Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has fired 12 governors in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, in a surprise move that has raised questions about his motives and intentions. The decision, announced on Thursday, August 10, 2023, came amid growing discontent and frustration with the PA’s performance and legitimacy, as well as rising tensions with Israel and internal divisions within the Palestinian leadership.

According to a presidential decree, Abbas dismissed the governors of eight provinces under Palestinian administration in the occupied West Bank, including Nablus, Jenin, Tulkarem, Qalqilya, Bethlehem, Hebron, Tubas and Jericho. He also fired four governors in the besieged Gaza Strip, where the PA has no effective control since the Hamas takeover in 2007. Only three areas – Ramallah, Salfit and Jericho – retained their governors.

The PA did not provide any official explanation for the move, which was described as a “routine procedure” by Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh. However, some sources suggested that it was part of a long-awaited political shake-up that Abbas had promised to carry out after the cancellation of the Palestinian elections earlier this year. The elections, which were supposed to be held in May for the first time since 2006, were postponed indefinitely by Abbas, who cited Israel’s refusal to allow voting in East Jerusalem as the main reason.

Some analysts said that Abbas was trying to appease the public anger and frustration with the PA’s corruption, inefficiency and lack of democracy, as well as to assert his authority and legitimacy amid challenges from his rivals. Abbas, who is 86 years old and in poor health, has been in power since 2005 and has not faced any serious competition or accountability. His term officially expired in 2009, but he has remained in office without holding new elections.

“Abbas is feeling the pressure from all sides and he is trying to show that he is still in charge and that he can make changes,” said Ghassan Khatib, a former PA minister and a political science professor at Birzeit University. “He is also trying to appease the public opinion and to respond to the demands for reform and renewal.”

However, some critics said that Abbas’s move was too little too late and that it would not address the root causes of the PA’s crisis or restore its credibility and popularity. They also pointed out that some of the fired governors were loyalists or relatives of Abbas and that their dismissal was not based on merit or performance. They also noted that Abbas did not consult with any of his partners or allies before making the decision, which reflected his autocratic and unilateral style of governance.

“This is a cosmetic change that does not touch the essence of the problem,” said Mustafa Barghouti, a prominent opposition leader and head of the Palestinian National Initiative party. “The problem is not with the governors but with the system that appoints them and controls them. The problem is with the lack of democracy and accountability in the PA.”Barghouti also said that Abbas’s move was aimed at consolidating his power and weakening his opponents, especially Hamas, which has gained popularity and support after its recent confrontation with Israel in Gaza.

He said that Abbas was trying to undermine any possibility of reconciliation or partnership with Hamas, which has rejected his decision to fire the Gaza governors.

“Abbas is trying to create more division and fragmentation among the Palestinians,” Barghouti said. “He is trying to isolate Hamas and to prevent any progress towards national unity and elections. He is also trying to please Israel and the US by showing that he is cracking down on any resistance or opposition.” The reaction from Israel and the US was muted, as both countries have been preoccupied with their own domestic and regional issues.

However, some observers said that Abbas’s move could have implications for the stalled peace process and the prospects for a two-state solution. They said that Abbas was signaling that he was not interested in engaging in any serious negotiations with Israel or in making any concessions on key issues such as Jerusalem, settlements and refugees.

“Abbas is sending a message that he is not ready to compromise or to accept any pressure from Israel or the US,” said Yossi Beilin, a former Israeli minister and peace negotiator. “He is also sending a message that he is not ready to share power or to accept any alternative leadership within the Palestinian camp. He is basically saying that he is here to stay until he dies.”

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