Abbas moving to step down?/ Israel buys Kurdish Oil

Aug 27, 2015

Abbas moving to step down?/ Israel buys Kurdish Oil

Update from AIJAC

August 27, 2015
Number 08/15 #05

This Update features two article discussing this week’s decision by Palestinian Authority head Mahmoud Abbas to resign as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee, along with numerous other members, and call a new special session of the Palestinian National Council (PNC) to elect a new committee. Some see this move as a sign the 79-year-old Abbas may be preparing to leave office. In this Update, Palestinian politics experts look at the likely intent and impact of this move, and there’s also a discussion of the significance of reports that Israel has recently been importing most of its oil from Iraqi Kurdistan, via Turkey.

The first comment on Abbas comes from the Washington Institute’s Palestinian politics expert Ghaith al-Omari – himself a former senior PA official. Omari argues that Abbas’ PLO resignation move is actually a manoeuvre to consolidate control within the PLO by removing rivals, rather than any preparation to hand on authority to a new generation. He explains how the PLO’s organs work, the background to this move including a wider campaign by Abbas to remove potential rivals from positions of influence, and how his opponents are now trying to challenge the new PNC meeting on procedural grounds. For all the background you need on this latest development in Palestinian politics, CLICK HERE.

Next up is British-based Palestinian researcher Mudar Zahran, who disagrees with Omari and argues that his sources in the PA tell him that Abbas genuinely is moving to, gradually give up power. He then proceeds to canvass possible successors – looking at the upsides and problems of figures often canvassed for the role including Palestinian General Intelligence Agency chief Gen. Majid €ŽFarraj, Jibril Rajoub, Abbas Zaki, Salam Fayyed and Ahmed Qurei. However, Zahran notes that any plan to succeed Abbas is likely to lead to a renewed Hamas push to take over the West Bank – especially if turmoil breaks out, which may leave Israel no choice but to resume direct control of the PA-controlled areas of the West Bank. He also confirms that, based on extensive interviews with members of the Palestinian public, many, perhaps most, Palestinians would prefer this to either the status quo or a Hamas takeover. For Zahran’s important insights into the realities of PA politics, CLICK HERE.

Finally, noted American foreign policy pundit Walter Russell Mead examines the significance of reports that Israel is importing most of its oil from Iraqi Kurdistan at the moment. He notes that the Baghdad government will object, but is too busy to do anything about it, and the transaction will likely strengthen the ability of the Kurds to fight ISIS. He also discusses the fact that the oil had to ship through Turkish pipelines, highlighting that a new Sunni alignment against Iran and ISIS is forming to which Israel is partially aligned – leading to unexpected outcomes like this oil transaction facilitated by Turkey even though Turkey is deeply hostile to Israel at the moment. For Mead’s discussion in greater depth, CLICK HERE.

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What Abbas’s PLO Resignation Means

Ghaith al-Omari

Policy Alert, August 25, 2015

The president’s sudden departure from the PLO executive committee was likely a maneuver to consolidate power, but it nonetheless exposes broader uncertainties in Palestinian politics.

On August 22, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas resigned from his position as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) executive committee, along with nine other committee members. While initially interpreted by commentators as the implementation of Abbas’s repeated threats to resign as leader of the key Palestinian institutions, developments so far indicate that, rather than signaling Abbas’s departure from Palestinian political life, this step is intended to consolidate his power within the PLO by removing some of his critics and appointing loyalists to the committee.


The executive committee, the PLO’s highest decisionmaking body, is composed of eighteen members elected by the Palestinian National Council (PNC). The current committee, which was elected in 2009, includes representatives of all the PLO’s constituent factions as well as a number of independents.

For its part, the PNC is often described as the PLO’s “legislative body.” It officially consists of 800 members, but only about 700 of these remained the last time the PNC met for a special session in 2009. Most PNC members reside outside the West Bank and Gaza, and many of the diaspora members oppose the principles of the Oslo Accords and President Abbas’s policies.

According to PLO regulations, if fewer than a third of the committee’s seats become vacant, the vacancies are filled during the next regular PNC session. (Even as a special session was held in 2009, the last regular PNC session hasn’t occurred since 1996.) If more than a third become vacant, then the vacancies are filled in a special session to be held within thirty days. For both regular and special PNC sessions, two-thirds of members constitute a quorum. In cases of force majeure, vacancies are filled in an emergency session by “the Executive Committee, the PNC leadership and any PNC members who are able to attend” without the need for a quorum.

