Sunday,22 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)
Sunday,22 October, 2017
Issue 1281, (4 - 10 February 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Choking Palestine

Disarray characterises Palestinian life, from the administration of President Mahmoud Abbas to the young people on the streets facing Israeli occupation, writes Sam Bahour

Al-Ahram Weekly

The starting point to understanding today’s reality in Palestine is as crystal clear now as it always has been. Over four million Palestinians are approaching their 50th year of living under Israeli military occupation. It should be noted that these Palestinians comprise less than half of all Palestinians worldwide.

The Israeli occupation seeps into every aspect of life, including internal affairs. This is not an excuse for this state of affairs, but rather a fact that has always been there and must be understood and taken into consideration as actions take shape for the future. It is these desired actions, or lack thereof, where the absence of clarity enters.

First, there is Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Positioned more like a king governing by presidential decree than the president of a genuine political system, Abbas is at a loss as to how to address the multiple challenges imposed upon him.

In Israel, he has no partner with whom he can do anything. From the West, he hears repeated statements of how it now “gets it,” but he has yet to find it acting to hold Israel accountable. The Arab heartland is so disfigured that he can barely keep up with the states, with their domino-style collapse, in order to understand their role. From his own streets, he is faced with a loss of hope that has turned at times into violence.

The scenario playing out in the streets has the dangerous possibility of spinning out of control. One day, Abbas turns a blind eye to the protests and violence; the next he sends his security forces to quell the protesters, sometimes violently. Onlookers trying to understand the strategy are left with the same sense of loss felt by Palestinians looking for coherent leadership.

Second, there is the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), the Palestinian political agency, at least in name. It is there and not there at the same time.

The PLO is alive and well in the international arena. The successful November 2012 UN General Assembly Resolution acknowledged “that the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, in accordance with a decision by the Palestine National Council, is entrusted with the powers and responsibilities of the Provisional Government of the State of Palestine.”

The same resolution went on to “decide to accord to Palestine non-member observer state status in the United Nations, without prejudice to the acquired rights, privileges and role of the Palestine Liberation Organisation in the United Nations as the representative of the Palestinian people, in accordance with the relevant resolutions and practice.”

Legally, all is in order, but politically, all is a mess.

The PLO Executive Committee consists of 18 members, including the president. Article 14 of the PLO’s bylaws stipulates that the Palestine National Council (PNC) must convene in the event that one-third of the members of the Executive Committee resigns, in order to choose new officers.

In August 2015, Abbas resigned as head of the PLO Executive Committee. In addition to Abbas’s resignation, Hanan Ashrawi, Ahmed Majdalani, Saeb Erekat, Ghassan Al-Shakaa and Mahmoud Ismail also resigned, thus invoking the need for a session of the PNC, which has not met to define policy since 1988.

Abbas tried to call for a PNC meeting before the end of 2015 but was forced to postpone the call, given the impression from many, including key figures in his own Fatah movement, that the entire episode was a political stunt to gain legitimacy that has been severely damaged: his term as president had long expired and the PNC is today an empty shell.

Third, there is the Palestinian Authority (PA). Trying to play the role of a government, but lacking the minimum resources or real authority to do so, the PA goes through the motions of an operating government bureaucracy. Israeli actions and Palestinian disunity have both stripped the PA of its ability to develop into a full-scale government.

Today, it is more like a national non-governmental organisation (NGO), forced to align with the donors that keep it alive, than an executive body implementing properly legislated policy.

That said, the PA is not a foreign body, but is part and parcel of the Palestinian community and is an important platform that needs a new scope of work. It does not need threats that it will be dismantled, which will only leave the Palestinian education and healthcare systems, among others, to the occupiers to manage.

Fourth, Palestinian civil society remains the wild card. Large chunks of civil society have been hijacked by donor agendas. To remain alive and meet its payroll, just like the PA itself, this has little to offer in changing the deteriorating status quo. Here I include the majority, if not all, of the political parties that comprise the PLO.

But there is another part of civil society that is more rooted in the community and that can be seen and heard challenging the phenomenon of violence, as well as addressing the weaknesses in the political structure. A week does not go by without veteran political players meeting to craft a way forward. Their weakness is that the youth are usually meeting separately among themselves.

Fifth, there are the Palestinians living outside of the grip of the Israeli occupation. Here again, they are organised into fragments created by Israel. Each fragment has its own challenges, priorities and dynamics. The most exciting of these are the Palestinian citizens of Israel who, although facing extreme conditions from Israel’s right-wing government, are more outspoken and politically organised today than they have ever been.

Remaining to be mobilised are the refugee communities and the Palestinian diaspora, two major levers that have the potential to be real game-changers once they enter the political ring.

Last but not least, there is the international community, which has become an integral part of the Palestinian reality. Yet, as it relates to internal Palestinian politics, the international community is a double-edged sword.

Without donors, the PA will collapse, and any repair of the Palestinian political system will move from repair to reconstruct mode, a shift that should not be taken lightly as Israel has made it clear that any Palestinian agency will be made to surrender to its terms. On the other hand, Israel gets a free ride with the donors to continue its policy of slow ethnic cleansing, while at the same time paying lip service to peace.

I envy no one trying to navigate through this system, but I am convinced that without an operating political system that can utilise the full capabilities of the Palestinian people —those under occupation and those living free from occupation —no one can succeed in safeguarding the path towards freedom and independence.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently told the UN Security Council that the recent wave of attacks in Israel and Palestine was driven by a “profound sense of alienation and despair” among some Palestinians, particularly the young.

He continued, “Palestinian frustration is growing under the weight of a half-century of occupation and the paralysis of the peace process. As oppressed peoples have demonstrated throughout the ages, it is human nature to react to occupation, which often serves as a potent incubator of hate and extremism.”


The writer is a Palestinian-American business consultant living in the occupied West Bank and a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, The Palestinian Policy Network.

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