The Current Situation in the Occupied Territories

By Khalil Nakhleh, Ph.D. – Ramallah

1. Our current Palestinian situation can be characterized candidly, as one observer described it over 20 some years ago, as a "fragmented national mood"; where more than 80% perceive themselves to suffer from depression and worry; where the percentages of the poor are in constant upward increase and difficult to keep track of; where our poor are rapidly joining the inconsequential global pool of "surplus humanity"; where corruption is perceived as a sign of success and compared positively with Israeli society; where Palestinian society under occupation is sliding with an alarming increase towards the rule of the "security forces"; and where there is obvious, predetermined, and politically-sanctioned  extension of military jurisdiction over civilians, and total disregard for civil judiciary. This is producing a clear visible tendency towards the emergence of a "police state", dependent for its establishment and continuity on external funds.

2. Palestinian society under occupation is almost entirely dependent for its survival on aid from outside, and not on its own productive resources and energies:  nearly one million live on their PA monthly salaries, the dispensation of which is conditioned by receiving donations from outside on time; no less than 40 -50 thousand live directly on their salaries from externally-funded NGOs, and some many more thousands live on NGO projects, etc. Thus, the livelihood of most Palestinians who have “steady” income is mortgaged by political decisions external to them, and beyond their control.

3. In spite of public statements and uttering to the contrary, nothing effectively is moving forward. All current official political initiatives have stopped dead in their tracks, or, euphemistically, “stumbled”.  The average citizen is being bombarded daily by contradictory statements that lead, if anything, to an ambiguous state of frustrated confusion. More specifically:

– The negotiations track with Israel: All indications are that it is revolving around its axis, without any signs of a clear outcome.  The resulting public statements, whether Palestinian or Israeli, seem to point in the same direction, i.e, the realization of minimum Palestinian rights has not been agreed upon, nor the Israeli side is ready to do that.

– Holding the long overdue 6th National Fateh Congress (the last Congress was held 21 years ago): in spite of the ongoing visible movement in this direction over the last few years, the reality is that it is bogged down by internecine Fateh internal conflicts and approaches, that are connected to the future role and identity of Fateh, and the problematic and competitive relationship between the PA and the PLO.

– Holding the much talked about “National Dialogue” between Fateh and Hamas: This is going nowhere not only because of the opposing approaches to the type of “solutions” to the Palestine question each side advocates, but because of internal opposing camps within each group, and their alignment with the externally involved parties, e.g. the US, Israel, the Arab countries, other regional forces, etc.

4. As a result, certain lines, or alignments, of potential confrontations, that were always present, now are being crystallized and articulated, and are rapidly surfacing.  Some of these oppositionary lines of possible confrontations that are likely to surface more clearly during the coming year, are:

– More open confrontation between the PA and the PLO: Since the decision adopted by the PLO Central Committee in its meeting on 12-13 October 1993 to establish a Palestinian National Authority subordinate to the PLO, the seeds of conflict were present.  The current relationship has become inversed.  Effectively, since Oslo the PLO has been increasingly marginalized, and its bodies anachronistic and ineffective.  The PA is driving to annex the PLO to it (as one analyst described it).

– More open confrontation between the Hamas government in Gaza and the Fateh-sanctioned government in Ramallah: The focus will hinge more specifically on the authority and legitimacy of the PLC and the presidency, especially over the term of the president and the role of the PLC and the probable call for new elections.

– More open confrontation within Fateh, especially between the “young guard” and the “ancien regime” in the context of the obstructed convening of the 6th National Congress.

– Much clearer, and potentially oppositional, alignments between Palestinian capitalists vying to fill the political void, supported by “their technocrats and intellectuals”, on the one hand, and the traditionally factional political groups (e.g. the Fateh recent attack on Fayyad, etc).

– Possible other combinations.

5. In the meantime, the average Palestinian citizen, who is carrying the brunt of the military and economic occupation, on a daily basis, and the consequences of the PA’s actual collaborative policies with the occupation, has no voice or support. Through their own means and local initiatives, they try to resist, by daily practice and by non-violent means, the stealing of their lands and water, their incarceration in closed “warehouses” (to use Jeff Halper’s term), in the enclaves created by the Separation Wall (so benignly called “Barrier”), and in the Arab Jerusalem communities and neighborhoods, and their overall effective separation from their families, historical memories, places of work and traditional service centers, etc.  These are the people who mostly have no confidence or trust in the political “leadership”; and whatever confidence they had at one time is quickly eroding. This is at a time when they see that the PA political and military apparatus in Ramallah launched an aggressive campaign against basic charitable societies who provide basic welfare assistance to needy groups, and closed down at least 45 of them within the last few months, in response to Israeli-US pressure (and the number is increasing).  These are the people who need the urgent support of the humanitarian agencies to survive from one day to the next.

