Ramallah, occupied West Bank – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ resignation from the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) Executive Committee has been slammed and ridiculed by analysts, political opponents and members of his own Fatah party.
Abbas, together with 10 other members of the committee, resigned on Saturday night and called for an emergency meeting of the Palestine National Council (PNC), or Palestinian congress, on September 15 to elect new members.
But several analysts and politicians charge the move is aimed at ridding the Palestinian Authority (PA) of critics, entrenching cronies, and shoring up a facade of reform.
“It’s all theatrics. It is highly possible that the PNC will refuse to accept the resignations or will re-elect the same members again,” political analyst Professor Samir Awad from Birzeit University, near Ramallah, told Al Jazeera.
Abbas is living in denial. The PA hasn't cared for years that they don't have the support of the Palestinian street. Are we expected to suddenly believe they genuinely want reform?
A PNC emergency meeting is only held under extreme circumstances. The PNC comprises 740 members who strategise the PLO’s policies as well as electing the Executive Committee, the PLO’s primary executive body.
“The PA isn’t interested in real reform. They are just interested in getting rid of opponents and displaying a visage of reform,” said Awad.
“Abbas is living in denial. The PA hasn’t cared for years that they don’t have the support of the Palestinian street. Are we expected to suddenly believe they genuinely want reform?” asked Awad.
Political analyst Benedetta Berti from Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies (INSS) concurred with Awad.
“If these resignations lead to a genuine reshuffling of the committee it will be a good step. However, I’m sceptical,” Berti told Al Jazeera.
“Abbas displays strong centralising tendencies like his predecessor Yasser Arafat. Unlike Arafat, Abbas doesn’t have the charisma or political clout to carry it off.”
The move comes as criticism against Abbas’ autocratic rule mounts from all directions: not only from Hamas, but also from the PA-affiliated Fatah movement, of which Abbas is a member.
A number of PA ministers refused to speak to the media on the latest developments, saying the whole issue of the resignations was “a silly game”.
PA minister for Palestinian Economic Development and Reconstruction (PECDAR) Muhammad Shtayyeh was one of them.
“I don’t want to comment on this. I have my own issues with this whole development,” Shtayyeh told Al Jazeera.
A longtime political opponent of Abbas’ and former Fatah leader in Gaza, Muhammad Dahlan, now exiled in Dubai after fleeing the occupied West Bank on alleged corruption charges, accused Abbas of causing major divisions in Palestinian politics.
Several students at Birzeit University, near Ramallah, told Al Jazeera that it was alleged several months ago that Dahlan had urged his supporters to vote for rival Hamas rather than Fatah during student elections, such was his disdain for the PA president.
Much of the criticism of the Palestinian president has been directed at his autocratic rule.
Abbas holds enormous power. Not only is he president of the PA, but he is also the president of the PLO.
He was popularly chosen as president in 2005, but in the absence of elections he has remained in power long after his term ended in 2009.
Abbas has used this significant power to sideline his critics and remove them from positions of power.
Yasser Abed-Rabbo was dismissed as secretary-general of the PLO several weeks ago after he criticised Abbas.
In another development, Abbas signed a presidential order last Thursday ordering the closure of the Palestinian branch of the Geneva Initiative, which is implemented by the Palestinian Peace Coalition headed by Abed-Rabbo.
Former PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, popular with Western countries, resigned in 2013 as tensions in the PA leadership heightened and over personal differences with Abbas.
The PA seized funds belonging to an NGO run by Fayyad last month without any explanation. A Palestinian court later cancelled the seizure.
The PA has since accused Abed-Rabbo, Dahlan, and Fayyad of being involved in a conspiracy to undermine the leadership.
Corruption, patronage, authoritarianism, the silencing of dissent and the arrest of critics are endemic to the PA.
Meanwhile, charges of corruption against the PA continue to make the news.
The Associated Press recently reported new cases which involved documents leaked online “detailing two attempts by Palestinian officials to misuse public funds which have triggered outrage, highlighting the corruption and mismanagement critics say remains rampant in the Palestinian government”.
These developments come as the Palestinian economy stagnates and Palestinians complain about inadequate government services.
Repeated attempts by Al Jazeera to speak to PA spokespeople were unsuccessful.
The PA also stands accused of the persecution of political opponents.
“Corruption, patronage, authoritarianism, the silencing of dissent and the arrest of critics are endemic to the PA,” Berti said.
The persecution of political opponents has included the arrest of Palestinians for criticising Abbas and his government on Facebook.
Recently the Palestinian Civil Authority for the Independence of the Judiciary Body and Rule of Law (ISTIQLAL) filed a million-dollar lawsuit against the PA accusing it of torturing a Palestinian while in detention.
Ahmed al-Deek, a student at the Al-Quds Open University, was imprisoned for five days in early July after he criticised the local government in his village Kafr ad-Dik, in the northern occupied West Bank, on Facebook.
Deek says that during his detention he was beaten with sticks and batons, deprived of sleep, and humiliated.
He was released when his health started to seriously deteriorate and the authorities feared he might die in detention.
“Cases of torture in the PA prisons are now relatively high. There are no instances of Palestinian officials or security people brought to justice,” said Issam Abdin, who is involved in the lawsuit and is the head of Palestinian rights group Al Haq’s legal research and advocacy unit in Ramallah.
“[Only] in a few cases have disciplinary measures been taken against persons convicted of torturing political detainees,” Abdin told Al Jazeera. “Furthermore, some people are still held in prisons in spite of court decisions that ordered their immediate release.”