Category Archives: Mahmoud Abbas

Washington is the Problem, Not the Solution

To judge US President Joe Biden’s recent visit to Israel and Palestine as a ‘failure’ in terms of activating the dormant ‘peace process’ is simply a misnomer. For this statement to be accurate, Washington would have had to indicate even a nominal desire to push for negotiations between the Israeli government and the Palestinian leadership.

Political and diplomatic platitudes aside, the current American administration has done the exact opposite as indicated in Biden’s words and actions. Alleging that the US commitment to a two-state solution “has not changed”, Biden dismissed his Administration’s interest in trying to achieve such a goal by declaring that the “ground is not ripe” for negotiations.

Considering that the Palestinian Authority of Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly announced its readiness to return to negotiations, one can only assume that the process is being stalled due to Israel’s intransigence. Indeed, none of Israel’s top leaders or major parties champion negotiations, or the so-called peace process, as a strategic objective.

However, Israel is not the only party to blame. The Americans, too, have made it clear that they moved on from that political sham altogether, one which they have invented and sustained for decades. In fact, the final nail in the ‘negotiating solution’ coffin was hammered by the Donald Trump Administration, which has simply backed every Israeli claim, thus shunning all rightful Palestinian demands.

The Biden Administration has been habitually blamed by Palestinians, Arabs and progressive voices within the Democratic Party for failing to reverse Trump’s prejudiced moves in favor of Israel: for example, moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, shutting down the US consulate in East Jerusalem, accepting the unfounded Israeli claims regarding its jurisdiction over illegal Jewish settlements built over occupied Palestinian land, and so on.

Even if one assumes that the Biden Administration is capable of reversing some or all of Trump’s unlawful actions, what good would that be in the greater scheme of things? Washington was, and remains, Israel’s greatest benefactor, funding its military occupation of Palestine with an annual gift of $4 billion, in addition to many other schemes, including a massive and growing budget allocated for Israel’s Iron Dome alone.

As horrific as Trump’s years were in terms of undermining a just resolution to the Israeli occupation of Palestine, Biden’s policies are but a continuation of an existing pro-Israel American legacy that surpasses that of Trump by decades.

As for Israel, the ‘peace process’ has served its purpose, which explains the infamous declaration by the CEO of the Jewish settlement council in the occupied West Bank, known as Yesha, in 2018, “I don’t want to brag that we’ve won. (…) Others would say it appears that we’re winning.”

However, Israel’s supposed ‘victory’ following three decades of a fraudulent ‘peace process’ cannot be credited to Trump alone. Biden and other top US officials have also been quite useful. While it is widely understood that US politicians support Israel out of sheer interest, for example, the need to appease the influential pro-Israel lobby in Washington DC, Biden’s, support for Israel stems from an ideological foundation. The US President was hardly bashful when he repeated, upon his arrival at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport on July 13, his famous statement, “You need not be a Jew to be Zionist.”

Consequently, it may appear puzzling to hear Palestinian officials call on the US – and Biden, specifically – to pressure Tel Aviv to end its 55-year occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

Mohannad al-Aklouk, the Palestinian representative at the Arab League, for example, repeated the same cliched and unrealistic language of expecting the US to “exert practical pressure on Israel”, “set the stage for a fair political process based on international law”, and “meet its role as a fair sponsor of the peace process”. Strangely, Mr. al-Aklouk truly believes that Washington, with its dismal track record of pro-Israeli bias, can possibly be the savior of the Palestinians.

Another Palestinian official told The New Arab that PA President Abbas was “disappointed with the results of Biden’s visit,” as, apparently, the Palestinian leader “expected that the US President would make progress in the peace process”. The same source continued to say that Abbas’ Authority is holding meetings with representatives from “powerful countries” to replace the US as sponsors of the once US-sponsored negotiations.

Abbas’ political stance is confusing. The ‘peace process’ is, after all, an American invention. It was a unique, self-serving style of diplomacy that was formulated to ensure Israel’s priorities remain at center stage of US foreign policy in the Middle East. In the Palestinian case, the ‘peace process’ only served to entrench Israeli colonization of Palestine, while degrading, or completely sidelining, legitimate Palestinian demands. This ‘process’ was also constructed with the aim of marginalizing international law as a political and legal frame of reference to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Instead of questioning the entire ‘peace process’ apparatus and apologizing for the strategic plunders of pursuing American mirages at the expense of Palestinian rights, the Palestinian Authority is still desperately clutching on to the same old fantasy, even when the US, along with Israel, have abandoned their own political farce.

Even if, supposedly, China, Russia or India would agree to be the new sponsors of the ‘peace process’, there is no reason for Tel Aviv to engage in future negotiations, when it is able to achieve its colonial objectives with full American support. Moreover, none of these countries have, for now, much leverage over Israel, therefore are unable to sustain any kind of meaningful pressure on Tel Aviv to respect international law.

Yet, the PA is still holding on, simply because the ‘peace process’ proved greatly beneficial in terms of funds, power and prestige enjoyed by a small but powerful class of Palestinians that was largely formulated after the Oslo Accords in 1993.

It is time for Palestinians to stop investing their political capital in the Biden Administration or any other administration. What they need is not a new ‘powerful’ sponsor of the ‘peace process’ but a grassroots-based struggle for freedom and liberation starting at home, one that galvanizes the energies of the Palestinian people themselves. Alas, this new paradigm cannot be achieved when the priorities of the Palestinian leadership remain fixated on the handouts and political validation of Washington and its Western allies.

The post Washington is the Problem, Not the Solution first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Palestine’s New Resistance Model: How the Last Year Redefined the Struggle for Palestinian Freedom

What took place between May 2021 and May 2022 is nothing less than a paradigm shift in Palestinian resistance. Thanks to the popular and inclusive nature of Palestinian mobilization against the Israeli occupation, resistance in Palestine is no longer an ideological, political or regional preference.

In the period between the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993 and only a few years ago, Palestinian muqawama – or resistance –  was constantly put in the dock, often criticized and condemned, as if an oppressed nation had a moral responsibility in selecting the type of resistance to suit the needs and interests of its oppressors.

As such, Palestinian resistance became a political and ideological litmus test. The Palestinian Authority of Yasser Arafat and, later, Mahmoud Abbas, called for ‘popular resistance’, but it seems that it neither understood what the strategy actually meant, and certainly was not prepared to act upon such a call.

Palestinian armed resistance was removed entirely from its own historical context; in fact, the context of all liberation movements throughout history, and was turned into a straw man, set up by Israel and its western allies to condemn Palestinian ‘terrorism’ and to present Israel as a victim facing an existential threat.

With the lack of a centralized Palestinian definition of resistance, even pro-Palestine civil society groups and organizations demarcated their relationship to the Palestinian struggle based on embracing certain forms of Palestinian resistance and condemning others.

The argument that only oppressed nations should have the right to choose the type of resistance that could speed up their salvation and freedom fell on deaf ears.

The truth is that Palestinian resistance preceded the official establishment of Israel in 1948. Palestinians and Arabs who resisted British and Zionist colonialism used many methods of resistance that they perceived to be strategic and sustainable. There was no relationship whatsoever between the type of resistance and the religious, political or ideological identity of those who resisted.

