Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ ‘Heavy-Handed Rule’ Exposed by Reports of Secret Wiretapping Operation
Mahmoud Abbas found himself under domestic fire once more on Tuesday, as reports emerged of a secret wire-tapping operation, allegedly backed by the CIA, that targeted allies and rivals of the Palestinian Authority president alike.
The Associated Press reported that a former Palestinian intelligence chief and the head of the West Bank Bar Association are suing the PA, after a purported whistleblower alleged the two were targeted by the wiretap operation.
Bar association head Jawad Obeidat and former West Bank intelligence chief Tawfiq Tirawi said that a report disclosing details of the operation — said to have been written by a disgruntled former member of the surveillance unit in charge — was authentic beyond doubt. “I made these phone calls and this is evidence that the leaked report is true,” Obeidat said.
According to AP, the 37-page report has been shared widely among Palestinians, mostly on WhatsApp. The document alleges that three of the Palestinian security services set up a joint electronic surveillance unit in mid-2014 and monitored the phone calls of thousands of Palestinians, from senior figures in terrorist groups to judges, lawyers, civic leaders, and political allies of Abbas.
One leading Palestinian affairs analyst said the revelations were “another sign of Abbas’ increasingly heavy handed rule at home.”
“In the past few years, he’s clamped down on everything from protests, to social media comments, to conversations among his rivals and allies,” Grant Rumley — a research fellow with the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank in Washington, DC — observed.
“This story will rattle the Palestinian political class,” Rumley, the author of a biography of Abbas, said. “It was no secret that Abbas was spying on rivals before, but the scale of his operation — and the fact that it targeted members of his own party — will cause a lot of backlash.”
Rumley argued that the claims of CIA involvement with the wiretap operation would weaken the Palestinian leader’s recent attempts to depict himself as standing up to American diktats on the status of Jerusalem and future peace talks with Israel.
“He slams the US publicly yet relies on the CIA to help solidify his grip on power at home,” Rumley remarked.