6. Consequently, there are apparent frightening signs that Palestinian social fabric under occupation is disintegrating, and is not being protected,  if one is to judge by the deteriorating cultural values; the rise of crime; the nearly total disappearance of traditional cultural and social caring for those who don’t have the means, by those who have them; the regressing quality of education and research; the primacy of individual interests over national collective interests; the signs of conspicuous consumptive patterns as a replacement of productive patterns, etc.

7. Emerging from this current state, one observes a number of, what might be called, civil society initiatives, both individual and collective, emphasizing the need for a longer term, “strategic” thinking to explore approaches to “salvaging” the situation.  One can note the following:

– The recent attempt by an amorphous group, labeled the “Palestine Strategy Group”, over the last few months, to “regain the initiative” regarding the future of the ongoing political negotiations process, and future solutions;

– The recent attempt by an ad hoc group of seriously concerned Jerusalemites to rethink “strategically” the status and future of Jerusalem Palestinian Arabs, by filling the void of the non-effective and ambivalent official role of the PA;

– Attempts over the last five years by Palestinian social and political activists in Israel at rethinking “strategically” the status and future of the Palestinian minority in Israel, as expressed in recently published documents;

– Recent appeals by active civil society organizations and individuals, through conferences and civil societies electronic networks, to re-direct and focus popular, grassroots, energies on the unequal, unjust, and skewed distribution of financial resources, by highlighting the plight of the impoverished population in Palestine.

– What is clear is that the traditionally accepted, political, economic and social “taboos” (e.g., the function and continuity of the PA, the servicing of the Israeli occupation, the status of Jerusalem, the total dependency on external political aid for survival, future debt, the rapidly increasing gap between the new political-economic elite and the poor, etc) are being breached and challenged by these “initiatives”.

8. What possible scenarios could this situation generate? I expect the following:

–  Efforts by vested political interests to maintain the status quo: This implies possibly:

* President Abbas may decree the dissolution of the Hamas-controlled PLC before his term in office expires on 9 January 2009 to ensure that they don’t obstruct his extended term in office;
* The PLO “Executive Committee” may extend his term for a few additional months (perhaps half a year);
* He may call for new presidential and legislative elections, which can only take place in the West Bank (and Jerusalem), and which will ensure Fateh controlled new (mini) PLC in the West Bank;
* Hamas may declare the entire process illegitimate and in breach of the Basic Palestinian Law, and it may not recognize the legitimacy of neither the president or the “new” PLC;
* It may continue entrenching its hold and authority in the Gaza Strip, by electing its own “Gaza” president, and perhaps a re-shuffled cabinet;
* This, in effect, would formalize the division and separation between the West Bank and Gaza;
* Following Israel’s suit by declaring Gaza “an enemy territory”, the Ramallah-based President may declare Gaza as a “rebellious region”, or a “rogue government”, which leaves it open for more sanctions and punishment, and possible “re-occupation” by the Israeli military, in conjunction with Abbas-loyal security forces;
* Such a scenario will be acceptable to both Israel and the US and, perhaps, the EU. 
* The implication, of course, is the total collapse of the unitary PNA (Palestinian National Authority), as foreseen in the Oslo Accords, and its replacement by two mini-authorities: the PRA (Palestinian Ramallah Authority) and the PGA (Palestinian Gaza Authority). 

– The President responds to the concerns of the people for safeguarding national unity and heeds the warning of some Arab states, by:

* Declaring his resignation following the Eid, and, effectively, opening the road for the imprisoned speaker of the PLC, to assume the role of acting president during most 2009, and to prepare for new presidential and legislative elections to be held in January 2010, in all areas;
* In the meantime, a new care-taker government of “professionals” may be formed and approved by the Hamas-controlled PLC;
* This approach will be supported by the people, and by some Arab states, and it will be opposed by the US and Israel, and by some well-entrenched and corrupt Oslo Fateh leadership, who are benefiting illegitimately from the continued status-quo.  

9. Regardless of which scenario materializes, one thing is clear: poverty will increase; more people will have no, or very little, food; steady income could become scarce; the fickle and unreliable Palestinian capitalists will flee (with their capital) in search of other environments to make guaranteed profits, etc.  However, the immediate and short-term need for humanitarian support and relief interventions will certainly surmount.

10. In such a situation, juxtaposing humanitarian aid vs., “developmental” aid is an artificial equation.  Unless humanitarian organizations commit themselves to altering the prevalent military and political situation, in order to generate the necessary conditions for “sustainable development”, their main task and responsibility, it seems to me, is to ensure the provision of basic humanitarian support and relief (defined broadly) to the increasing numbers of pauperized, marginalized and incarcerated Palestinian communities, be they “formal” refugees and non-refugees alike.

11. In this process, it is also clear that the responsibility of humanitarian agencies is to ensure that the provision of humanitarian aid is not a corrupt process itself, nor is it corrupting of those benefiting from it.

-Khalil Nakhleh is an independent writer and researcher. He contributed this article to Contact him at:

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