The ascent of the Palestinian pharaoh

Palestinians in the Dheisheh refugee camp in the occupied West Bank demonstrate in support of the Egyptian people, 6 February. (Luay Sababa/MaanImages)


“They are marching to freedom, while we march to surrender.”

These were my mother’s words as she reacted spontaneously, but intensely to the Egyptian and Tunisian revolutions and lamented over Palestinians’ self-inflicted wounds emanating from the Palestinian Authority and its numerous failures.

Economic dependency and an oppressive security state is the recipe that many dictatorial, one-person, or one-party regimes apply across the region. This model was followed by the once American-supported, and then American-deposed Saddam Hussein, to Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, who was first a pariah in the West and then became its darling, to Tunisia’s Zine El Abedine Ben Ali who was overthrown by his people, among others.

And while the Egyptian people stand steadfast in an effort to overthrow their own Pharoah, a similar “pharoah regime” is steadily being built for Palestinians in the West Bank. It is not only surrender we are marching to, but we are marching — under PA tutelage — toward a typical one-party, pseudo-security state.

“Pseudo” because it is not even a state — this entity exists under Israeli occupation. And the “security” is increasingly repressive towards dissenting voices, groups and political parties.

Recently, the PA suppressed a march in solidarity with the Tunisian uprising and repeatedly questioned one of the organizers in an attempt to intimidate him and his colleagues into canceling a planned protest near the Egyptian diplomatic mission meant to show that Palestinians who are in constant struggle for their own freedom also support others who seek theirs (“Palestinian Authority Disrupts Egypt Solidarity Protest in Ramallah,” Human Rights Watch, 30 January 2011).

On Saturday, 5 February, the PA, frustrated with an inability to confront a march by 2,000 Palestinians in Ramallah’s city center, waited until the crowd started to head home, to send in their own agents dressed as civilians in order to arrest and intimidate the remaining protesters, as was documented in a video shared on YouTube.

The Egyptian model which is crumbling on the banks of the Nile is being applied to the occupied West Bank with the vehement support of the European Union, the United States, Israel and a segment of willing Palestinians. Most of the small Palestinian GDP comes directly from external aid provided by the aforementioned countries. And much of the touted “economic growth” of 8 percent in 2010 stems not from foreign direct investment or productive economic activities, but from this injection of aid, and rent-seeking economic behavior by elites.

The public sector in the PA is the biggest and single largest contributor to GDP growth and to the over-inflated job creation. Some economic growth is generated by infrastructure projects, including controversial road networks, which many accused the PA of building in preparation for the annexation of huge parts of Jerusalem by Israel after the signing of an agreement along the lines recently disclosed in the Palestine Papers, detailed records of Israeli-PA negotiations leaked to Al Jazeera.

An “economic package” recently proposed by Israel and Quartet envoy Tony Blair for the West Bank — which includes an extension of PA “security control” to seven towns, and provides more economic help to Palestinian-dominated areas in occupied East Jerusalem and villages surrounding it — is no more than a signal of appreciation for the work the PA has been conducting on behalf of Israel.

Alongside the facade of “economic development” which in and of itself is a noble venture, if done appropriately, the PA has for the past five years been building an effective, efficient and ideological security apparatus. The ideology espoused by the security apparatus has nothing to do with Palestinian Basic Law as in any other rule-bound state, but has to do with personal and party loyalties to the PA president and his political line.

This pseudo-security state is maintained and strengthened through the high salaries of those in the highest echelons of the varying security organizations, salaries that are funded through foreign aid.

By providing them with financial comfort, those heading these organizations are economically, politically and socially dependent on the president and his entourage. This process is not limited to the highest echelons but trickles to the smallest intelligence informants who are given financial compensation for their work. This complex security network includes taxi drivers, so-called students, regular workers, coffee shop owners and others.

Their role is simple, acting as an information stream, providing detailed data relating to the smallest personal details of regular Palestinian citizens in order to intimidate them, if they ever dare to move from the increasingly restrictive private sphere to an active political one. This oppressive and intrusive network is the “foreigners’ gift” to us — US General Keith Dayton along with the European Union Police Mission in the occupied Palestinian territories have rewarded Palestinian acquiescence by helping us build our “own” Palestinian Special Police Force and security forces, who are not educated in the limits of law or the respect of human rights and dignity.

Instead, they know how to infiltrate and subdue big and small demonstrations, and are trained in the newest techniques of torture and they are more than ready to apply the axe of repression if commanded to do so.

Haaretz reporter Amira Hass, who witnessed the suppression of the 5 February demonstration, writes “one could not help but notice the European, mainly French, scent that wafted from al-Manara Square in Ramallah where the Palestinian Authority once again suppressed a demonstration of support for the Egyptian people that evening.” What Hass notes is that the PA police forces that are now being used for political repression have been trained and funded by European Union countries, especially France (“Palestinian security suppressing West Bank fervor over Egypt protests,” 7 February 2011).

Contrary to the PA president’s and his appointed prime minister’s claims that such forces are meant to provide security to the Palestinians themselves, the training of this police and the way they conduct their affairs, specifically after this month’s events, show that their sole and ultimate role is the preservation of an oppressive regime capable of protecting and dealing with Israel, with or without popular Palestinian approval.

After all, Israeli anxiety over Egypt and the prospect of the erosion of the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty as a result of the democratic revolution still taking place shows their vested interest in creating a Palestinian “pharaoh’s regime” here in Palestine. A pharaoh who agrees to the creation of a sub-state, completely dependent on Israel, lacking actual sovereignty. A pharaoh who is capable of giving up large parts of Jerusalem, abdicates the right of return and has in his hands a mix of a security, media and economic tools to willfully or forcibly impose such a deal on Palestinians in the West Bank and later Gaza, while excluding the majority of Palestinians who live in the diaspora.

This process of “double occupation” will eventually give rise to Palestinian fury. Those who have revolted endless times against the Israeli occupation, who have paid in blood and tears and who remain resolute, will not stand silent as they see their own leadership lead them to absolutism of tyranny.

Abdaljawad Hamayel is a Palestinian commentator completing his MA in the Johns Hopkins Schools of Advanced International Studies, Bologna Center.

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