Tuesday, February 15, 2011

PA cabinet changes show Abbas is freaking out


Abbas is worried that the tsunami that swept the Tunisian and Egyptian presidents from office would sooner or later hit Ramallah.

In the eyes of many Palestinians, Abbas is not much different than Hosni Mubarak and Zine al-Abidin Bin Ali. Like the two ousted dictators, Abbas has also been accused of being a “puppet” in the hands of the Americans.

The events in Tunisia and Egypt have taught Abbas that US backing alone is not a guarantor for the survival of his regime in the West Bank. He knows that without the support of a majority of Palestinians, he could end up facing a popular revolt.

Arab leaders who failed to draw the conclusion from the downfall of the Bin Ali regime have finally woken up. The intifada that ended Mubarak’s authoritarian rule has shown them that the Arab masses are serious in their demand for reform and democracy.Abbas is perhaps one of the few, if not only, Arab leaders who stand to lose most from Mubarak’s departure from the scene. For many years, the Palestinian president considered Mubarak to be a strong political ally in the Arab and international arenas.

Mubarak supported Abbas against Hamas, Israel, the US and hostile Arab and Islamic regimes such as Syria and Iran.

The downfall of Mubarak’s regime is a “catastrophe” for Abbas and an award for Hamas, admitted a senior Fatah official.

Almost immediately after it was announced that Mubarak had stepped down, Abbas convened PLO leaders in Ramallah and declared his intention to hold long overdue presidential and parliamentary elections by September. Earlier, Abbas had also announced plans to hold municipal elections in July. On Monday, he went a step further by asking Fayyad to form a new cabinet.

All these measures are seen as an attempt on the part of Abbas to prevent the anti-government tsunami from reaching the Mukata “presidential” compound in Ramallah. However, it’s hard to see how Abbas would be able to hold the elections given the fact that Hamas and other Palestinian groups have announced that they would not only boycott the vote, but would also prevent it from taking place in the Gaza Strip.

It’s also hard to see how the replacing of a number of cabinet ministers would help Abbas and Fayyad, especially in light of the grave damage that has been caused to the PA leadership’s credibility with the recent publication of the leaked “Palestine Papers” by Al-Jazeera.

Had Abbas called for new elections and reshuffled his cabinet before the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, he would have scored more points. But the fact that he’s doing all these things only now reinforces the impression that Abbas, like most Arab leaders these days, is freaking out.

Ted Belman

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