This paradigm prevailed for many years, starting with the Fidayeen Movement following the Nakba, the popular resistance to the brief Israeli occupation of Gaza in 1956, and the decades-long occupation and siege starting in 1967. The same reality was expressed in Palestinian resistance in historic Palestine throughout the decades; armed resistance ebbed and flowed, but popular resistance remained intact. The two phenomena were always intrinsically linked, as the former was also sustained by the latter.

The Fatah Movement, which dominates today’s Palestinian Authority, was formed in 1959 to model liberation movements in Vietnam and Algeria. Regarding its connection to the Algerian struggle, the Fatah manifesto read: “The guerrilla war in Algeria, launched five years before the creation of Fatah, has a profound influence on us. […] They symbolize the success we dreamed of.”

This sentiment was championed by most modern Palestinian movements as it proved to be a successful strategy for most southern liberation movements. In the case of Vietnam, the resistance to US occupations was carried out even during political talks in Paris. The underground resistance in South Africa remained vigilant until it became clear that the country’s apartheid regime was in the process of being dismantled.

Palestinian disunity, however, which was a direct result of the Oslo Accords, made a unified Palestinian position on resistance untenable. The very idea of resistance itself became subject to the political whims and interests of factions. When, in July 2013, PA President Abbas condemned armed resistance, he was trying to score political points with his western supporters, and further sow the seeds of division among his people.

The truth is that Hamas neither invented, nor has ownership of, armed resistance. In June 2021, a poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR), revealed that 60% of Palestinians support “a return to armed confrontations and Intifada”. By stating so, Palestinians were not necessarily declaring allegiance to Hamas. Armed resistance, though in a different style and capacity also exists in the West Bank, and is largely championed by Fatah’s own Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades. The recent Israeli attacks on the town of Jenin, in the northern West Bank, were not aimed at eliminating Hamas, Islamic Jihad or socialist fighters, but Fatah’s own.

Skewed media coverage and misrepresentation of the resistance, often by Palestinian factions themselves, turned the very idea of resistance into a political and factional scuffle, forcing everyone involved to take a position on the issue. The discourse on the resistance, however,  began changing in the last year.

The May 2021 rebellion and the Israeli war on Gaza – known among Palestinians as the Unity Intifada – served as a paradigm shift. The language became unified; self-serving political references quickly dissipated; collective frames of reference began replacing provisional, regional and factional ones; occupied Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque emerged as the unifying symbols of resistance; a new generation began to emerge and quickly began to develop new platforms.

On May 29, the Israeli government insisted on allowing the so-called ‘Flag March’ – a mass rally by Israeli Jewish extremists that celebrate the capture of the Palestinian city of al-Quds – to once more pass through Palestinian neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem. This was the very occasion that instigated the violence of the previous year. Aware of the impending violence which often results from such provocations, Israel wanted to impose the timing and determine the nature of the violence. It failed. Gaza didn’t fire rockets. Instead, tens of thousands of Palestinians mobilized throughout occupied Palestine, thus allowing popular mobilization and coordination between numerous communities to grow. Palestinians proved able to coordinate their responsibility, despite the numerous obstacles, hardships and logistical difficulties.

The events of the last year are a testament that Palestinians are finally freeing their resistance from factional interests. The most recent confrontations show that Palestinians are even harnessing resistance as a strategic objective. Muqawama in Palestine is no longer ‘symbolic’ or supposedly ‘random’ violence that reflects ‘desperation’ and lack of political horizon. It is becoming more defined, mature and well-coordinated.

This phenomenon must be extremely worrying to Israel, as the coming months and years could prove critical in changing the nature of the confrontation between Palestinians and their occupiers. Considering that the new resistance is centered around homegrown, grassroots, community-oriented movements, it has far greater chances of success than previous attempts. It is much easier for Israel to assassinate a fighter than to uproot the values of resistance from the heart of a community.

The post Palestine’s New Resistance Model: How the Last Year Redefined the Struggle for Palestinian Freedom first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Right of Return, Nakba Are Back on Palestinian Agenda

The Nakba is back on the Palestinian agenda.

For nearly three decades, Palestinians were told that the Nakba – or Catastrophe – is a thing of the past. That real peace requires compromises and sacrifices; therefore, the original sin that has led to the destruction of their historic homeland should be entirely removed from any ‘pragmatic’ political discourse. They were urged to move on.

The consequences of that shift in narrative were dire. Disowning the Nakba, the single most important event that shaped modern Palestinian history, has resulted in more than political division between the so-called radicals and the supposedly peace-loving pragmatists, the likes of Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority. It also divided Palestinian communities in Palestine and across the world around political, ideological and class lines.

Following the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, it became clear that the Palestinian struggle for freedom was being entirely redefined and reframed. It was no longer a Palestinian fight against Zionism and Israeli settler colonialism that goes back to the start of the 20th century, but a ‘conflict’ between two equal parties, with equally legitimate territorial claims that can only be resolved through ‘painful concessions’.

The first of such concessions was relegating the core issue of the ‘Right of Return’ for Palestinian refugees who were driven out of their villages and cities in 1947-48. That Palestinian Nakba paved the way for Israel’s ‘independence’, which was declared atop the rubble and smoke of nearly 500 destroyed and burnt Palestinian villages and towns.

At the start of the ‘peace process’, Israel was asked to honor the Right of Return for Palestinians, although symbolically. Israel refused. Palestinians were then pushed to relegate that fundamental issue to a ‘final status negotiations’, which never took place. This meant that millions of Palestinian refugees – many of whom are still living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, as well as the occupied Palestinian territories – were dropped from the political conversation altogether.

If it were not for the continued social and cultural activities of the refugees themselves, insisting on their rights and teaching their children to do the same, such terms as the Nakba and Right of Return would have been completely dropped out of the Palestinian political lexicon.

While some Palestinians rejected the marginalization of the refugees, insisting that the subject is a political not merely a humanitarian one, others were willing to move on as if this right was of no consequence. Various Palestinian officials affiliated with the now defunct ‘peace process’ have made it clear that the Right of Return was no longer a Palestinian priority. But none came even close to the way that PA President Abbas, himself, framed the Palestinian position in a 2012 interview with Israeli Channel 2.

“Palestine now for me is the ’67 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is now and forever … This is Palestine for me. I am [a] refugee, but I am living in Ramallah,” he said.

Abbas had it completely wrong, of course. Whether he wished to exercise his right of return or not, that right, according to United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, is simply “inalienable”, meaning that neither Israel, nor the Palestinians themselves, can deny or forfeit it.

Let alone the lack of intellectual integrity of separating the tragic reality of the present from its main root cause, Abbas lacked political wisdom as well. With his ‘peace process’ floundering, and with the lack of any tangible political solution, he simply decided to abandon millions of refugees, denying them the very hope of having their homes, land or dignity restored.

Since then, Israel, along with the United States, has fought Palestinians on two different fronts: one, through denying them any political horizon and, the other, by attempting to dismantle their historically enshrined rights, mainly their Right of Return. Washington’s war on the Palestinian refugees’ agency, UNRWA, falls under the latter category as the aim was – and remains – the destruction of the very legal and humanitarian infrastructures that allow Palestinian refugees to see themselves as a collective of people seeking repatriation, reparations and justice.

