Abbas Reopens Palestinian NGO After European Pressure

RAMALLAH (Reuters/Hamodia) -

$13M presidential palace near completion

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reversed his decision to close an internationally-funded Palestinian peace center run by a political rival following European intervention, officials said on Thursday.

The Palestinian Peace Coalition (PPC) promotes, along with Israeli activists, an unofficial plan — known as the Geneva Initiative — for Palestinian statehood and an end to conflict with Israel. A presidential decree issued last week ordered the PPC to be shut and its assets and property in Ramallah transferred to the Information Ministry.

But a Palestinian official, who asked not to be identified, said European supporters of the center, especially Switzerland, had pressed the government to keep it open.

Abbas’ office gave no reason for the decision to shut the PPC but it was widely seen as an attempt to sideline Yasser Abed Rabbo, who ran the center and who was secretary general of the PLO until his unexpected dismissal last month by the president.

Abed Rabbo, effectively Abbas’s number two in the PLO, has been critical of the president’s decision-making for some time.

The PPC, established 2003, is largely funded by Switzerland, the EU, the Netherlands, Sweden and Denmark.

The Geneva Initiative advocates a two-state solution, Israeli annexation of large blocs as part of land swaps between the two sides and recognition of Jewish neighborhoods in Yerushalayim as the Israeli capital and of Arab neighborhoods as the Palestinian capital.

Meanwhile, Abbas’s lifestyle has come under attack with news of the $13 million price tag on his new presidential palace.

The four-story building north of Ramallah, construction of which began two years ago, stands on an 11-acre site, and boasts a very large garden, fountains, a helicopter pad and a 18-foot-high external wall. Additional reports in the Palestinian media claim it also contains a luxury swimming pool, closed water and electricity systems, and an underground bunker.

This week, Abbas authorized more money for completing the construction of the palace, while the Palestinian Authority continues to plead bankruptcy and unable to pay salaries to its employees.