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February 11, 2022 9:44 am

Media Ignores Growing Despotism Inside Abbas’ PLO, as Palestinians Protest Corruption

avatar by Rachel O'Donoghue


Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, Russia November 23, 2021. Sputnik/Evgeny Biyatov/Kremlin via REUTERS

Little noted by the media, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has this week managed to consolidate his vice-like grip on power, by ensuring that both the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) Executive Committee, of which he serves as chairman, and the Fatah Central Committee are overflowing with his loyalists.

Gathered at the walled-in compound that is the presidential palace in Ramallah on February 7, leading members of the PLO held what has been described as a “rare meeting” for the group “to fill key roles that could hint at a favoured successor.”

According to Israeli media reports, octogenarian Abbas is said to have secured himself a number of wins when the Palestinian Central Council (PCC), which is the legislative authority within the PLO, voted in favor of appointing a raft of his loyalists into key leadership positions.

Among this chosen few is Hussein al-Sheikh, the head of the PA General Authority of Civil Affairs, who was tapped to fill the role vacated by the late Saeb Erekat, who was the secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee until his death in 2020.

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Also selected for a prominent new position was Mohammad Mustafa, who fills the seat in the PLO Executive Committee that was left vacant following former PLO spokesman Hanan Ashrawi’s 2020 resignation. Ashrawi complained at the time that the Palestinian leadership was shutting officials out from decision-making.

Another significant appointment at the meeting was long-time Abbas aide Rawhi Fattouh, 73, who was chosen to lead the National Council, which is the PLO’s highest policy-making entity.

The appointment of Sheikh, in particular, is noteworthy, because it signals that he is what the AFP described as “Abbas’s preferred choice as a presidential successor.”

The billing of Sheikh as Abbas’ heir apparent (see also Reuters) is problematic, to say the least.

This week’s Palestinian Central Council events suggest that Abbas is presiding over an autocracy. Yet his and his allies’ positions of power are presented by the media as a given, while the reality that the PLO’s recent moves represent an abject repudiation of the democratic process and the rule of law, has been left unreported by leading news publications.

As if any further evidence was needed of Abbas’ tendency toward authoritarianism, one need not look  further than his refusal to hold elections for the past 16 years, with the most recent vote that was scheduled for April 2021 being canceled for the dubious reason that Palestinians in the eastern part of Jerusalem would not be able to cast their ballots there.

Moreover, the AFP and Reuters failed to report that Sheikh is an alleged serial rapist and sexual abuser of women, according to a 2012 post on the Palestinian Kawther website, which was set up by Hebron journalist Kawther Salam.

Yet, this is not the only omission in the handful of international press reports about the once-in-a-blue-moon PLO meeting. Also absent was the fact that the gathering occurred against the backdrop of protests in the West Bank, in addition to widespread anger in Gaza directed towards the enclave’s terrorist rulers, Hamas.

Palestinian residents of Hebron and Bethlehem have taken to the streets recently to demonstrate against price hikes for basic goods, such as food and fuel. Protestors have been calling on the PA to take responsibility for these issues and, more importantly, address them.

In the Gaza Strip, citizens have been expressing rage at Hamas by posting messages online under the hashtag “They Kidnapped Gaza,” in addition to holding virtual protests.

“We see the buildings rising in the northern Gaza Strip, the investments, the high-rises. We all see it. You can’t close your eyes to it. … We all know that you’re swimming in corruption,” a Gazan named only as Jehad, said during one such event.

The lack of coverage of local Palestinian issues — that is, those that do not pertain to Israel or Israeli policy — is telling.

It is indicative of an international press that is only too willing to ignore newsworthy Palestinian issues if there is no angle that relates to the Jewish state, with the result being that Palestinian leaders are not held to account as they should be. Instead, their corruption is simply overlooked.

The absence of scrutiny by the media is helping enable Hamas and the PLO to blame Israel for the economic crises afflicting Palestinians (see here, for example). Not only is this an abdication of responsibility, but it also bodes ill for the future well-being of Palestinians living in parts of the West Bank and Gaza.

For instance, Abbas’ February 7 announcement that he would, if only left with “one penny,” pay it to the “heroic prisoners” — meaning terrorists who murder Jewish civilians and children — did not garner a single mention in international press reports.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, ordinary civilians are suffering as Hamas doubles down on buying rockets to launch at Israel and on luxury pieds-à-terre in Turkey (for more details on Hamas’ squirreled away funds, see HonestReporting’s recent campaign to expose entities that aid the terrorist group’s financial misdeeds).

The lack of a robust international press committed to reporting on the plight of Palestinians treats their governments’ corruption as the natural state of affairs. Such selective reporting fails to accurately convey the facts on the ground, and effectively normalizes the oppression of people living in the West Bank and Gaza that is caused by their leaders.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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