We discuss the possible fate of the Palestinian Authority and its continued collaboration with Israel as its partial control deteriorates in the occupied West Bank.
While the PA’s budget depends on funding, aid and financial assistance from international actors “who have been very clear what they expect from the PA and have not hidden it, which is of course, calm, because you can only negotiate peace and calm,” he says, “it’s a sort of circular trap that the PA is in.”
He says that he “got a sense that we are reaching a sort of a crucial point at the moment, because the first thing to break is going to be the Palestinian Authority itself.”
Omar also talks about the provocations by Israeli settler lawmakers in East Jerusalem during the month of Ramadan and the significance of widening splits between Israel’s security establishment and the political elite, as outwardly fascist government ministers press for the continued ethnic cleansing of Palestinians.
“I think the present government is simply a logical outcome of what Israel is, and what it has become, which is a Jewish supremacist apartheid state … there is really no other way of describing it,” he says.
“I think the only reason people are talking about this government is because it is nakedly so, and unashamedly so, and there is no peace process to sort of mitigate or hide or conceal what Israel wants,” he adds.
“What Israel wants, and has always wanted, is as much of the land as possible with as few of the people as possible. And that continues to this day. And that continued throughout Oslo. And it didn’t matter.”
Articles we discussed
- “PA must stop playing Israel’s game,” Omar Karmi
- “Israel brutalizes worshippers at al-Aqsa for second night,” Maureen Clare Murphy
- “Fascism grips Israel yet US clings to two-state fantasy,” Michael F. Brown
Video production by Tamara Nassar
Theme music by Sharif Zakout
Subscribe to The Electronic Intifada Podcast on Apple Podcasts (search for The Electronic Intifada) and on Spotify. Support our podcast by rating us, sharing and leaving a review, and you can also donate to fund our work.
Lightly edited for clarity.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Welcome back to The Electronic Intifada Podcast. We’re delighted to be joined today by our own colleague, Omar Karmi, Associate Editor here at The Electronic Intifada who was just in Palestine. Omar, thank you so much. And welcome back to the podcast.
Omar Karmi: It’s a pleasure as always.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: The last month in particular has been particularly gruesome for Palestine. Tell us about the atmosphere on the ground when you were there, especially in occupied Jerusalem. Tell us why you were there in the first place.
Omar Karmi: Well, I went there to visit family. I hadn’t been there for 10 years. So it’s been quite a while since I was there. And I arrived on the day of the al-Aqsa raid, when Israeli police decided they wanted to beat up handcuffed worshippers at al-Aqsa in Jerusalem, and in order to, of course, bring Jewish nationalists to be at al-Aqsa and lay claim to the land. So that was the first day I was there. I was in Ramallah, though. So Ramallah is a bit of a bubble. So you didn’t actually feel it. And in an odd kind of a way, when you’re in Ramallah, you kind of feel more distant from everything that’s going on there. And you feel outside, which is interesting. And I can’t quite explain it, so I won’t try. But that’s, but that’s where I was.
So that was my welcome home, if you like, and I did get to Jerusalem the following week, and I went with a dear friend of mine, who brought me, who lives right next to the al-Aqsa and we went to al-Aqsa and we went to see the clinic, which is right next to the mosque, where the Israeli police raided. And, you know, the clinic has been cleaned up now. But I was shown footage of what happened – and the destruction, not what happened, but the destruction that was there as a result of what happened. And one of the things they’ve done, there’s a plaster wall between the clinic and the mosque itself, which had been broken down. And there was just a big hole. And that’s how they managed to get in because they had closed all the doors and barricaded themselves in when the police came. When I say police, I’m sorry, I should say security forces. Because it’s not police. It’s occupied territory.
And so there was a big hole, a hole in the wall that they had knocked through the wall in order to get in. And in order to arrest people. That hole when I visited had been blocked by a sort of – they put a big board up. I think I was there on a Wednesday or a Thursday. This is all during Ramadan. So in fact, there’s one thing that needs to be said – a couple of things need to be said about al-Aqsa, actually, that people don’t seem to understand. One is during Ramadan, especially the second half of Ramadan. It’s very normal. In fact, it’s asked of believers to pray all the time. So it’s very normal for people to stay at a mosque overnight and pray, especially a site that is as important as al-Aqsa is to Muslims –
Asa Winstanley: And yet, we saw Israeli propagandists all over social media saying that Palestinian rioters have barricaded themselves into the mosque.