Yet, all such efforts continue to fail. Far more important than Abbas’ personal concessions to Israel, UNRWA’s ever-shrinking budget or the failure of the international community to restore Palestinian rights, is the fact that the Palestinian people are, once again, unifying around the Nakba anniversary, thus insisting on the Right of Return for the seven million refugees in Palestine and the shattat – Diaspora.

Ironically, it was Israel that has unwittingly re-unified Palestinians around the Nakba. By refusing to concede an inch of Palestine, let alone allow Palestinians to claim any victory, a State of their own – demilitarized or otherwise – or allow a single refugee to go home, Palestinians were forced to abandon Oslo and its numerous illusions. The once popular argument that the Right of Return was simply ‘impractical’ no longer matters, neither to ordinary Palestinians nor to their intellectual or political elites.

In political logic, for something to be impossible, an alternative would have to be attainable. However, with Palestinian reality worsening under the deepening system of Israeli settler colonialism and apartheid, Palestinians now understand that they have no possible alternative but their unity, their resistance and the return to the fundamentals of their struggle. The Unity Intifada of last May was a culmination of this new realization. Moreover, the Nakba anniversary commemoration rallies and events throughout historic Palestine and the world on May 15 have further helped crystallize the new discourse that the Nakba is no longer symbolic and the Right of Return is the collective, core demand of most Palestinians.

Israel is now an apartheid state in the real meaning of the word. Israeli apartheid, like any such system of racial separation, aims at protecting the gains of nearly 74 years of unhinged colonialism, land theft and military dominance. Palestinians, whether in Haifa, Gaza or Jerusalem, now fully understand this, and are increasingly fighting back as one nation.

And since the Nakba and the subsequent ethnic cleansing of Palestinian refugees are the common denominator behind all Palestinian suffering, the term and its underpinnings are back at center stage of any meaningful conversation on Palestine, as should have always been the case.

The post Right of Return, Nakba Are Back on Palestinian Agenda first appeared on Dissident Voice.

Instead of Freeing Palestinian Prisoners, New Scheme Aims at Punishing Their Families

A scheme is underway to withhold or to reduce payments made by the Palestinian Authority to the families of Palestinian prisoners. According to Israeli media, the Biden Administration has requested that the PA entirely overhauls its support system of Palestinian prisoners. The Palestinian leadership had already expressed willingness to engage the US in a ‘discussion’.

According to Israel’s Channel 12, the Biden Administration has called on PA President Mahmoud Abbas to stop paying stipends to Palestinian prisoners’ families and, instead, to consider an alternative ‘welfare’ system. For example, over 60-year-old prisoners would receive payments as if ‘retired PA employees’. Those under 60, according to the report, would be paid as ‘PA employees’.

The above is meant as some kind of a compromise. Unlike previous American and Israeli attempts aimed at cutting off any kind of support to the families of Palestinian prisoners, this time around the PA seems willing to consider alternatives to the existing systems.

PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh had already expressed his willingness to consider the American concerns. Last November, Shtayyeh had stated that “if anyone has reservations about this or that section of the law, we can discuss it.”

By ‘law’, Shtayyeh was referring to the Palestinian law that allows the PA to support Palestinian prisoners and their families as a pact of solidarity. After all, these Palestinian prisoners are facing horrific circumstances due to their acts of resistance to the Israeli occupation.

Of course, Israel doesn’t see it this way. For Tel Aviv, any act of Palestinian resistance is unlawful, and every Palestinian resister is a ‘terrorist’. This should hardly be surprising, as Israel does not see itself as an occupier or the Palestinians as a people deserving of justice and freedom.

Also unsurprising is the American position. Washington, too, agrees with the Israeli depiction of Palestinian resistance as ‘terrorists’ and has, for years, attempted to block any aid from reaching families of Palestinian prisoners.

In 2018, former US President Donald Trump withheld funding from the Palestinian Authority and also from the UN refugee agency for Palestinians, UNRWA, citing the PA financial support of Palestinian prisoners and their families.

The following year, Israel followed suit, as it unlawfully withheld tax payments collected on behalf of the PA – a most unfair system instituted by the so-called Paris Protocol. The money withheld by Israel constitutes nearly half of the entire PA budget. This outright theft by Israel is carried out as a form of pressure, under various guises and with no international monitoring.

Eventually, in November 2020, Israel once more began transferring the payment to PA coffers, but while still keeping a portion of the money, which, according to Israeli estimations, was equivalent to payments made to prisoners’ families.

To cope with the crisis, the PA instituted various budget cuts that mostly affected PA employees and prisoners – many of whom belonged to PA rival groups, whether in the West Bank or the besieged Gaza Strip. The disproportionately massive spending on the PA security apparatus, especially branches that are involved in the so-called security coordination between the PA and Israel, was left untouched.

Since the start of Biden’s presidential term, the PA has promoted the unfunded notion that Biden is better for Palestinians, simply because the new administration gave partial political validation to Mahmoud Abbas – who was completely shunned by Trump – and restored US aid. Aside from that, there has been no evidence of the supposed pro-Palestinian agenda of Joe Biden and his administration.

Indeed, the Biden Administration has pledged not to reverse any of the illegal steps taken by Trump, which, among other concessions, legitimized the Israeli occupation of Palestinian East Jerusalem and the Syrian Golan Heights. Moreover, the US is yet to reopen its consulate in East Jerusalem, which served as a de facto American diplomatic representation in the occupied territories. Even the restoration of the PLO office in Washington D.C. is yet to be carried out, due to strong opposition by Israel and its allies on Capitol Hill.

Over a year has passed since the start of Biden’s presidency, yet, there is still no political horizon, no meaningful American engagement, and not even a coherent American outlook. To the contrary, all that we have seen is Israel’s insistence on entrenching its occupation, widening the circle of violence and expanding its illegal settlements, either with an American nod or disinterest.

Ordinary Palestinians, of course, have very little expectations of Washington as there is no historical evidence to demonstrate that the US has ever favored the Palestinian agenda – that of freedom and justice – over the Israeli one, of endless occupation and apartheid. While the US Congress is very quick to pass anti-Palestinian measures, pro-Palestinian inititatives, though commendable, have very little chance of ever making it into law. For example, H.R. 2407 – “Promoting Human Rights For Palestinian Children Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act”, has, for years, attempted to remind the US government of its legal responsibility under the Foreign Assistance Act so that it may cease funding military detention of children anywhere in the world, including in Palestine.

Not only is Israel not held accountable at all for the continued detention of thousands of Palestinian men, women and children, it is actually dictating American foreign policy, compelling Washington to accept and accommodate Israeli definitions, priorities and agendas.

The issue of Palestinian prisoners is a very sensitive topic in Palestine. Palestinians consider their prisoners heroes of the resistance and their families as a collective responsibility of Palestinian communities everywhere. In fact, support for Palestinian prisoners’ families is the last hold on legitimacy in the hands of the PA. If it loses that, the consequences are sure to be dire.

Perhaps, American diplomats can consider an alternative path to fairly address the issue of financial support received by Palestinian prisoners and their families, namely freeing all Palestinian prisoners from Israeli dungeons. Maybe the discussion should also be expanded to include the freedom of all Palestinians who are experiencing their own forms of imprisonment by Israel. Such demands may seem outrageous in view of the current political balances of power but they are certainly morally and legally the proper discussion to be had.

