Did Mahmoud Abbas Just Resign?

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Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas just organized the resignation of 10 members of the PLO Executive Committee, including himself, and he resigned as its chairman; a maneuver meant to strengthen Abbas’s control, not weaken it, the author writes. Majdi Mohammed/Pool/Reuters

This article first appeared on the Council on Foreign Relations site.

There's a bit of confusion about the recent "resignation" of Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. What actually happened?

Abbas wears three hats, as his predecessor and mentor Yasser Arafat did: head of the Fatah Party, president of the Palestinian Authority and chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).

Abbas just organized the resignation of 10 members of the PLO Executive Committee, including himself, and he resigned as its chairman. The purpose is not to walk away, go home and retire, but to force a meeting of the PLO's "legislative body," the Palestine National Council, to elect a new Executive Committee. This will allow Abbas to push off the Committee individuals whom he doesn't like or who are political opponents of his.

Some of those individuals are properly knocked off the Committee, while others are among the smartest officials in the PLO. An example is the man who was PLO Secretary General, Yasser Abed Rabbo, who Abbas forced out as Secretary General and probably wants to force off the Executive Committee. His crime: not being an Abbas toady.

So this maneuver is meant to strengthen Abbas's control, not weaken it, and it is not a serious "resignation." Still, it is a reminder that Abbas is 80. By this maneuver he is perhaps trying to assure his control of the succession process, or perhaps trying to assure that whoever emerges will not go after the Abbas family for the corruption that is very widely believed.

It is also a reminder that whatever good or ill you can say about Palestinian politics, there is not one whiff of democracy about it. All these maneuverings take place behind closed doors, and none is put to a popular vote.

Abbas, after all, was elected president of the Palestinian Authority in January, 2005—for a four year term. He's in the eleventh year of that four year term.

Elliott Abrams is senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, where this article first appeared.

Did Mahmoud Abbas Just Resign? | Opinion