Omar Karmi: Exactly. Yeah, no, absolutely. This is this is. I mean, it’s always portrayed as provocateurs at the mosque. But actually during Ramadan at least – I mean, you know, think about it. Sunrise is about five o’clock. You need to do your prayers before sunrise. It’s almost impossible for Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank to get to al-Aqsa in the first place. If you’re serious, you’d want to stay there in order to pray and to make sure you can make morning prayer.
Of course, the protests start as a result of what are incredibly provocative visits by, by people, by mostly Jews, who lay claim to the mosque as their own. And it’s that fact, more than the visit, that’s important. I mean, it’s fine. There are arrangements to be made, if you’re a tourist, you can go and visit the mosque, you can go and have a look, all of these things are fine. But if you go and have a look, and you are basically claiming this as your own thing, and obviously, it’s provocative, and obviously, it’s gonna cause a lot of resistance, which is exactly what it’s done.
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, I think it’s important to say that these are not religious visits, these are about nationalism, they’re about Jewish nationalism, as it perceives itself, they’re about Zionism, and the claim made that every inch of the so-called Land of Israel belongs to Israel, and that Palestinians don’t have any kind of real claim to it. Traditionally, in Judaism, Jews are not meant to go to that area.
Omar Karmi: Absolutely. The ultra-orthodox and other people will refuse to go. There is no temple, it’s, it’s, you know, there is the Western wall, the Wailing Wall, where people will go, which is separated slightly, and it’s down. But to actually step foot on al-Aqsa is not – is prohibited by some within Judaism. But clearly not by all. And so the visits there are certainly a claim to territory, which is why they always kick off a lot of protests. And this time was no different. So when I went there, though, this was about a week after the protest we saw, and the very harsh security forces clamped down, we saw, and the response, which came from Lebanon and Gaza.
At the time, the talk at al-Aqsa was all about this was going to happen again, they’re going to reopen the visits. And people were preparing themselves. They were sitting, they were waiting, some people were praying all night at the mosque in part to be there. But it didn’t happen. There was a visit the next day, but it didn’t spark any major protests, passed off fairly peacefully, in part, I think, because the response, the first response, I think a lot of people look back to 2021 and thought it’s gonna kick off again, in a way that then, but I think that actually and interestingly, there is a big division in Israel. Let’s face it, it’s Israel which ultimately determines whether or not things kick off or not. There’s big division in Israel between the security establishment and the present government, which –
Asa Winstanley: The Israeli deep state.
Omar Karmi: Exactly, which even to the Israeli security establishment is far too radical, and putting them in a difficult position. But I think the quiet sort of calm response, let’s put it this way: the rockets didn’t kill anybody, Israeli response didn’t kill anybody. It gave everybody an opportunity to say, we’ve had our say, the key question was, what were the Israelis going to do after that? And they didn’t, really. So I would say, yes, we have one more day of Ramadan. But still, I think everybody stepped back from the brink. And in part that is explained by the division in Israel. Certainly the response from Palestinians and others was the same as it always was.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Yeah, let’s talk a little bit more about that. You know, Israel is claiming that it has a constitutional crisis happening. Of course, Israel doesn’t even have a constitution to speak of because it won’t declare its own borders. It can’t. And, you know, these protests are still happening in the streets of Tel Aviv. Can you talk about what, how you feel – what you feel is playing out right now in terms of Israel’s own, you know, internal divisions between the far right and the far far right.
Omar Karmi: Yeah, I mean, it’s hard to say I didn’t spend that much time within Israel to speak to people, within ‘48 territory. I think – I think what’s clear is that you have a government now that is absolutely nakedly honest about what it wants and what Israel wants to a large degree, and why. And that honesty or that sort of upfrontness, if you like, has put its allies more than anything else in a very embarrassing position. Because, you know, people like Itamar Ben-Gvir, and, and [Bezalel] Smotrich are not hypocrites in the sense that they don’t try and hide who they are or what they think, they’re very honest about it. They are Jewish supremacists, and they truly believe that Jews have more rights to the land than the land’s native population, basically, based on divine promise and history.