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Jerusalem’s “Liveliest Parties”: Has Biden Proved Different from Trump on Palestine? 

 

When Joe Biden was declared the winner in the US elections last November, expectations in Ramallah were high. A Biden Administration, compared to the brazenly pro-Israel Trump Administration, would surely be much fairer to Palestinians, was the conventional wisdom at the time. 

 

Hence, unsurprisingly, Palestinian Authority President, Mahmoud Abbas, was among the first world leaders to most enthusiastically congratulate Biden. “I look forward to working with the President-elect and his administration to strengthen the Palestinian-American relations and to achieve freedom, independence, justice and dignity for our people,” Abbas said immediately after the results were announced. 

 

Contrastingly, the then-Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, waited for a relatively long time to offer his congratulations, hoping, perhaps, that his close friend and staunch political ally, Trump, would succeed in reversing the outcome of the elections.

 

Nearly a year later, however, one struggles to understand the Palestinian euphoria of last year, and the absence of criticism of the current US administration for failing to reverse most of the pro-Israel decisions enacted by Trump. The latter’s unwarranted steps included the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, all in violation of international law and even the US’ own declared policies. 

 

Considering all of this, why does the PA leadership remain largely silent regarding the fact that the Biden Administration, despite its rhetoric about peace and dialogue, maintains the same degree of commitment to Israel as Trump’s? The short answer is money. 

 

Indeed, the only tangible step that the Biden Administration has taken in the last year has been the restoration of funds that Trump had withheld from Palestinians, thus reversing a nearly three-decade US policy of, along with other ‘donor countries’, bankrolling the PA.

 

In April, the White House declared its intentions to restore some, though not all, funds to the Palestinians. The amount of $235 million was to be paid in the form of $75m in economic and developmental assistance, $10m in ‘peacebuilding’ programs to be provided by the US agency, USAID, and the remaining in humanitarian assistance to the Palestinian refugee agency, UNRWA. 

 

The latter decision, however, did not come without caveats. On July 14, UNRWA reached an agreement with Washington regarding the use of these funds. The so-called Framework for Cooperation stipulated that “The US will not make any contributions to UNRWA, except on the condition that UNRWA takes all feasible measures to ensure that no part of the US contribution is used to assist any refugee receiving military training,” as part of any Palestinian resistance group. Under the agreement, which was strongly criticized by Palestinians, UNRWA will receive an additional $135 million from the US.

 

On the political front, however, there is little else to report. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, although expected to be reopened by Biden after its abrupt closure by the Trump Administration in September 2018, remains closed. 

 

Additionally, the US consulate in occupied Palestinian East Jerusalem, which was also shut down by a Trump decision, remains “a major point of contention” between Israel and the US, according to Axios. 

 

As soon as the Biden Administration declared its intentions to reopen its mission in Palestine, top Israeli officials have poured into Washington to prevent even this symbolic Palestinian gain from taking place. Israeli Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett, raised the issue with Biden during their White House meeting in August, requesting that he refrain from carrying out such a move, and opening the consulate in Ramallah, instead, the Times of Israel reported. 

 

In September, Israeli Foreign Minister, Yair Lapid, had warned Washington that restating the US mission in East Jerusalem was a “bad idea”, alluding that such a decision could force the collapse of Israel’s fragile coalition.

 

The subject also topped the agenda of Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Lapid during their meeting in Washington in October. “I don’t know how to hold this coalition together if you reopen the consulate,” Lapid told Blinken, as conveyed by Israeli officials and reported by Axios.

 

To avoid a confrontation and to buy time for the Israeli government, Blinken proposed a committee made up of US and Israeli officials to “discuss the issue with maximum discretion.” 

 

The Israeli government is using the current fractious ruling coalition as a pretense to defer the US decision on the consulate, hinting that if the US moves the embassy before the government budget passes in November, the government will dissolve, thus ushering in the ominous possibility of Netanyahu’s return. 

 

It is expected that the joint US-Israeli committee will not be formed until the budget vote, and even then, it is unclear if Washington will succeed in persuading Israel to respect Biden’s decision. 

 

Notably, while the matter of the consulate should concern Palestinians most, no Palestinian official will be included in the Blinken-Lapid exclusive and secretive talks. More bizarrely, the PA does not seem to mind, as we are yet to witness a public outcry by Abbas and his officials. This is, of course, typical PA behavior, for as long as US funds are, again, finding their way to PA coffers, all other issues seem of little or no urgency. 

 

However, even if a political compromise is found, and an American consulate is finally reestablished, how will this alter the reality on the ground? 

 

Since 1994, the US consulate has served a largely symbolic role, one that mattered most to the PA. It hardly altered the political equation on the ground in favor of Palestinians. In a telling and surreal reference to the consulate, Noga Tarnopolsky wrote in the Los Angeles Times in 2019: “The consulate was known for hosting one of the liveliest parties on Jerusalem’s annual schedule, a July 4 gala held on the front lawn.” 

 

A short distance away from the city’s “liveliest parties”, hundreds of Palestinian families are either being evicted or face the risk of evictions by the US-funded Israeli police and army and a bit further away is Israel’s apartheid wall that continues to segment occupied Palestine based on race, ethnicity and religion. One is justified, then, not to hold much hope that the reopening of the US mission will remotely change this horrific status quo.

 

The Biden Administration is proving to be but a soft facade to the same policies enacted by the Trump Administration. Only, this time, the Palestinian Authority, for self-serving reasons, does not seem to mind. 

The post Jerusalem’s “Liveliest Parties”: Has Biden Proved Different from Trump on Palestine?  first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Untold Story of Why Palestinians Are Divided

The political division in Palestinian society is deep-rooted, and must not be reduced to convenient claims about the ‘Hamas-Fatah split’, elections, the Oslo accords and subsequent disagreements. The division is linked to events that preceded all of these, and not even the death or incapacitation of the octogenarian, Mahmoud Abbas, will advance Palestinian unity by an iota.

Palestinian political disunity is tied to the fact that the issue of representation in Palestinian society has always been an outcome of one party trying to dominate all others. This dates back to Palestinian politics prior to the establishment of Israel on the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948, when various Palestinian clans fought for control over the entire Palestinian body politic. Disagreements led to conflict, often violent, though, at times, it also resulted in relative harmony – for example, the establishment of the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) in 1936.

These early years of discord duplicated themselves in later phases of the Palestinian struggle. Soon after Egyptian leader, Jamal Abdel Nasser, relinquished his influential role over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) following the humiliating Arab defeat in 1967, the relatively new Fatah Movement – established by Yasser Arafat and others in 1959 – took over. Since then, Fatah has mostly controlled the PLO, which was declared in Rabat, in 1974, to be the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people”.

The latter caveat was arguably added to ensure Arab rivals do not lay claim over the PLO, thus impose themselves as the benefactors of the Palestinian cause. However, long after the danger of that possibility had passed, Arafat and Fatah continued to control the PLO using the phrase as a moral justification for dominance and the elimination of political rivals.