The resignation of President Abbas and his nine committee colleagues is intended to create the vacancies needed to trigger new committee elections. Since most of the diaspora and Gaza-based PNC members will be unable to attend if the meeting is held in Ramallah, an emergency session will likely be attended predominantly by West Bank members and some from Jordan.

This move comes in the wake of various recent measures against critics of President Abbas, including the July removal of Yasser Abed Rabbo from his position as the committee’s secretary-general, the closing of the Palestinian Peace Coalition, an NGO chaired by Abed Rabbo, the targeting of former prime minister Salam Fayyad’s NGO, Future for Palestine, and ongoing measures against former Fatah official and Abbas rival Mohammad Dahlan. It also coincides with recent expressions of disquiet within the Fatah movement.

Although Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) are not members of the PLO, according to the 2012 Cairo agreement on Palestinian national unity, a committee will be created to reform the PLO, including reforming the PNC to include Hamas and PIJ members. This committee, however, has been inactive.


If President Abbas’s strategy comes to fruition, then a new executive committee is likely to be elected that would include some current members, among them Abbas himself and some of those who resigned, but exclude the president’s critics. This move is already generating controversy, with Abbas and the move’s supporters claiming it is intended to “invigorate the committee” and opponents asserting it is an “arbitrary move…meant for asserting control over it.” Opposition is likely to come from two main quarters: within the PLO and Hamas.

A number of the committee’s members have refused to resign, and thereby comply with Abbas’s plan, most notably representatives of left-leaning factions and some independents. Senior members of these factions have publicly criticized the gesture. While leftist factions enjoy only a limited public following, their opposition is significant in that it breaks the PLO’s tradition of reaching decisions by consensus.

In addition to political opposition, the move’s opponents are preparing to challenge it on a key point of procedure. They assert that PLO regulations authorize a PNC emergency session only to fill vacancies; thus, those members who refused to resign cannot be replaced. Ultimately, the decision on this point belongs to PNC president Salim Zanoun, who was the PNC’s vice president beginning in 1969 and has been its president since 1994. While he is a member of Abbas’s Fatah movement, he has in the past acted unpredictably and broken ranks with both the late PLO chairman Yasser Arafat and President Abbas.

Hamas has rejected the move, describing it as a breach of the Cairo unity agreement. This reaction, however, is only preliminary and is consistent with the organization’s continuing rhetoric against Abbas and the PA. The organization’s final decision is yet to come and will be dictated by a number of considerations.

For Hamas, this development comes at an interesting time, when the movement is attempting to assert itself as an independent actor in the regional and international arena and amid reports of efforts to reach a long-term ceasefire understanding with Israel. If Hamas feels that its efforts are gaining sufficient momentum, it may deem it in its interest to use this development to justify formally annulling the unity agreement with the PLO. If not, then it will content itself with having yet another rhetorical tool against Abbas.


Reports of President Abbas’s political demise may be premature. His and his colleagues’ recent resignations from the PLO executive committee are likely internal political maneuvers aimed at consolidating power. However, given the fluidity of the domestic and regional political scene, unexpected consequences cannot be discounted.

Whatever the outcome, these developments have once again exposed the many uncertainties that plague Palestinian politics as it relates to Abbas’s succession, the competition over domestic and international legitimacy between the PLO and Hamas, and transparency and procedural and political predictability of decisionmaking within Palestinian institutions. Unless these uncertainties are addressed through comprehensive political and institutional reforms, the Palestinian political system will remain vulnerable to crises that hold the risk of creating destabilizing power or institutional vacuums.

Ghaith al-Omari is a senior fellow at The Washington Institute.

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If Abbas leaves, who will fill the void?