And, you know, remarkably, this has always been obviously Zionist Israel’s sort of raison d’être. But it’s taken a very long time. And nobody likes to be confronted with this kind of supremacism because it looks ugly. And I think if we look back to the Aqaba and Sheikh, sorry, Sharm al-Sheikh meetings earlier in last month, in fact, where the Americans basically knocked heads together and said, We don’t want anything happening during Ramadan, it’s not the right time. The – it was, I think it was made clear to the Israeli security establishment, the Americans weren’t happy with what’s happening. And so you have at the moment, and one of the best examples of that is the reinstatement of the Israeli defense minister by Netanyahu who had fired him. You have at the moment a division between the Israeli security establishment, that is the army, the intelligence and so on, and the Israeli government, which is unusual, because the two normally are very close.
And that more than anything else, to me explains why this Ramadan passed off more peacefully than we’ve seen in previous years. That, and the fact that I think even in previous years, you would have thought that you had a response from Lebanon is important. But it’s not the determining factor here. As far as I can see, the determining factor is the security establishment, Israel, basically trying to tell the government, we’re not going to do what you want, at this time.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Can you talk a little bit about how you see, you know, the Israeli government as it is now? And, you know, what, Palestinians, especially in the West Bank and Gaza, are talking about in terms of how the government of the settler state is functioning or not functioning at this point?
Omar Karmi: I think the present government is simply a logical outcome of what Israel is, and what it has become, which is a Jewish supremacist apartheid state. I mean, you know, there is really no other way of describing it. I think the only reason people are talking about this government is because it is nakedly so, and unashamedly so, and there is no peace process to sort of mitigate or hide or conceal what Israel wants. What Israel wants, and has always wanted, is as much of the land as possible with as few of the people as possible. And that continues to this day. And that continued throughout Oslo. And it didn’t matter.
And I think, I think the biggest question to ask of the international community is if you were genuine about Oslo and a two-state solution, and why are you not punishing Israel for making it impossible at the moment? And what would it take for the international community to say oh, that’s that’s too far. I mean, you know, one thing that is very noticeable, and I’ve been away, this is my first visit in 10 years. It’s incredibly noticeable how, particularly the settlements around Jerusalem have grown. I mean, they have grown, you can see them, you can see the spread of them, you can see how far they’ve got, you can talk to farmers and villagers and, you know, they know, they will tell you how much land, how much less land they can now access. And this is not I mean, this is not a secret. This is not, this is not done in the – under the cover of dark. It’s done absolutely openly. And everybody knows it. Now, given that, given that, that is a direct and the most direct contradiction to any two-state outcome. Where are the international actors who say they support this? And it remains bizarrely an international consensus, if you like, a two-state solution.
So you ask anybody in the State Department, you ask anybody, the Foreign Office, you ask anybody at the UN, even the Chinese recently came out saying, you know, we will enter in, we will mediate for two-state solution, it remains the consensus. And yet the ground, the reality on the ground is very much the opposite. That’s not to say that you can’t move 1 million settlers out of your, close enough to 1 million settlers out of occupied territory, you probably could. But it’s the most unlikely scenario at the moment. So the paucity of an alternative that is generally accepted on the international stage partly explains this sort of lack of momentum to do anything about it. And of course, the fact that its allies, for whatever reason, seem to think that Israel performs a useful function for them. I don’t know why – I spoke once with a former intelligence officer in the US. And he was always puzzled at the efficacy and what exactly Israel offered the US that other countries didn’t offer the US in the region.
And you know, he reckoned that eventually, but far too late, people would wake up and realize that it was all subterfuge. But I think this government, what this government does do is it pushes people into – our allies – into very uncomfortable positions that it’s very hard for them to defend, it’s very hard for them to justify. You have a nakedly racist government. And why are you supporting these people? Now, I think that’s actually bizarrely and oddly more true now in the US than it is in England, where Palestine seems to have slipped entirely beneath the political radar, and there is general consensus in support of Israel. Which is odd, because that wouldn’t have been the case, you know, nine, 10 years ago.
Asa Winstanley: Yeah, I do agree with you on the point about Israel’s use as a tool of the US empire. And I do think that role is exaggerated. You know, there’s parts of the British left in particular, which like to say, oh, you know, Israel is a puppet of the US and that it’s, you know, is this useful imperial tool and so forth. I really think that’s exaggerated. Like it, of course, Israel likes to portray itself that way at times, because of all this money that it gets from the United States.
