Recently thousands of Palestinians have taken to the streets of Ramallah and Bethlehem to protest the death of Nizar Banat, a prominent critic of the Palestinian Authority (P.A.). Some believe the unprecedented demonstrations could pose a serious threat to the rule of P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas.
For months, Nizar Banat posted videos on Facebook accusing the Palestinian Authority of corruption and betraying the Palestinian cause because it worked closely with Israel. Banat also criticized P.A. President Abbas for cancelling elections that had been scheduled for May. They would have been the first elections in 15 years and Banat was a candidate.
On June 24th, Banat’s family says P.A. security forces burst into his home, beat Banat with iron rods and arrested him. He later died in custody. After Banat’s death and funeral, thousands mourned him in his hometown of Hebron and in Ramallah, protestors marched on Abbas’s headquarters blaming the President for Banat’s murder. They chanted “the people want to overthrow the regime.”
P.A. Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh announced Banat’s murder is under investigation and vowed to prosecute those responsible. He said, “Whoever is involved in this matter will be referred to the competent judicial authorities, which gives everyone their rights, and we ask the investigation committee to complete its report within the next two days."
Casting doubt on that effort, journalist Nadia Harhash expressed the frustration of many fellow Palestinians. She said, “They didn’t care and they killed him. That’s why it’s so dangerous that these people don’t care about anything. They don’t even care about publicity. They don’t care about what anyone thinks of because they know they can get away with it.”
The European Union – the main donor to the P.A. – wants an independent murder investigation and the U.S. State Department said it was “deeply disturbed by the reports that non-uniformed members of the Palestinian Authority security forces both harassed and used force against protestors and journalists.”
Harhash also goes on to blame the international community for enabling Abbas to basically rule over a police state.
“It’s the international money that blesses what’s happening to us and they know that nobody is holding them accountable and yet the international money enters their pockets. It’s not an internal Palestinian affair, it is the international responsibility that we’re getting killed because we speak out.”
Maurice Hirsch of the Palestinian Media Watch told CBN News, “They [the international community] must see that a 17-year dictator is now using the security apparatus, which is funded by the U.S. aid contributions, in order to crackdown on dissidents, in order to quash democracy.”
The high profile murder and protests could also represent a serious threat to Abbas’s leadership. Polls show his popularity is decreasing while support for Hamas, the ruling body in Gaza, is growing.
Following the recent Gaza conflict, a Palestinian poll showed Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas leading 59% to 27%, a margin of more than thirty points. Before the war, Abbas led Haniyeh by a single percentage point.
Hirsch said, “It gave them [a] tremendous amount of support within the Palestinian population. Because that’s unfortunately how you gain support, political support in the Palestinian sector.”
That growth also elevated Hamas on the world stage. Lebanese president Michel Aoun welcomed the group’s leader, who also visited Morocco, Mauritania and Egypt. That tour happening is while Abbas faces an uprising in the West Bank. For some, it’s one more sign that the end of Mahmoud Abbas’ rule could be just a matter of time.
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