While it is easy to jump to conclusions blaming Palestinians for their division, there is more to the story. Since much of the armed Palestinian struggle took place within various Arab political and territorial spaces, PLO groups needed to coordinate their actions, along with their political positions, with various Arab capitals – Cairo, Damascus, Amman and even, at times, Baghdad, Tripoli, Algiers and Sana’a. Naturally, this has deprived Palestinians of real, independent initiatives.

Arafat was particularly astute at managing one of the most difficult balancing acts in the history of liberation movements: keeping relative peace among Palestinian groups, appeasing Arab hosts and maintaining his control over Fatah and the PLO. Yet, even Arafat was often overwhelmed by circumstances well beyond his control, leading to major military showdowns, alienating him further and breaking down Palestinian groups to even smaller factions – each allied and supported by one or more Arab governments.

Even Palestinian division has rarely been a Palestinian decision, although the Palestinian leadership deserves much blame for failing to develop a pluralistic political system that is not dependent in its survival on a single group or individual.

The Oslo Accords of 1993 and the return of some of the Palestinian groups to Palestine in the following months and years was presented at the time as a critical step towards liberating Palestinian decision-making from Arab and other influences. While that claim worked in theory, it failed in practice, as the newly established Palestinian National Authority (PNA) quickly became hostage to other, even greater influences: Israel, the United States and the so-called donor countries. This US-led apparatus linked its political and financial support to the Palestinians agreeing to a set of conditions, including the cracking down on anti-Israel ‘incitement’ and the dismantling of ‘terrorist infrastructures.’

While such a new political regime forced Palestinian groups to yet another conflict, only Hamas seemed powerful enough to withstand the pressure amassed by Fatah, the PA and Israel combined.

The Hamas-Fatah feud did not start as an outcome of Oslo and the establishment of the PA. The latter events merely exacerbated an existing conflict. Immediately after Hamas’ establishment in late 1987, PLO parties, especially Fatah, viewed the new Islamic movement with suspicion for several reasons: Hamas began and expanded outside the well-controlled political system of the PLO; it was based in Palestine, thus avoiding the pitfalls of dependency on outside regimes; and, among other reasons, promoted itself as the alternative to the PLO’s past failures and political compromises.

Expectedly, Fatah dominated the PA as it did the PLO and, in both cases, rarely used truly democratic channels. As the PA grew richer and more corrupt, many Palestinians sought the answer in Hamas. Consequently, Hamas’ growth led to the movement’s victory in the Palestinian legislative elections in 2006. Conceding to a triumphant Hamas would have been the end of Fatah’s decades-long dominance over the Palestinian political discourse – let alone the loss of massive funding sources, prestige and many other perks. Thus, conflict seemed inevitable, leading to the tragic violence in the summer of 2007, and the eventual split between Palestinians- with Fatah dominating the PA in the occupied West Bank and Hamas ruling over besieged Gaza.

Matters are now increasingly complicated, as crises of political representation afflicting the PLO and the PA are likely to soon worsen with the power struggle under way within the Fatah movement. Though lacking Arafat’s popularity and respect among Palestinians, Abbas’ ultimate goal was the same: singlehandedly dominating the Palestinian body politic. However, unlike Arafat who, using manipulation and bribes kept the Fatah movement intact, Fatah under Abbas is ready to dismantle into smaller factions. Chances are the absence of Abbas will lead to a difficult transition within Fatah that, if accompanied with protests and violence, could result in the disintegration of the Fatah movement altogether.

To depict the current Palestinian political crisis in reductionist notions about a Hamas-Fatah ‘split’ – as if they were ever united – and other cliches, is to ignore a history of division that must not be solely blamed on Palestinians. In the post-Abbas Palestine, Palestinians must reflect on this tragic history and, instead of aiming for easy fixes, concentrate on finding common ground beyond parties, factions, clans and privileges. Most importantly, the era of one party and a single individual dominating all others must be left behind and, this time, for good.

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One Man as a Whole Generation: The Unfinished War of Zakaria Zubeidi

Zakaria Zubeidi is one of six Palestinian prisoners who, on September 6, tunneled their way out of Gilboa, a notorious, high-security Israeli prison. Zubeidi was recaptured a few days later. The large bruises on Zubeidi’s face told a harrowing story, that of a daring escape and of a violent arrest. However, the story does not begin, nor end, there.

Twenty years ago, following what has been etched in the collective Palestinian memory as the ‘Jenin Massacre’, I was introduced to the Zubeidi family in the Jenin refugee camp, which was almost entirely erased by the Israeli army during and following the Jenin battle.

Despite my repeated attempts, the Israeli army prevented me from reaching Jenin, which was kept under total Israeli military siege for months following the most violent episode of the entirety of the Second Palestinian Uprising (2000-2005).

I could not speak to Zakaria directly. Unlike his brother, Taha, Zakaria survived the massacre and subsequently rose in the ranks of Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, the armed wing of the Fatah movement, to become its leader, thus topping the list of Israel’s most wanted Palestinians.

Most of our communication was with his sister, Kauthar, who told us in detail about the events that preceded the fateful military siege of April. Kauthar was only 20 years old at the time. Despite her grief, she spoke proudly about her mother, who was killed by an Israeli sniper only weeks before the invasion of the camp and about her brother, Taha, the leader of the Al-Quds Brigades, the armed wing of the Islamic Jihad in Jenin at the time; and of Zakaria, who was now on a mission to avenge his mother, brother, best friends and neighbors.

“Taha was killed by a sniper. After he was killed, they fired shells at him, which completely burned his body. This was in the Damaj neighborhood,” Kauthar told us, adding, “The Shebab gathered what remained of him and put him in a house. Since that day, the house has been known as ‘The Home of the Hero’.”

Kauthar also told me about her mother, Samira, 51, “who spent her life going from one prison to another” to visit her husband and her sons. Samira was loved and respected by all the fighters in the camp. Her children were the heroes that all the youngsters attempted to emulate. Her death was particularly shocking.

“She was hit with two bullets in the heart,” Kauthar said. “Once she turned around, she was hit in the back. Blood poured out of her nose and mouth. I did not know what else to do but to scream.”

Zakaria immediately went underground. The young fighter was feeling aggrieved at what had befallen his beloved Jenin, family, mother and brother – the latter’s wedding was scheduled one week from the day he was killed. He was also feeling betrayed by his Fatah ‘brothers’ who continued to openly collaborate with Israel, despite the mounting tragedies in the occupied West Bank, and by the Israeli left that abandoned the Zubeidi family despite promises of solidarity and camaraderie.

“Every week, 20-30 Israelis would come there to do theatre,” Zakaria said in an interview with The Time magazine, with reference to the ‘Arna’s House’ theater, which involved Zakaria and other Jenin youngsters, and was established by Arna Mer-Khamis, an Israeli woman who was married to a Palestinian. “We opened our home and you demolished it … We fed them. And, afterwards, not one of them picked up the phone. That is when we saw the real face of the left in Israel.”

Of the five children who participated in the ‘Arna’s House’ theatre, only Zakaria survived. The rest had joined various armed groups to fight the Israeli occupation and were all killed.

Zakaria was born in 1976 under Israeli occupation, therefore never experienced life as a free man. At 13, he was shot by Israeli soldiers for throwing stones. At 14, he was arrested for the first time. At 17, he joined the Palestinian Authority security forces, believing, like many Palestinians at the time, that the PA’s ‘army’ was established to protect Palestinians and to secure their freedom. Disillusioned, he left the PA less than a year later.

