As protests have erupted in 1948 Palestine (present-day Israel), the Gaza Strip, occupied Jerusalem and in villages across the rest of the occupied West Bank against the injustices and massacres committed by the Israeli state, the major West Bank cities under Palestinian Authority remain largely quiet.
In recent months, Palestinian public support for the PA has plummeted. This is evident in the chatter in cafes, social media and the anti-PA chants gaining more traction at protests, as well as the fact that PA police stations are being stoned and their vehicles burned more often.
The PA has long been criticized for being counterproductive to the Palestinian struggle. Concerns range from financial corruption to security collaboration with Israel. The PA has been rightly accused of being a proxy for the Israeli occupation in so-called Areas A and B of the occupied West Bank. These are the areas designated under the 1993 Oslo accords, comprising about a third of the West Bank, where PA forces keep order and calm on behalf of the occupation.
However, in recent months, the actions of the PA and statements of its head, Mahmoud Abbas, have polarized and angered Palestinians like never before. It is not a change of strategy that is causing this, but rather the clear lack of “victories” which the PA could use to rally mainstream West Bank Palestinians behind it.
Abbas today has no prisoner release deal or UN bid for statehood to use in an effort to rally support; he is left at the mercy of the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which is not interested in continuing the “peace process” sham with him.
Not just helpless
I do not wish to portray the PA as merely helpless. Rather we should see it as capable of taking major actions, but choosing not to do so. The PA I’m describing is doing more harm to the Palestinian struggle by being based in the occupied city of Ramallah: political representation of Palestinians cannot succeed while under direct control of the occupation.
The PA could do many things, including showing support for the globally successful boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement, as well as calling for the isolation of Israel until it adheres to international law.
However, PA leaders are doing the exact opposite by calling to normalize relations with Israel instead. Abbas openly rejects the boycott movement, damaging its international standing.
The PA is able to seek access to the International Criminal Court, and has been encouraged to do so by at least seventeen Palestinian and international human rights groups, but it refuses to do so as to not anger Israel and the United States.
The UN-commissioned Goldstone report provided a genuine opportunity to hold Israel accountable for the war crimes committed in its 2008-2009 invasion of Gaza, which left 1,400 people, the vast majority civilians, dead. This was a serious chance to put an end to Israel’s ability to commit further war crimes with impunity. But answering to the demands of Israel, the United States and businessmen closely linked to Abbas, the PA ignored the interests of the Palestinian people and helped to bury the report.
PA has its defenders
Since I arrived back in Palestine last month, I’ve been talking to some individuals who still strongly support the strategy of the PA. They typically back their claims with a few arguments, especially regarding PA “security coordination” with the Israeli army.
I hear, for instance, that Abbas is a “diplomatic genius” who is successfully rallying international support for the Palestinian cause. This is simply not true, for the reasons I mentioned earlier, as well as the fact that Abbas’ strategy has not induced a single government to react differently toward escalating Israeli aggression and collective punishment in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The success in getting some European firms and financial institutions to divest from Israeli banks and label settlement products or to refuse to do business with settlement-profiteering firms is the result of a huge grassroots effort across Europe where activists highlight international law, target complicit companies and pressure politicians to take action.
If Abbas is making any impact, he is doing harm by publicly rejecting the efforts of those grassroots activists and calling for collaboration with Israel instead.
On security coordination, Abbas supporters keep bringing up two sentimental arguments to justify the PA’s collaboration with Israel.
I often hear the line that the security forces are “Palestinians just like us” and “they fought and resisted in the second intifada,” therefore they seek our best interests.
This, again, is not true. The Palestinian security forces they talk about are either dead, imprisoned by Israel, imprisoned by the PA, or completely neutralized.
Today, the PA “security forces” are what their American architect General Keith Dayton described as the “new kind of Palestinian man,” solely trained to follow orders and maintain security in the West Bank for the sake of Israel, and consuming a full third of the PA’s total budget.
This completely serves the Israeli occupation’s interest rather than the Palestinian people.
Another argument which PA supporters enjoy repeating is that Palestinians in the West Bank are able to seek medical care in Israeli hospitals with a permit from the Israeli civil administration.
I hear, for instance: “What if your grandma desperately needed to seek medical care at an Israeli hospital? Security coordination enables her to do so.” I kid you not, this is a popular argument used by politicians and supporters alike. Those who use it are very confused as to what security coordination truly is: joint Israeli-PA efforts to crack down on all forms of resistance. This argument lacks a basic understanding of the responsibility an occupying power has towards its occupied subjects.
Stopping Israeli war crimes
With Israel’s ongoing massive bombardment of Gaza, there is a responsibility on all of us to do what we can to put a stop to Israeli war crimes. Solidarity activists around the world must intensify BDS efforts. Palestinian citizens of Israel and Palestinians in the West Bank will likely escalate their protests too. We will save innocent lives when we increase the pressure on Israel on all fronts.
But the PA is not interested in allowing any sort of protest in West Bank cities under its partial control.
Since the attack on Gaza began, Palestinians in West Bank cities have taken to the streets to protest from sunset until sunrise as it is Ramadan. Fully aware that mounting pressure on Israel is the only way to stop the horror in Gaza, the PA still blocks all attempts by Palestinians to protest against the Israeli occupation.
During the first few days of the bombardment of Gaza, and as the death toll climbed steadily, PA forces stopped and violently suppressed protestors in Tulkarem, Ramallah, Nablus, and Hebron, and even fired tear gas at Palestinian youths in Jenin to prevent them from reaching the Israeli checkpoint at al-Jalameh.
In Ramallah, for three nights in a row, Palestinians had to walk through hills and sneak behind PA security forces in order to reach Beit El military outpost to protest the Israeli occupation.
On Thursday night, youths were surprised to find PA forces waiting for them next to the Israeli outpost in order to prevent them reaching that area. So when some youths decided to divert and march to the Israeli settlement of Psagot on the other side of the city, PA forces quickly deployed in that area and broke up the marches and threatened the Palestinian protestors.
One person told me that he saw Palestinian security forces still deployed near Beit El military outpost at 2:00am, and made a sarcastic comment on how the PA security forces are being uselessly deployed there to protect Israeli interests while the Israelis themselves are fast asleep.
The PA is not weak or helpless, however its interests lie in being an extended arm for the Israeli occupation. The PA is also complicit in prioritizing the interests of businessmen and corrupt politicians wishing to make a profit while the vast majority of Palestinians suffer.
For the occupied Palestinian people, there is no positive in the PA’s existence, it only furthers the unjust status quo and entrenches the Israeli occupation without any sort of resistance. It does not represent the Palestinian people and its president’s mandate officially expired five years ago.
At a time when even the PA’s backbone, the tens of thousands of workers who receive a regular salary from its institutions, are not receiving their salaries due to a dire and chronic financial crisis, attitudes towards the PA are starting to shift even among its strongest supporters.
And to an increasing number of Palestinians in the West Bank, especially those who live in refugee camps in Ramallah, Jenin and Nablus, a vehicle belonging to PA security forces is considered the same as vehicle of the Israeli occupation forces.
It is scary to think what could happen if this continues; the vehicle will inevitably become the human and the cost could be dear. For the PA, the reality is shifting, the mask is falling, and its true nature is out in the open.