How Mahmoud Abbas Crushed Palestinian Hopes for Democracy

Jan. 10 2019

Yesterday marked the fourteenth anniversary of Mahmoud Abbas’s election to the presidency of the Palestinian Authority (PA) for a four-year term. Not only have no subsequent elections for the presidency been held, but no elections for the Palestine Legislative Council, the PA’s parliament, have taken place since 2006. Abbas has now taken the additional step of formally dissolving that already-defunct body. Elliott Abrams marks the missed opportunity for Palestinian democracy:

That 2005 election was a milestone for Palestinians. Yasir Arafat had died the previous November, and this election was to choose his successor as head of the PA. It was a good election—free and fair in the sense that the votes were counted accurately and people could campaign against Abbas, [who] won only about 62 percent of the vote (compare this to Egypt’s President Sisi’s ludicrous claim to have won 97 percent of the vote in the 2018 election there). One challenger won 20 percent. Hamas boycotted the election, but was not forced to do so. . . .

[W]hat Abbas has done since the last election, in 2006, is to gut the development of Palestinian democratic institutions. There are excuses, of course: Hamas is too dangerous and might win as it did in 2006, Israel is to blame, and so on. But in fact Abbas is snuffing out all opposition to his rule and forbidding all dissent. . . .

[T]he 2005 election and the parliamentary election the following year marked the high-water mark of democracy in the West Bank. As Abbas marks his anniversary in power, those who had hoped for positive political evolution in the Palestinian territories can only mourn the way he has governed, especially in the last decade. He has outlawed politics in the West Bank. Under the guise of fighting Hamas, he has forbidden any criticism of the corrupt rule [of his] Fatah party and prevented any debate on the Palestinian future. Just as Arafat soon eliminated all independent institutions when he returned to the Palestinian territories in 1994, Abbas has crushed the hopes that arose—after Arafat’s death in 2004 and his own election in 2005—for a democratic future for Palestinians.

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Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Arab democracy, Hamas, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Politics & Current Affairs

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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Read more at Tablet

More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat