August 29, 2012
If Abbas endorses the findings of the Palestinian commission of inquiry and takes action against the officials who ordered the beatings, he will send a message to his constituents which reassures them that no one is above the law, and that he cares about freedom of media and human rights. But any attempt to sweep the findings under the carpet will show that the talk about transparency and accountability in the Palestinian Authority is not serious and will play into the hands of Hamas.A Palestinian commission of inquiry into the beating of Palestinian journalists and demonstrators in Ramallah has found that top officials in Mahmoud Abbas's office had ordered the assault.
The discovery did not come as a surprise to many Palestinians, who have long been accusing the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank of waging a campaign of intimidation and terror against journalists, bloggers and political opponents.
Western donors who are funding the Palestinian Authority are willing to turn a blind eye to human rights violations as long as Abbas and his aides remain "committed to the two-state solution" and do not believe in violence against Israel, as a Western diplomat based in Israel explained.
The commission of inquiry was established after Palestinian policemen and security personnel -- in civilian clothes -- attacked Palestinians who were demonstrating several weeks ago against a planned visit to Ramallah by then Israeli Vice Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz.
Mofaz was scheduled to meet with Abbas to discuss ways of reviving the stalled peace process; however, the protests that erupted in Ramallah forced Abbas to cancel the meeting with Mofaz.
The demonstrations -- most of whom were young men and women protesting not only Mofaz's planned visit, but also Abbas's failed policies, especially in combating financial and administrative corruption --were seen as a huge embarrassment to Abbas and his inner circle.
The protesters had also demanded an end to the ongoing violations of freedom of speech and abuses of human rights by the Palestinian Authority.
Over the past few years, Abbas and his aides have repeatedly demonstrated intolerance toward criticism: Palestinians who have dared to speak out against dictatorship and corruption in the West Bank have often found themselves either behind bars or in hospital.
The Palestinian Authority has also been firing public servants who dare to disagree with Abbas or Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
In recent years, for example, hundreds of school teachers were dismissed for "security reasons" -- a charge used against those who belong to rival political groups or who are not Abbas loyalists.
The commission of inquiry did not name the senior Palestinian officials who had issued the orders to the police to beat the journalists and peaceful protesters.
Yet many Palestinians in Ramallah said this week that they hold Abbas personally responsible for the assault. "If Abbas does not know what is happening inside his office, that's very serious," said a Palestinian human rights activist. "And if he knew what his officials were up to and approved of it, that is even more serious."
If, however, Abbas endorses the findings of the commission of inquiry and takes action against the officials who ordered the beatings, he will send a positive message to his constituents -- one that reassures them that no one is above the law and that he cares about freedom of media and human rights.
But any attempt to sweep the findings under the carpet will show that the talk about accountability and transparency in the Palestinian Authority is not serious. This choice, of course, will further play into the hands of Abbas's rivals, above all Hamas.