Is Palestinian Authority self-destructing? Local districts challenge PA under cover of corona

Local district leaders see the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to challenge the PA’s authority.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

The Palestinian Authority (PA) could collapse as a result of a “perfect storm” of internal crises caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and security troubles arising in part from the termination of cooperation with Israel, as local leaders are challenging the old order.

According to a Makor Rishon report, although the issue of sovereignty has been swept under the rug due to the upsurge of infections in Israel, it is the proximate, and self-inflicted, cause of President Mahmoud Abbas’ troubles.

Since Abbas declared that the PA was cutting security coordination with Jerusalem over Israel’s planned sovereignty move, it’s led to a disconnect between the PA and its districts as travel between them has to be coordinated with the IDF.

The various governors are PA appointees, but they do not necessarily feel bound by its dictates, explained a Kalkilya resident, Abu Razi, to the Hebrew weekly.

“With all due respect to the government and spokesmen for the Ministry of Health and other ministries, the governors know the territory and the conduct of the people, and therefore also know what needs to be done to deal with the reality in their district – with the plague or with the economic situation,” Razi said.

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This has led to district governors ignoring the wishes of their leaders by, for instance, letting businesses stay open even though a general closure was announced by Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh to stem the corona infection rate.

They have also begun privately coordinating with Israel even if they pay lip service to Abbas’ decree, a PA source said.

This muscle-flexing allows them to gain popularity on the street as they are seen as putting their residents first, which can also help them in the ongoing internal power struggle for dominance in the PA as they eye the current shakiness of the government.

They are also eyeing the day after Abbas, as the PA leader, 84, has suffered health issues.

Israel’s Channel 20 recently reported that the governors’ rebellion is being directed by Majed Faraj, head of the PA General Intelligence Services. Faraj, the network said, is trying to embarrass Abbas over his close ties to Faraj rival Jibril Rajoub, whom Abbas appointed to lead the PA’s efforts to forestall any declaration of Israeli sovereignty in Judea and Samaria.

The failing ability of the central authority to keep a grip on the people can also be seen in the growing street protests in recent days against Ramallah’s corona-inspired restrictions and the PA’s perceived overt corruption.

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At a demonstration in Ramallah last week, organizers said that their government was using the health emergency as justification for shutting down freedom of speech.

Several activists were arrested, but in another pushback, more than 100 Palestinian journalists, academics and writers signed a public petition calling for their release.

More evidence of the PA’s loosening grip on power was the resistance of shopkeepers to closing due to corona restrictions in Nablus (Shechem) on Saturday.

PA police opened fire on the shopkeepers. Senior Fatah official Emad al-Din Abu al-Ameed, who was there to prevent an outbreak of violence, was shot in the thigh and died of his injuries.

“The situation in Nablus is very tense,” a Fatah official told The Jerusalem Post. “Many Fatah members are very angry with the Palestinian Authority. We are now working to avoid anarchy and lawlessness.”

A wave of street protests followed the killing. The Nablus governor immediately said a commission of inquiry would be established.