Mudar Zahran

Israel Hayom, Aug. 24

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas recently resigned from his position as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee. My sources inside the top PLO ranks told me about €Žthis move weeks before it actually happened. They allege that “Abbas wants a soft exit from his €Žposition as president” because “he knows the PA is dying and he does not want to be there when €Žthe PA officially ends.”€Ž

While we hear all kinds of guesses about the reason behind Abbas’ move, two things are certain: €ŽFirstly, Abbas’ resignation is a first step toward giving up power. This does not necessarily mean €Žhe will resign from the presidency tomorrow, but it means that he no longer controls the PLO, €Žwhich controls the PA. This is like British Prime Minister David Cameron €Žresigning from his position as leader of the Conservative Party, but keeping his position as prime minister.€Ž

Secondly, Abbas’ resignation has now sparked speculation about who will fill his place if and €Žwhen he leaves.€Ž

Considering that Abbas is in his 80s and nobody lives forever, there is a legitimate question €Žof who will fill the gap once he leaves, whether he resigns because of ill health or simply passes €Žaway in his sleep.€Ž

So, who will be the next PA president?€Ž

The list of those wishing to become president is long; the list of those able to take €Žthe job is much shorter.€Ž

The first name that comes to mind is Palestinian General Intelligence Agency chief Gen. Majid €ŽFarraj. Farraj comes from Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem, which makes him closer to the €Žaverage Palestinian than most PA leaders who arrived there from Tunisia or Lebanon. Farraj €Ženjoys a reputation for fighting terrorism, including that coming from the PLO, itself. Farraj has €Žbeen running Palestinian intelligence very effectively, keeping its use of violent means against €Žthe Palestinian opposition to the “necessary” minimum. €Ž

Farraj also has extensive experience fighting terror in cooperation with the Mossad, the €ŽCIA (which trains his men to this day), and the British Secret Intelligence Service, MI6. This was evident in the breakthrough operation in which Palestinian intelligence helped the CIA €Žlocate and arrest a fugitive Libyan terrorist, Abu Anas al-Libi, in his hometown in Libya.€Ž

Farraj would make an effective, decent and capable PA president, but there is a problem: The €ŽPA’s strongmen fear that Farraj’s effectiveness and his proximity to the Americans would make him €Ž€Ž”too strong of a president for them”; for example, he could easily lock them up for corruption or take away their perks. Also, Farraj is relatively young, in his 50s, which does not sit well €Žwith PA/PLO old guard leaders, who believe they have more merit to lead the PA and who are €Žcapable of causing trouble for Farraj once he is in power. “Trouble” could mean launching and €Žfinancing another intifada to make him look weak or force him to step down. I can €Žauthoritatively confirm they can do that if they want to.€Ž

Another likely candidate that comes to mind is Jibril Rajoub, former head of the Palestinian “FBI,” €Žthe Preventive Security Force, and a member of the PLO’s Central Committee. Rajoub comes from €ŽHebron and enjoys the support of its clans, and that is exactly his problem; Palestinians generally €Žview Rajoub as serving only Hebron’s Arab and not leaving room for outsiders to gain any kind €Žof influence. This allegation rings true for Rajoub; he rarely hires anyone from outside of Hebron, and all of those around him who have benefited from his influence were from €ŽHebron, too. €Ž

That’s not his biggest problem, though. When he was head of the Preventive Security Force, he was known for corruption, bullying and racketeering. His associates terrorized, blackmailed, jailed, and tortured anyone who stood against them. This has turned Rajoub into a man generally hated by the Palestinians. He enjoys serious influence within the PA €Žand PLO because of his Hebron-tribal lobby, but average PA residents may never accept him. They probably view Abbas as a better option.€Ž€ PA heavyweights seem to hate the man with a €Žpassion, and he will never be able to control them or their militants.€Ž

Another possible candidate is Abbas Zaki, a Hebron native and a strong member of the PLO’s €ŽCentral Committee. My PLO sources confirm that the man is very influential and plays politics “like €Žno other Palestinian politician,” and is reportedly a master of manipulation who could never be €Žignored even by Mahmoud Abbas, himself. He pulls many strings and many owe him favors. Nonetheless, he is viewed by many PLO members as a bully and even a racist Hebron native who €Žsides only with other Hebron natives. He is generally hated by Palestinians, but he is strong €Ženough to take a huge chunk of the new PA if and when Abbas leaves. Zaki may rule as €Žpresident but he will be strongly contested, especially because he does not compromise, and therefore would leave his opponents with nothing, making them willing to cause €Žunrest and even seek anarchy.€Ž

Salam Fayyad€Ž, the former prime minister, stands out as a professional and decent €Žtechnocrat who is very logical when it comes to peace with Israel. Nonetheless, PA factions see €Žhim as “a mere civilian, not a freedom fighter” who was parachuted into his position by the Americans. €ŽHe could be a perfect president, but I doubt he will be able to attain any €Žserious respect or obedience from the PLO. PA officials might see him as an easy target and try to €Žtopple him through anarchy. In that case, Israeli and American support will not help him for too €Žlong.€Ž