But, you know, I do think that role, I think that’s more of an ideological role than an actual, you know, because there’s this long history of, of Israel, acting against us, so-called national interests now spying on the US, and not even, I mean, US citizens, US activists, yes. And on British citizens and activists, but even on American military secrets, that, you know, the whole Jonathan Pollard affair and so forth.
And there’s been other cases of that which are not as, not as well known, and tend to involve the Israel lobby. But, you know, you know, there’s no doubt that Israel had done things in the past for you, for the US empire, like with support for death squads in Latin America in the ’80s, and so forth, when it was hard for Congress to do it. But there is a more, you know, there’s a more and more nuanced here, I think, in reality.
Omar Karmi: I think also, what you’re seeing now is a certain realignment of powers in the region –
Asa Winstanley: And I – sorry, sorry to cut in again Omar, but, that – I think that is really the reason, that history and that kind of tension there is kind of the reason for you seeing the support for, really support of the Israeli protests coming from Europe and the, you know, the Biden White House in the US and the banging together of heads that you mentioned, because they want the Israeli deep state to be in charge, you know, these kind of headbangers, the Kahanists, are seen as too kind of crude to sustain the settler-colonial project in the long term.
Omar Karmi: Well, yeah, I don’t, I mean, I don’t even know if in the West, allies are thinking about sustainability or otherwise, they’re thinking about face and their own face. You know, one thing is, it’s fine if we can talk about a two-state solution while you’re taking more and more land and making it impossible. But if you’re actually saying it, and not only that, you’re saying it, because well, you think you’re better. And on top of that, you’re turning Israel from, quote, unquote, a democracy into an autocracy, which is, which is – we’re not talking about Palestinians here, obviously, it was never a democracy for Palestinians, then they’ve gone too far.
But I also think that what we’re seeing is, is the logical outcome, it really is a logical outcome of a momentum that’s been built up of decades of, you know, ethnic cleansing from the beginning, sort of a brainwashing, you know, this, this, this rewriting of history, this attempt to make Palestinians appear as if they never existed, this land without a people, etc. All of this, which was, you know, then turned into well, you know, Netanyahu is now talking about, we’re the only ones who developed it, and we’re the only ones, we greened it and all of this nonsense, it’s simply not true. It’s an attempt at justifying something that is not justifiable. And as Israel has matured, these contradictions are becoming clearer and clearer, and they will only become more clear. And the real question to Israel’s so-called allies is, how far are you willing to back it? And what does that show about yourself?
In Palestine, in the meantime, there’s this weird conflict of emotions where the advent of this government, however supremacist it is, and however, however, I mean, we see how many people have been killed this year already, however brutal, it will implement its already brutal occupation. There is a sense that you want it to succeed, because you want it to expose what Israel really is. And so Palestinians, I’d say, on the ground, are very much caught between a situation of bad – everything is bad in the short run, it’s only bad, but worse in the short run, in the hope that that’ll lead to something better in the longer run.
And those are the choices facing people on the ground. Nothing is good, everything is bad. But, you know, the real question Palestinians – when will it be so bad, that something will break? And that, I very much got a sense that we are reaching a sort of a crucial point at the moment, because the first thing to break is going to be the Palestinian Authority itself.
Asa Winstanley: Could you talk more about on that point, the Palestinian Authority, and what is people’s attitude in the West Bank, Palestinians’ attitude in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, you know, Mahmoud Abbas is, you know, aging rapidly, I mean, I have to admit, it doesn’t look bad for his age. You know, perhaps his weight to the side. I’m not saying anything bad about him in those regards. But the problem really is, is his policies and the fact that he is really in my view, you know, a puppet, a comprador of the Israeli occupation forces. The – but, you know, the reality is, be that as it may, the reality is he’s what 87, 88 now? 89, he is nearly 90 years old. You know, he’s not going to be around forever.
And what happens to the Palestinian Authority then, you know, what, he has no clear – you know, the, the Palestinian Authority and even his own Fatah movement is, as you know, riven by internal divisions and there’s no clear successor to Mahmoud Abbas and there’s no clear successor that we know of anyway, that the US and Europe would prefer. So, you know, what – could you talk about that? And you, could you talk about what, you know, during your visit, what people’s thoughts were about the fate of the Palestinian Authority?
