Is Abbas the Address?

Following the threats of PA chairman Abbas to dismantle the PA and leave the territories, Israel seems to be supporting political measures aimed at cementing his powers as the Chairman of the PA. Focusing on Abbas' personal authorities may have problematic ramifications

In the past few days, international financial aid is forwarded to the Chairman's office bank accounts. The money, largely donated by the Arab League, supports the payment of the Palestinian public sector.

This step joins a series of statements and measures aimed at supporting Abu Mazen's capacities as a possible 'Address' for future diplomatic dialogue. In this context, Yuval Diskin, the head of Israel's General Security Services' stated lately that the release of prisoners will only be done in coordination with Abbas' office.

Seemingly, these steps produce positive outcomes. Transferring funds directly to the chairman's office has created a 'Hamas Bypass' that enables assuaging the economic crisis in the PA. This improvement may be accredited to Abbas. Moreover, the Chairman's bureau issued a press release today claiming that a unilateral cease fire was brokered in the PA.

However, Reut Institute contends that despite short-term gains achieved by this policy, focusing the Israeli policy on a Palestinian persona rather than an institution might entail negative ramifications in the long term.

The current Palestinian Constitutional Structure stems from the Palestinian Basic Law. In 2003, following increasing international and Israeli pressure, the basic law was reformed to create the position of the Palestinian Prime Minister. The aim of the constitutional reform was to undermine the authority of Yassir Arafat, then Chairman, and bolster Abbas' capacities as a 'checks and balances' system.

However, Hamas' victory has rendered this reform irrelevant and even harmful. Abu Mazen found himself in the weakened chairman position, facing a stubborn opposition in Haniyeh that controls an extended executive power (see Palestinian Elections - Towards Institutional Dysfunction).

While attempting to strengthen Abu Mazen through the transfer of money and weapons and coordination of border control issues, Israel and the international community are undertaking actions that enhance the capacity of the Chairman's office.

Building the Palsestinian political system around personal figures might lead to an absurd situation in which the position 'tailored' for Abu Mazen will be once again manned by a 'persona non grata'. For example, should Abbas resign, his immediate successor, for the period of 60 days leading to a general elections, is the head of the Palestinian Parliament, Azziz Dweik – a Hamas member.

Should such a scenario come into effect, Israel might find itself, at least temporarily, facing a Hamas-led address that enjoys the powers and legitimacy afforded to Abbas.