Zakaria only committed to armed struggle in 2001, as a way of achieving freedom for his people, months after the start of the Second Intifada. One of his childhood friends was one of the first to be killed by Israeli soldiers. In 2002, Zakaria joined the Al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades, around the time that his mother, Samira, and his brother, Taha, were killed.

2002, in particular, was a decisive year for the Fatah movement, which was practically, but unofficially, divided into two groups: one that believed that armed struggle should remain a strategy for liberation, and another that advocated political dialogue and a peace process. Many members of the first group were killed, arrested or marginalized, including Fatah’s popular leader, Marwan Barghouti, who was arrested in April 2002. Members of the second group grew rich and corrupt. Their ‘peace process’ failed to deliver the coveted freedom and they refused to consider other strategies, fearing the loss of their privileges.

Zakaria, like thousands of Fatah members and fighters, was caught up in this ongoing dilemma, wanting to carry on with the struggle as if PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ leadership was ready to risk it all for the sake of Palestine, while remaining committed to the Fatah party, hoping that, perhaps, someday the movement would reclaim the mantle of Palestinian resistance.

The trajectory of Zakaria’s life, so far, is a testament to this confusion. He was not only imprisoned by the Israelis, but also by the PA. Sometimes, he spoke highly of Abbas only to, later, disown all the treachery of the Palestinian leadership. He surrendered his weapon several times, only to retrieve it with the same determination as before.

Though Zakaria is now back in prison, his story remains unfinished. Scores of young fighters are now roaming the streets of the Jenin refugee camp, vowing to carry on with armed struggle. Namely, Zakaria Zubeidi is not just a single person but a whole generation of Palestinians in the West Bank who are caught up in an impossible dilemma, having to choose between a painful, but real, struggle for freedom and political compromises, which, in Zakaria’s own words, “have achieved nothing”.

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Israel has every reason to fear this bold Palestinian prison break

It would be impossible for Palestinians not to revel in six prisoners carrying out a daring escape from one of Israel’s most secure and modern jails. Israel may be working overtime to demonise the six men as “terrorists“, but for Palestinians, they are among its finest and bravest foot soldiers.

They are prisoners of war, most of whom were serving long sentences after they tried to liberate their homeland by killing Israeli soldiers or settlers – those seen to be implementing and enforcing Israel’s decades-old occupation.

All Palestinians can identify with the plight of these men. Imprisonment is a rite of passage for much of the male Palestinian population; estimates are that many hundreds of thousands have passed through Israel’s jails over the past five decades.

Many are in jail awaiting trial, as were two of the six escapees. Others are in administrative detention – jailed without trial or even being told what charges are levelled against them. Inmates’ rights are serially abused. They are kept in overcrowded cells, have little contact with their families, and are often beaten or tortured.

In the summer, footage emerged – redolent of the abuses committed by the US army at Abu Ghraib in Iraq – of mass beatings of Palestinian inmates at Ketziot prison in Israel’s south in 2019. No action was taken even after the video leaked, presumably because this kind of thing – if rarely seen – is entirely routine. It confirms what Palestinian prisoners have long been saying.

And most Palestinian political prisoners are held in jails inside Israel, outside the occupied territories – the six fugitives broke out of Gilboa prison, in northern Israel – in flagrant violation of the Geneva Conventions and Israel’s obligations under the laws of war. As a result, family visits are often difficult, if not impossible.

Humiliation for Israel

Every Palestinian will glory in Israel’s humiliation. Guards failed to spot the prisoners gradually widening a hole in the drainage system in their cell over many months. The six men moved undetected past a sleeping guard, and they planned a sophisticated getaway – seemingly assisted – that foiled a police manhunt hot on their tail.

But the celebrations in Palestinian communities across the region, and far beyond, relate not just to the jailbreak. Every day the prisoners remain free – and four were still at large on Friday, after two were reportedly caught in Nazareth – is another hammer blow against the occupation. That is not just the way Palestinians see it. It is how Israel’s officials and much of the public understand it too.

The six did not just escape from an Israeli maximum-security prison. They jumped out of the frying pan into the fire. They broke out of the small prison that is Gilboa into the much larger prison for Palestinians that is their homeland under occupation.

Every minute the men remain at large, Israel’s occupation is defied. Every minute they can’t be found, Israel’s system of control is defeated. Palestinians are reminded that freedom may ultimately be possible; that the occupation is not invincible.

Islamic Jihad, the Palestinian militant faction to which five of the men belonged, has urged Palestinians not to speak of this as an escape but as an “act of liberation”. This is precisely why Israel is determined that, as soon as possible, the men are returned behind visible bars – or maybe killed in a shootout, a fate that often befalls those who defy Israel. The point of its occupation is to crush any hope, any sense that freedom can be attained.

Hierarchy of confinement

In fact, like Dante’s circles of hell, Israel has created a hierarchy of confinement for Palestinians. The more they resist the fate intended for them by Israel – to be dispossessed and erased from their homeland – the more harshly Israel constrains them.

Prison is the ultimate punishment. But as is so often pointed out, Gaza is also a giant detention camp, the largest open-air prison in the world. The coastal strip, run by Hamas, is surrounded by an electronic perimeter fence, and besieged by the army and navy on all sides.

Over in the land-locked West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, formally the Palestinian president but in practice the unelected head of a few cantons in its midst, has won minor privileges for his own population through good behaviour.

By serving as Israel’s security sub-contractor – remember his infamous words saying “security coordination” with Israel was “sacred” – Abbas has managed to slightly loosen the chains of confinement. There are fewer Israeli checkpoints, and less of an Israeli army presence, in the small areas of the West Bank not being plundered by settlers.

But Israel’s furious reaction to the jailbreak, as well as the fugitives’ limited options in the face of this backlash, were a reminder of deeper realities. The occupied West Bank was put under immediate military closure – the cell door slammed shut – in a familiar move of Israeli collective punishment.

The six men are from Jenin and its immediate environs. The small Palestinian city in the northern West Bank is only a stone’s throw from Gilboa prison. They could have expected to be hidden there, if they could have reached it. In another act of collective punishment – a war crime – Israel arrested several of their relatives.

Given Abbas’s “security coordination” with Israel, however, the fugitives may prefer to stay out of the West Bank. Abbas has noticeably avoided expressing any support himself for the men. He recently met Israel’s defence minister, Benny Gantz, in a bid to revive a long-stalled “peace process” that served in the past only to perpetuate, and provide cover for, the occupation.

Israel’s intelligence agencies are constantly eavesdropping on Palestinian communications, and they operate an extensive network of collaborators in the occupied West Bank. Or as the Haaretz military affairs correspondent Amos Harel put it with revealing frankness: “With the possible exception of a number of totalitarian regimes, the West Bank is subject to as comprehensive and intensive intelligence coverage as anyplace on earth.”

Escape route

The fugitives’ best hope of remaining out of Israel’s clutches may be leaving their homeland and crossing the border into Jordan. Amman would find it hard to return them, given their status as heroes and Jordan’s concerns about inflaming passions among its own large Palestinian refugee population.