Ahmed Qurei, who served as prime minister for three terms, is a candidate the U.S. €Žmight prefer because he has worked extensively with the Americans. Nonetheless, the man’s €Žfinancial history is stained with allegations of corruption. One of the worst of these is a rumor €Žthat his cement company supplied Israel with material to build the West Bank security barrier while he publicly spoke against it. Whether true or not, the man is €Žnegatively viewed by the Palestinian public; this, I have seen firsthand. In addition, he €Žprovoked many PA officials when he was in office by cutting their perks while allegedly €Žallowing these to his loyalists. The Americans might force him in but the PLO might also force €Žhim out quickly.€Ž

Other names, such as Nabil Shaath and Saeb Erekat, are on the screen but none of them has the €Žpower, influence, muscle or popularity to keep the PA intact.€Ž

Mohammed Dahlan is one strong candidate. He served as Arafat’s security chief and €Žremains influential to this day. Nonetheless, his feud with Abbas and the rest of the PA makes €Žhim their enemy, and it is very unlikely that they would ever tolerate him as the next president. Besides, they have been accusing him of “poisoning” Arafat.€Ž

Abbas may never have a strong successor, and thus the PA territories are likely to fall €Žinto various levels of turmoil once he leaves. Common sense dictates that Hamas will €Žtry to infiltrate the West Bank further, as it has been doing, slowly but surely.€Ž

All of this leaves Israel with no options for the PA, which means that Israel may have to take over €Žthe PA areas if endless unrest breaks out.€Ž

If that ever happens, I can authoritatively confirm: While the Palestinian public hates Israel, it prefers the lifestyle that Israel once brought to the West Bank over the PA’s corrupt rule. This is what €Žtheir leaders, tribal figures, intellectuals and even students told me in extensive €Žinterviews that I conducted over a two-month period last summer, which I have published.€Ž

One thing is certain: For the PA and the West Bank, you can expect the unexpected.€Ž

Mudar Zahran is a Jordanian-Palestinian who resides in the U.K.

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Kurds Defy Baghdad to Supply Israel with Oil

Walter Russell Mead

The American Interest, Aug 24, 2015

Over the past few month, as much as 77 percent of Israel€™s oil has come from one source: Iraqi Kurdistan. The Financial Times reports that Israel may have spent as much as $1 billion on the region€™s oil between May and early August, buying the energy through third party traders Vitol and Trafigura. Experts believe that Israel€™s money may be contributing much-needed funds to the Kurdish government€™s fight against ISIS.

Kurdistan is still part of the Iraqi state, and it is supposed to sell its oil through the Iraqi state-owned oil company. Last year, Baghdad successfully managed to block the sale of Kurdish oil to the U.S. by threatening a suit in a Texas court, yet Iraqi Kurdistan continues to push for control over its own oil deals, and has been selling not only to Israel but also to other countries, like Italy and Cyprus.

 Baghdad reportedly is aware of the sales, but is too occupied with other pressing issues to crack down. All it could manage at this time is a statement of protest.In the background of this story lies Turkey. Kurdish oil is piped through Turkey and shipped out of Turkish ports. Ankara is trying to suppress Turkish-Kurdish and Syrian-Kurdish ambitions, but has nevertheless for some time now been underwriting Iraqi Kurdistan as a weak client semi-state (in part precisely by allowing them to transship oil to Turkish ports).

As TAI editor Adam Garfinkle recently noted, a large, unwieldy coalition is starting to coalesce in the Middle East. Anti-Iranian and generally anti-ISIS, the coalition is comprised of the Sunni Arab nations, Israel, and Turkey. It€™s also riven with internal contradictions€”the Egyptian and Turkish governments hate each other, for example, and the Saudis have gotten closer than ever to the Israelis even while all the Muslim nations officially maintain both antisemitic and anti-Israeli positions.

This news, therefore, seems of a piece: the Israelis and Kurds are both fortifying themselves for the struggles ahead against Iran and ISIS, respectively, and the countries are forging bonds in what increasingly seems to be a regional struggle. And yet, the pieces fit together awkwardly, due both to the anomalous status of Iraqi Kurdistan and the role Turkey is playing. It will take real skill to forge something durable out of these pieces€”but as the oil deal shows, the opportunities are there.

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