Omar Karmi: Well, I think, look, there are two, two functions that the Palestinian Authority performs. One of which is really important, keeping people quiet. And the other one is the one that makes people very unhappy with it. But both of them work together, and they come together. So ultimately, the PA in the government sector or the public services sector, if you like, is the main employer in Palestine, in the West Bank, and you have something like 150, 200,000 people who are directly paid a salary.
And if your average family size is five, six people, you’re talking about a million people that rely on the funding going into the Palestinian Authority in order for wages to be – to be paid. Now, these are people who – ordinary people, anything from teachers to, to, you know, people who clean the garbage to road sweepers, to security people, of course.
But the point is, you’ve created a dependent economy that’s dependent on government functioning, to pay the wages, and in addition with the occupation, this government, so-called government, is dependent on foreign funding or remittances from labor abroad or in Israel or within ‘48 and the tax monies they can raise from that. So, in effect, what you have is a captive economy, an economy that is completely at the mercy of the occupiers because it has no borders, controls no borders, you cannot import, you cannot export without permission of the importers of the occupier, of the occupying authorities.
And largely, your budget is dependent on funding, aid, financial assistance or loans from international actors who have been very clear what they expect from the PA and have not hidden it, which is of course, calm, because you can only negotiate peace and calm. So it’s a beautiful sort of circular trap that the PA is in, whatever the intentions behind the Oslo process and whatever your true feelings or motivations of the people who are leading it at the moment. Everybody knows this. This is no secret. everybody’s aware of it. Everybody sees it.
The real question now – there is no, I mean, there is no support for the PA. Certainly – and there’s no, I mean, and okay, let me try and separate – there’s no support for the for the governance or the leadership of the PA. There is some understanding for the functioning of the PA as as a service provider. There is no support for the PA as a security contractor for Israel and which is why we’ve seen the PA gradually just lose control over more – started with Gaza of course. And then you know, you’ve lost control over the northern West Bank, pretty much Nablus, Jenin, and Hebron appears to be running its own, entirely its own race. Hebronites are famously good businessmen, but they keep very low profile. Even Jericho is seeing, and the Jordan Valley, is seeing protests and armed groups acting outside the PA.
Asa Winstanley: That’s a really interesting development because Jericho, of course, was a long military base for the PA.
Omar Karmi: Absolutely. But it still is, and you still get the training there. And I know from certain security sources that I spoke to is the PA is now trying to find find people, recruits who you know, they – they’re trying to vet them so there’s there’s absolutely no connection to any of the more troublesome factions like Hamas or the PFLP or any others. You know, they’re trying to vet them that they are at least two degrees away from anybody like that. It’s not going to happen. It’s – everybody, every family in the West Bank or in Palestine has at least one member who’s Fatah, one member who’s Hamas, one member who’s Jihad, one member of the PFLP. That’s quite common, put it that way. So the real question in terms of the PA is for how long, particularly with the security forces, for how long will the rank and file accept, to, in effect, be treated with disrespect by their countrymen? Because nobody has any respect for it.
There’s no political horizon, it’s not as if you’re saying, Look, you know, stop shooting, and we’re gonna have a state. It’s not happening, everybody knows that. It’s not happening. So the real question really is, you know, for the individual, sole security person, how much money will it take for them to put aside their fraternal feelings to their fellow Palestinians, and the quite clear realization that they’re acting on behalf of the occupation? And if there’s not enough money for that, then they’re not going to do it. And that will be the total collapse of the PA. And you mentioned Abbas’ age. And everybody I spoke to is looking to that as a pivotal moment, the moment that he one way or another passes from the scene. And I mean, there are there are no – certain people have been positioning themselves, three names are usually mentioned, Hussein Sheikh, Majed Faraj, head of the intelligence, Hussein Sheikh who was Secretary General of the PLO, and Jabril Rajoub, who has been around for ages. I don’t know – he’s now the head of the Olympic Committee. Couple of others, there’s some very wealthy families like the Tarawi family.
