The Palestinian Authority (PA) was surprised last week by a report on ‘al-Jazeera’ report which suggested that former PLO leader Yasser Arafat might have been poisoned by radioactive polonium. The suggestion came as a result of an examination of Arafat’s clothing supplied by Arafat’s widow Suha .
Al-Jazeera’s investigation directly undermines the reputation of the PLO and the PA, which had both conducted countless investigations into Arafat’s death. Yet, nothing of note was revealed until ‘al-Jazeera’ decided to roll up its sleeves.
Furthermore, as the story claimed Arafat to have been poisoned by a nuclear element, it immediately raised the possibility that Israel, considered to be an undeclared nuclear power, was somehow involved in his assassination. While Israel’s presumed guilt is a widespread and accepted fact on the Palestinian street, the new story suggests it had help from a “traitor” inside the PA.
The broadcast came at an awkward moment for Ramallah, following several developments that could threaten the internal stability of the Palestinian Authority. Due to a budgetary crisis, the PA is unable to pay out this month’s salaries, with the holy month of Ramadan fast approaching. It has already stopped paying contractors and service providers and suspended all development work. The Dayton Forces – the pride of American military training – have begun to lose their coherence and devolve into a militia that resembles a mafia in Nablus and Jenin.
The nature of the current economic crisis is different from its predecessors. In contrast to past crises, this time the PA is unable to procure bank loans because it is unable to repay them. Furthermore, existing unpaid loans are beginning to threaten the PA’s financial solidity. In the meantime, President Abbas’ cry for help to the Persian Gulf states during the last meeting of the Arab League in Doha went unanswered.
The Gulf states and Saudi Arabia have also signaled their displeasure with Abbas via the media. The pro-Saudi, United Arab Emirates-based ‘al-Arabiya’ network launched a series of interviews aimed against the PA with Muhammad Rashid – a sworn enemy of the PA. This series came on the heels of Ramallah accusing al-Jazeera of forging documents aimed at smearing the reputation of the PA on the issue of the Palestinian refugees’ “right of return.”
To make matters worse, Ramallah now finds itself in the midst of ‘Palestinian Spring’ demonstrations organized by several agents including Marwan Barghuti’s supporters in the Fatah, NGO activists led by Mustafa Barghuti, and even Hamas. While thus far the ‘Palestinian Spring’ has not gathered momentum, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas has given the police strict orders against the use of force, fearing that the protests’ first casualties could add fuel to the slow-burning fire.
The Palestinian Authority has few options left to respond to the challenges it faces. It is unlikely to enter into negotiations with Israel or seek reconciliation with Hamas. It is most likely that Abbas will call a municipal election in the West Bank and further engage the Palestinians in domestic affairs as a distraction from the PA’s failing economic and foreign policies.