Abbas must end war on his critics

Arresting journalists and bloggers won't solve Palestinians' leadership problems. Mahmoud Abbas would do well to listen to his people rather than try to suppress their voice.

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Much of the Middle East ranked extremely low in terms of media freedom last year, according to Reporters Without Borders. This year, the situation does not look to be improving. The Palestinian Territories is a case in point.

Activists say that the government of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank is clamping down on journalists, bloggers and opponents. Several journalists and bloggers have been arrested in recent months for "defaming" Mr Abbas. Officials deny that the government is orchestrating the crackdown, saying that security forces and public prosecutors are responsible. Activists counter that Mr Abbas can and must put an end to the worrying trend.

The growing clampdown is indicative of a growing unease towards the government's performance. Fatah's chronic failure to deliver on promises made by the PA in previous years of institution-building and economic development is driving frustration.

The authority's failure to carry out its so-called "national project", along with a rhetoric that is increasingly detached from the populous, have created a schism between the people and the government, making it harder for the government to win support for necessary economic austerity. Also, the endless tussle with Hamas in Gaza has prompted Palestinians to lose faith in their leadership's willingness to forge closer ties and bring about unity and peace.

The PA's ability to address rising economic and political concerns in the West Bank is of course shackled by the Israeli occupation. And Hamas's refusal to come to the table and discuss reconciliation with Fatah weakens the Palestinian hand.

But Mr Abbas also appears detached from the realities on the ground, which exacerbates the situation and leads to more criticism.

In publicising complaints about perceived deficiencies, Palestinians are calling for change from within. They have every right to do so, and Mr Abbas's government would do well to listen. Only with strong, unified and responsive Palestinian leadership will peace with the neighbours be possible.