And further afield you’ve got you’ve got, you’ve got Muhammad Dahlan, who has been cut out by Fatah, but still investing money in the West Bank, by all accounts. So I’ve heard conflicting things. I mean, the consensus appears to be that Hussein Sheikh is the successor apparent. He has been promoted, he has been put forward. He’s the one who is mostly talking to the press. And so his profile is being sort of raised, if you like, however, a phone recording of him talking to a colleague was leaked to the press, or leaked to social media not long ago, where he appeared to have a rather disrespectful opinion, shall we say, of Mahmoud Abbas, and that’s, that’s led Abbas to push Faraj a bit more.
Asa Winstanley: What did he say about Abbas?
Omar Karmi: Well, he was basically saying that he’s slightly lost it. Now Hussein Sheikh is clearly – seems to be the Israelis’ preferred, he’s the interlocutor with the Israelis, usually. And he also appears to be the American-preferred candidate from what I hear.
I understand that when Abbas went to the UN last year, September for the opening of the UN, after he left and came back, the Americans asked for Hussein Sheikh to come for talks, which is a clear indication as any that he’s their preferred candidate. So opinions are slightly divided. Some people think well look, if the Americans are prepared to put their weight behind him, if the money keeps flowing, they will find a way to divvy up the pie between them, the leading contenders, and there’ll be a fairly smooth transition to the same situation that we have today. I mean, nothing overall is going to change, but it’ll be fairly smooth.
Quite a few people, more people than – people who believe that tend to be from within the security services or from within that world at least, others from the outside including ex-ministers, academics, activists, etc. seem to think that the passing of Abbas, it’s almost impossible that it’s going to pass without some kind of friction and some kind of serious friction. As one person put it to me, they’re a gang, and what always happens with a gang is they’ll fight each other.
Asa Winstanley: Right. It’s interesting you mentioned Muhammad Dahlan, who was you know, infamous as the really brutal leader of the Palestinian Authority security forces for many years in the Gaza Strip, and was responsible for a failed CIA-backed coup in the Gaza Strip.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: He escaped in the trunk of a car if I’m remembering that right. Yeah, in 2006.
Omar Karmi: I think, as far as I remember I was, I was in Gaza actually, at the time, he was out, he was having – he was out of Gaza. He was having to – supposedly having an operation on his back. So he was conveniently out of the Gaza Strip.
Asa Winstanley: The forces loyal to him, of course, were ejected from the Gaza Strip by Hamas, without, you know, revisiting that whole thing. But it’s interesting, you mentioned that, of course, you know, he’s been touted for many, for some years, he was the US’ preferred candidate. But as you mentioned, we don’t have time to get into the whole thing. But as you mentioned, he was ousted from Fatah by Abbas at a certain point some years ago. It’s interesting, you mentioned that he’s making investments in the West Bank, what’s the nature of those investments?
Omar Karmi: Well, you’re talking about hotels. We’re talking about that sort of thing. There is Ramallah –
Asa Winstanley: Is he still based in the UAE?
Omar Karmi: He’s still based in the UAE. And some people would argue that the driving force between the UAE and Israel normalization agreement was Dahlan. Personally, I think he would certainly have played an instrumental role, I’m sure. But I don’t know if he’d be the driving – I don’t think the UAE would have done that unless they thought it was in their own interests, somewhere quite tangible, rather than having a potential Palestinian leadership candidate in their pocket, not sure if that’s enough of an interest to the UAE – they have their own issues to deal with.
But I think that I think what’s really interesting about Ramallah at the moment, and bear in mind, like I said, it’s 10 years since I’d last been there, it’s, it’s exploded, the buildings, the hotels, the offices, it’s absolutely exploded, and, and a lot of these apartment buildings are empty. A lot of the office buildings are empty, but you can really see that a lot of money has poured into Ramallah, in particular.
And it’s, and you can also see how the settlements have grown because Ramallah has been squeezed – so when you come into Qalandiya now, where it used to be, it was always a crap road, it’s still a crap road. Because nobody can do actual roadworks, because ostensibly, it’s still under the Jerusalem municipality. And of course, they won’t go there and do – the Israeli Jerusalem municipality, but they won’t go there and do it. So it’s still a crap road. However, around this crap road, you’ve got these enormous – I mean, we’re talking about 20, 22-floor apartment blocs that have sprung up, they look tottering, and I hate to think what would happen if an earthquake hit. But it has completely changed the landscape.