But making such an escape would be no mean feat. Israel already has tight security along the Jordan Valley.

Underscoring the paradoxes of the occupation, Israel seems most concerned that the fugitives may try to break into Gaza. It has reportedly beefed up patrols around the perimeter. The coastal enclave may be an open-air prison, and has been under 15 years of Israeli blockade, but it is one where, uniquely, the Palestinian inmates have some degree of control inside the walls of their massively overcrowded, resource-poor, polluted cell.

Israel’s sanctions are mostly at arm’s length. It keeps the inmates on a near-starvation diet, and intermittently – when they start to riot – it sends in missiles or soldiers as the equivalent of punishment beatings.

The final option for the men is to stay inside Israel. Already, the Israeli media is hinting to its readers that the fugitives were aided, and sheltered, by Israel’s Palestinian minority, a fifth of the population who have very degraded citizenship. These Palestinians are the remnants of the native population who were otherwise expelled from their lands during the new state of Israel’s ethnic cleansing operations in 1948.

Some of Gilboa’s guards have been interrogated on the assumption that the prisoners received inside help. That is one way of seeking to diminish their achievement in escaping from an Israeli maximum-security jail. But it is also a finger of accusation pointing at Israel’s 1.8 million Palestinian citizens.

The Druze are a very small sect among the Palestinian minority whose young men are, uniquely for the minority, conscripted into the Israeli army. Afterwards, most end up with few opportunities apart from working in low-paying security jobs, often as prison guards.

Israeli authorities have every interest to shift the blame onto one or more of these guards for the jailbreak, if it means their own incompetence or complacency can be taken out of the spotlight.

Heroes three times

What happens next will be difficult for Israel, whatever the outcome. The six escapees are now heroes to the Palestinian public three times over. They originally made personal sacrifices to join the military resistance to the occupation and risk their lives. They carried out a bold and rare prison escape under the very noses of Israeli authorities. And now they are on the run, and most have so far evaded capture, despite Israel using every one of the many means at its disposal.

They have rapidly become symbols of the plight of every Palestinian – and what every Palestinian aspires to achieve through defiance.

Inspired by the six men’s actions, Israeli political prisoners have already rioted to stop efforts by Israel to collectively punish them over the prison break and move them to different jails. They are also threatening a mass hunger strike next week over new forms of collective punishment in response to the jailbreak, including cancelling already limited family visits. Hamas could fire rockets into Israel if matters escalate.

Support among the Palestinian public is likely to be rock-solid, and discontent – both against Israel and against Abbas as Israel’s security contractor – could easily explode across the region, in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and among Palestinian citizens in Israel. Some Palestinians responded to a Hamas call for a “day of rage” in support of the prisoners on Friday, and there were warnings that an uprising could be imminent.

On the other hand, the new right-wing government of Naftali Bennett, after more than a decade of rule by Benjamin Netanyahu, is vulnerable to claims by his rival that both the jailbreak and the failed manhunt are evidence of dangerous incompetence on his watch.

For many of Bennett’s own supporters, the preferred outcome would doubtless be the fugitives’ execution while on the run. Alon Eviatar, a former Israeli intelligence officer, spoke bluntly of either catching or killing them. The latter outcome would be seen by much of the Israeli public as reasserting “deterrence” and as fitting “justice” for men widely reviled.

Most Israelis want a forceful message sent to Palestinians: that resisting their imprisonment – whether in a small jail such as Gilboa or in the bigger jail of the occupation – is futile.

For a while longer, however, Palestinians will be able to exult in the idea that resistance might actually achieve something after all.

• First published in Middle East Eye

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The People vs. Mahmoud Abbas: Are the Palestinian Authority’s Days Numbered?

“The Palestinian Authority’s days are numbered”. This assertion has been oft repeated recently, especially after the torture to death on June 24 of a popular Palestinian activist, Nizar Banat, 42, at the hands of PA security goons in Hebron (Al-Khalil).

The killing – or ‘assassination’ as some Palestinian rights groups describe it – of Banat, however, is commonplace. Torture in PA prisons is the modus operandi, through which Palestinian interrogators exact ‘confessions’. Palestinian political prisoners in PA custody are usually divided into two main groups: activists who are suspected by Israel of being involved in anti-Israeli occupation activities and others who have been detained for voicing criticism of the PA’s corruption or subservience to Israel.

In a 2018 report by Human Rights Watch, the group spoke of “dozens of arrests”, carried out by the PA “for critical posts on social media platforms.” Banat fits perfectly into this category, as he was one of the most persistent and outspoken activists, whose many videos and social media posts exposed and embarrassed the PA leadership of Mahmoud Abbas and his ruling Fatah party. Unlike others, Banat named names and called for severe measures against those who squander Palestinian public funds and betray the causes of the Palestinian people.

Banat has been arrested by PA police several times in the past. In May, gunmen attacked his home, using live bullets, stun grenades and tear gas. He blamed the attacks on Abbas’ Fatah party.

His last social media campaign was concerned with the almost-expired Covid-19 vaccinations which the PA received from Israel on June 18. Because of public pressure by activists like Banat, the PA was forced to return the Israeli vaccines which, before then, were touted as a positive gesture by Israel’s new Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett.

When the PA men descended on Banat’s house on June 24, the ferocity of their violence was unprecedented. His cousin, Ammar, spoke of how nearly 25 PA security personnel raided Banat’s house, pepper-sprayed him while in bed and “began beating him with iron bars and wooden batons.” After stripping him naked, they dragged him into a vehicle. An hour and a half later, the family learned the fate of their son through a WhatsApp group.

Despite initial denial, under pressure from thousands of protesters throughout the West Bank, the PA was forced to admit that Banat’s death was “unnatural.” The PA’s Justice Minister, Mohammed al-Shalaldeh, told Palestine TV that an initial medical report indicated that Banat was subjected to physical violence.

This supposed explosive revelation was meant to demonstrate that the PA is willing to examine and take responsibility for its action. However, this is simply untrue as, one, the PA has never taken responsibility for its past violence and, two, violence is the cornerstone of the PA’s very existence. Arbitrary arrests, torture and suppression of peaceful protests are synonymous with PA security as numerous reports by rights groups, whether in Palestine or internationally, have indicated.

So, is it true that “the Palestinian Authority’s days are numbered?” To consider this question, it is important to examine the rationale behind the PA’s very existence, and also to compare that initial purpose to what has transpired in the following years.

The PA was founded in 1994 as a transitional national authority with the purpose of guiding the Palestinian people through the process of, ultimately, national liberation, following the ‘final status negotiations’, set to conclude by the end of 1999. Many years have elapsed, since, without a single political achievement to the PA’s name. This does not mean that the PA, from the viewpoint of its leadership and Israel, has been a total failure, as the PA security continued to fulfill the most important role entrusted to it: security coordination with the Israeli occupation; i.e., protecting illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank and doing Israel’s dirty bidding in PA-run autonomous Palestinian areas. In exchange, the PA received billions of dollars from US-led ‘donor countries’ and from Palestinian taxes collected on its behalf by Israel.

That same paradigm is still at work, but for how much longer? Following the Palestinian revolt in May, the Palestinian people have exhibited unprecedented national unity and resolve that have transcended factional lines, and have daringly called for the removal of Abbas from power, rightly linking the Israeli occupation with the PA’s corruption.

