinians have never been as divided as they are at this moment? In short, will Abbas dare to share the truth of the splintered Fatah's no-state solution?
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.