July 12, 2023 -JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas briefly visited the occupied West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp Wednesday in the wake of a devastating Israeli offensive last week, marking his first visit to the camp since 2005.
The visit, which lasted just over an hour, came at a time of seething discontent among Palestinians in the West Bank toward Abbas and the Palestinian Authority, the autonomous government which administers parts of the West Bank but has largely lost control over several militant strongholds in the region, including Jenin. The 87-year-old president is widely seen as out of touch with the public and rarely ventures outside of his Ramallah headquarters.
The Palestinian leader’s visit to the Jenin refugee camp came a week after Israel launched a massive two-day military operation there. It was the largest Israeli offensive in the West Bank in nearly two decades, killing at least 12 Palestinians and one Israeli soldier, forcing thousands to flee their homes and leaving large swaths of the camp in ruins. The Israeli army said the operation was necessary to crack down on Palestinian militant groups following a spate of recent attacks.
Abbas arrived in Jenin aboard a Jordanian helicopter on Wednesday afternoon. Thousands clustered around his heavy security detail, and children chased his motorcade as it moved along the streets. He visited a freshly-dug cemetery, where he laid a wreath at the graves of those killed in last week’s operation, before speaking to a tightly-packed crowd.
“Jenin camp is the icon of struggle, steadfastness and challenge,” said Abbas. He pledged the reconstruction of the camp would begin immediately. “I say to everyone near and far, this country is safe and its authority will remain one… we must get rid of the occupation and we say to them: leave us, we are here to stay.”
Abbas’s leadership has come under criticism over rampant corruption in the Palestinian Authority and the lack of any progress toward independence. Just 17% of Palestinians are satisfied with Abbas’ leadership and 80% want him to resign, according to a Palestinian public opinion poll in June.
The Palestinian Authority has long drawn resentment for its security cooperation with Israel, which allows its security forces to crack down on rival militant groups such as Hamas, but the Jenin raid further degraded its reputation among many Palestinians.
U.S. President Joe Biden said in an interview with CNN this week that “the Palestinian Authority has lost its credibility” among Palestinians and has “created a vacuum for extremism” in the West Bank.
Abbas’s visit came after a statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ‘s office that his government would take steps to strengthen the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, but gave no specifics about what steps it would take.
Since taking office in December, several ultranationalist ministers in Netanyahu’s government have called for the Palestinian Authority to be disbanded.
Netanyahu heads one of the most hard-line governments in Israel’s history, made up of ultranationalist and ultra-Orthodox factions along with his ruling Likud party.
Over the last year, Israel has conducted stepped-up raids into Palestinian areas in response to deadly Palestinian attacks targeting Israelis over the past year.
More than 150 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire since the start of the year, while at least 26 people have been killed in Palestinian attacks against Israelis.