And you drive into Ramallah, which, you know, once upon a time was a sleepy holiday Christian holiday town, it is now a sort of a sprawling, urban dystopia. Well, not quite, quite that bad. The weather’s still nice. You still got a few open spaces, but that’s been built up, haphazardly, all over the place. And it’s, it’s quite remarkable how the urban landscape has, has changed so rapidly, and for so little obvious reason. I mean, house prices go up, rents are up, house prices are up. It’s expensive. It’s expensive to live in Ramallah, but who can afford it? Who’s going to, who’s filling all these, these hotels? So, either there are investors who know a lot more than I do, or this is a kind of a way to launder money. Which is what most people there seem to think it is.
Asa Winstanley: It wouldn’t surprise me. I mean, it’s been nine years since I was in Palestine. And even, you know, it is really interesting to hear about this explosion. But even nine years ago, you know, Ramallah was exploding compared to the, when I first went to Palestine in 2005. And the same phenomenon you mentioned, of all these high-rise buildings going up in a really haphazard fashion and, you know, just, you know, very unregulated, and it’s, I don’t know, Ramallah is kind of a really kind of artificial city in a lot of ways because it – a lot of the investment and building that goes on there, you know, without the occupation would probably be happening in Jerusalem.
And that, as you said, like Ramallah is this was, you know, once upon a time was this sleepy Christian village, and it still has that kind of historic, Old City as it’s called, there, sort of downtown, but around it is sort of swamped by this you know, dystopia as you, as you mentioned. It’s an interesting place.
Omar Karmi: There is now a very impressive Presidential Palace, which there never was when I was there, it was always half demolished because Arafat had been there and the Israelis had laid siege to it. But no more, now you have office buildings with solar power. You have fine grounds and by all accounts, a very impressive Arafat museum. I didn’t have the chance to go and see it. But yes, it is. Ramallah is a bubble because it’s trying to present itself as if this is a state capital in the making, or a business center, at least, in the making, because, of course, the PA still wants Jerusalem as its capital. And it’s clear that the reason all that money has flowed into Ramallah is because the Israelis won’t allow it to flow anywhere else.
And, in fact, the entire geography, the entire economy, of Ramallah and West Bank, you know it’s totally determined by what the Israelis want or don’t want. And so for instance, I was staying in Bir Nabala, which is a village just north of Ramallah, towards Jerusalem, which in the past, was on, it’s literally five minutes away from Qalandiya. It used to be a village between Ramallah and Jerusalem. And during the peace process, it has a lot of Arab, Palestinian Americans. During the peace process, a lot of money was invested, new buildings were built precisely because of its proximity to Jerusalem. Loads of apartment blocs were built. And then the Israelis put a wall, so that wall goes straight and cuts off Bir Nabala completely from Jerusalem. And so what you find towards – and the Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway runs over it, with walls around it and all of that.
So all those buildings that were built in the ’90s are now empty and derelict, all that investment that went into the villages has disappeared. And it now takes 45 minutes – what was once a five-minute trip, it takes 45 minutes to get to Qalandiya, and you have to go this torturous route. So in – you know, that’s just a very sort of visceral example of how whatever Israel does determines exactly what the Palestinians can or cannot do. And that’s what Ramallah is now. And I’ve never seen it as squeezed and as closed off. And I’ve never seen people as despondent as I did this time. It’s a very, it’s a very depressing state of affairs, so much so that I asked everybody I met and they kept their moods up.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Because people are exhausted.
Omar Karmi: People are exhausted, there’s no hope. There’s no leadership, there’s no direction. There is no help to be found from elsewhere. And in spite of that, all you have is an Israeli elite that is getting more and more fanatic, more and more racist. So yes, it’s a very difficult position.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: Omar Karmi, you are our dear colleague at The Electronic Intifada, your latest blog post was written last month before you went to Palestine. It’s called the “PA must stop playing Israel’s game.” We’ll have a link to that on the podcast post that accompanies this broadcast. Thank you so much, Omar for all you do. And really, really good to hear your analysis from Palestine.
Omar Karmi: Thank you. Pleasure to be on. I probably spoke for too long.
Asa Winstanley: No, no, no, no. You – you don’t have social media. I don’t think. Well, you certainly don’t have a Twitter.
Nora Barrows-Friedman: The elusive Omar Karmi.
Asa Winstanley: Yeah. So we need to have you on more often. We need to have more of your analysis on.
Omar Karmi: Thank you. Absolutely. Thank you.