Since the mass protests in May, the PA’s official discourse has been marred by confusion, desperation and panic. PA leaders, including Abbas, tried to position themselves as revolutionary leaders. They spoke of ‘resistance’, ‘martyrs’, and even ‘revolution’, while simultaneously renewing their commitment to the ‘peace process’ and the American agenda in Palestine.

As Washington resumed its financial support of Abbas’ Authority after it was disrupted by former US President Donald Trump, the PA hoped to return to the status quo, that of relative stability, financial abundance and political relevance. The Palestinian people, however, seem to have moved on, as demonstrated in the mass protests – always met with violent response by PA security throughout the West Bank, including Ramallah, the seat of the PA’s power.

Even the slogans have changed. Following Banat’s murder, thousands of protesters in Ramallah, representing all strands of Palestinian society, called on Abbas, 85, to leave, referring to his security goons as ‘baltajieh’ and ‘shabeha’ – or thugs – terms borrowed from Arab protesters during the early years of various Middle Eastern revolts.

This change in discourse points to a critical shift in the relationship between ordinary Palestinians – emboldened and ready to stage a mass revolt against Israeli occupation and colonialism – and their quisling, corrupt and self-serving so-called leadership. It is important to note that no aspect of this Palestinian Authority enjoys an iota of democratic credentials. Indeed, on April 30, Abbas canceled the general election that was scheduled to be held in Palestine in May, based on flimsy excuses.

The PA has proven to be an obstacle in the face of Palestinian freedom, with no credibility among Palestinians. It clings on to power only because of US and Israeli support. Whether this Authority’s days are numbered or not, depends on whether the Palestinian people prove that their collective will is stronger than the PA and its benefactors. Historical experience has taught us that the Palestinian people will eventually prevail.

The post The People vs. Mahmoud Abbas: Are the Palestinian Authority’s Days Numbered? first appeared on Dissident Voice.

The Fumbling King of Palestine: Palestinians are Defeating the Oslo Culture

The political discourse of Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is similar to that of an ineffectual king who has been isolated in his palace for far too long. The king speaks of prosperity and peace, and tirelessly counts his innumerable achievements, while his people are dying of starvation outside and pointlessly begging for his attention.

But Abbas is no ordinary king. He is a ‘president’ by name only, a designated ‘leader’ simply because Israel and the US-led international political system insist on recognizing him as such. Not only had the man’s political mandate expired in 2009, it was quite limited even prior to that date.  At no point in his career did Abbas ever represent the entire Palestinian people. Now, at 85 years, chances are Abbas will never serve this role.

Long before Abbas was the US and Israel’s favorite Palestinian ‘candidate’ to rule over occupied and oppressed Palestinians in 2005, two separate political discourses were evolving in Palestine and, with them, two uniquely separate cultures. There was the ‘Oslo culture’, which was sustained by empty clichés, platitudes about peace and negotiations and, most importantly, billions of dollars, which poured in from donor countries. The funds were never truly aimed at achieving the coveted just peace or Palestinian independence, but to sustain a dismal status quo, where Israel’s military occupation is normalized through ‘security coordination’ between the Israeli army and Abbas’ Authority.

This culture, seen by most Palestinians as treacherous and corrupt, was celebrated in the West as ‘moderate’, especially if compared to the other Palestinian culture, dubbed ‘radical’, or worse, ‘terrorist’. The other culture, which has been shunned for nearly three decades is, thanks to the recent popular revolt in Palestine and the stiff resistance in Gaza, finally prevailing. The show of strength exhibited by the Palestinian Resistance in the besieged Gaza Strip, commencing May 10 – especially within the context of a popular uprising that has finally unified Palestinian youth across, not only in the occupied territories but all of historic Palestine as well – is inspiring a new language. This language is not only being utilized by a handful of ‘radical’ intellectuals, but by many political and academic figures who have long been affiliated with the PA.

In an interview with the British newspaper, The Independent, soon after the end of the Israeli war on Gaza, former PA Minister and veteran politician, Hanan Ashrawi, spoke of the changes underway at the socio-political level in Palestine. “Hamas has evolved, and it is gaining support among young people, even Christians,” Ashrawi said, adding that “Hamas has every right to be represented in a pluralistic system.” However, this is not about Hamas alone. It is about Palestinian resistance as a whole, whether represented in islamist, nationalist or socialist trends.

At one time, Abbas had referred to the Palestinian resistance in Gaza as ‘frivolous’. Today, not many Palestinians in the West Bank, or even in Ramallah, would agree with his assessment.

The above assertion was apparent on May 25, when US Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, rushed to Israel and the Occupied Territories in a desperate attempt to revive an old language, one that Palestinians are now openly challenging. Inside Abbas’ luxurious office, Blinken spoke of money, negotiations and, inaptly, ‘freedom of expression’. Abbas thanked the American diplomat, oddly demanded a return to the ‘status quo’ in Jerusalem, renounced ‘violence and terrorism’, and called for ‘peaceful popular resistance’.

Yet, in the streets of Ramallah, a few hundred meters away from the Blinken-Abbas spectacle, thousands of Palestinians were battling with PA police while chanting “America is the head of the snake”, “Security coordination is shameful,” and “The Oslo Accords are gone.”

The protesters comprised Muslims and Christians, men and women, young and old and represented all Palestinian factions, including the PA’s dominant party, Abbas’ own, Fatah. The protesters were accurate in their chants, of course, but what is truly significant is that Palestinians in the West Bank are finally overcoming many obstacles and fears, the stifling factional division, the brutality of Abbas’ security goons and are openly challenging –  in fact, ready to dismantle –  the entire Oslo culture.

Blinken’s visit to Palestine was not compelled by concern over the plight of occupied and besieged Palestinians, and certainly not over the lack of freedom of expression. If that was, indeed, the case, the US could simply end or, at least, condition its $3.8 billion of military aid to Israel. But Blinken, as the top representative of the Joe Biden Administration’s foreign policy, had nothing new to offer by way of new ideas, strategies, plans, let alone language. All he had were promises of more money to Abbas, as if American aid is what Palestinians are fighting and dying for.

Like Biden’s foreign policy, Abbas is equally bankrupt. He fumbled as he spoke, repeatedly emphasizing his gratitude for renewed American funds, money that made him, his family and a very corrupt class of Palestinians undeservingly rich.

The latest Israeli bloodbath in Gaza – the killing of hundreds and the wounding of thousands, the wanton destruction and systematic violence in the West Bank and elsewhere – are watershed moments in the history of Palestine, not because of the tragedy that Israel has, once more, orchestrated, but because of the resilience of the Palestinian people in their collective response to this tragedy. The consequences of this realization are likely to change the political paradigm in Palestine for years to come.

Frequently, many have rightly argued that the Oslo Accords, as a political doctrine, was long dead. However, the Oslo culture, that of unique but misleading language, factional division, classism and utter political chaos, which persisted for many years, is likely on its way out, too. Neither Washington, Tel Aviv, nor Mahmoud Abbas’ PA can possibly resuscitate the past and the miserable culture that Oslo has imposed on the Palestinian people. Only Palestinians can lead this transition for a better future, that of national unity, political clarity and, ultimately, freedom.

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