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What the Biden Administration Should Do Now About the Palestinian Authority

The Palestinian Authority elections were called not because Palestinian Authority President-for-Life Mahmoud Abbas had suddenly become a believer in democracy, but because he wanted to put on a show for the Americans, with what he thought would be a reasonable facsimile of democracy, hoping thereby to turn on the spigot of aid that Trump had turned off. But when it became clear he would lose both the presidential and the parliamentary elections, he cancelled the elections. And he did so with the support of the Americans, who feared that a loss of power by Abbas could only mean a victory for Hamas. Palestinian political analyst Nadia Harhash explains here.

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But when President Abbas canceled the elections, the US, instead of reprimanding him, rewarded him with money,” she said. “The US move was a mistake and it sent the wrong message to the Palestinian leadership – that it no longer needs to obtain legitimacy from the Palestinians because it already secured unconditional US financial aid. Now the Palestinian leaders feel free to go after anyone who speaks out against them.”

The Americans should not have promised any aid to Abbas, but mainly for reasons other than what Harhash adduces. Until the “Pay-For—Slay” program ends, the Biden Administration should not, and legally can not, supply any aid to the PA. It is bound by the Taylor Force Act, and cannot pretend that an exception can be made in the case of “humanitarian” aid; there is no such exception in the Act.

Asked if she was afraid for her life after the death of Banat, Harhash told the Post: “Of course I’m afraid. I’m not the only one who’s afraid. There are several other activists and journalists who are very worried.

The death of anti-Abbas Palestinian political activist Nazir Banat has already led to many days of continuous, and sometimes violent, street protests against Abbs and the PA, especially in Hebron, Jerusalem, and Ramallah. Given this response, an anxious Abbas is unlikely to repeat that performance and murder any more of his critics; he now has to worry about a firestorm of rage spreading among the Palestinians across the West Bank, too large for his security forces to quell.

“There is no difference between those who torched my car and those who killed Nizar Banat,” she said. “They want to silence us; they want to intimidate us. The killing of Banat was aimed at sending a warning to people like me that we must keep our mouths shut in the face of this US-backed corrupt, totalitarian and criminal regime.”

That Nadia Harhash has just spoken out so boldly in this way, and to an Israeli paper, the Jerusalem Post, flatly accusing the PA of murder, is conclusive evidence that the PA’s campaign to “silence” and “intimidate” its critics has failed. From here on, Abbas will have to be much more circumspect in his repression of dissent. He knows that Washington is watching.

What should the Biden Administration do at this point? First, it should make clear that it thinks the murder of Nizar Banat should be investigated, not by the PA, but by an outside body, possibly created by the U.N. Second, the Biden Administration should announce that the aid it has promised to the PA will be withheld, until the report on Banat’s death is complete and “certain other measures are taken by the PA to promote democracy in the Palestinian-ruled territories.” This will semaphore to the Palestinians that the U.S. is not in the PA’s pocket, as Harhash seems to think, but instead, is pressuring the PA to allow for a democratic, non-violent opposition to develop, without having to endure threats and intimidation from the PA. Third, when the aid is released, much of it should bypass the PA and be given directly to those Palestinians working to create a civil society, including such admirable people as Nadia Harhash and Khaled Abu Toameh. American money could fund the work of investigative journalists whose main focus will be corruption; they could start by examining the billions amassed by Hamas leaders and the hundreds of millions amassed by Mahmoud Abbas. The Palestinians who have been robbed by their leaders of so much will be eager to learn the details. American money could also fund new participants in the Palestinian media — newspapers, as well as radio and television stations –run by those opposed both to the terrorism of Hamas and to the despotism and corruption of the PA.

This development of a civil society run, ideally, by selfless technocrats, will involve a long and difficult slog. It may not pan out. But what other half-way decent choice do the Palestinians, do the Israelis, do the Americans now have?

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