Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' speech to the Palestinian National Council April 30 drew harsh criticism from Israel, Europe and the United States. He was criticized and accused of making anti-Semitic statements at home as well. But even before Abbas delivered his embarrassing and scandalous speech, some in the Fatah movement had started to speak about the need to replace him. After the speech, what had been limited to private conversations suddenly became public in the Palestinian Authority (PA) and throughout the world. It was not his anti-Semitic remarks that tipped the scale and led many Fatah activists to the conclusion that it was his time to go, but rather the state of the PA and his inadequate functioning, which can no longer be concealed. The international condemnations, including a blistering editorial in The New York Times that declared it was time for him to vacate his seat, reinforced the sense that Abbas is no longer functioning and that in addition to the issues brought about by his advanced age and deteriorating health, he doesn’t truly perceive the reality of the PA under his leadership.
The problem is that during the long years of his rule, since he succeeded PLO leader Yasser Arafat in November 2004, Abbas made sure to sideline any prominent Palestinian figure in his movement out of fear for his exclusive leadership. He expelled Mohammed Dahlan from the movement, exiled him from the West Bank and pursued his loyalists, who went underground. A few of them preferred to move to the Gaza Strip and live under Hamas rule, such as Sufian Abu Zaida, a former minister of prisoner affairs, so as not to live in constant fear that Abbas’ people would come knocking.