Amira Hass: Back to a Corrupt Occupation

By Amira Hass 

In one of the alarming news items of the past week, it was reported that Israel has green-lighted the transfer of 1,000 rifles from Jordan to the security forces loyal to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas.

This is not the first time Israel has permitted the transfer of weapons and security equipment to Abbas’ forces. The alarming thing about this report is that Abbas and his circles continue to cling to the illusion that the failure in the Gaza Strip was purely military. Equally alarming is Fatah’s determination to do what Israel and the United States expect (and which it failed to do in Gaza): Fight Hamas.

And there have been several other disturbing news items in recent days: Once again Israeli representatives are permitted to talk with official Palestinian representatives abroad; Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Abbas will meet again in the near future, this time in Jericho; civil coordination between Israel and the PA has been renewed; and at the Muqata in Ramallah a new American-Palestinian business project has been launched after President George W. Bush approved a loan of $228 million for small and medium-sized Palestinian businesses to improve the Palestinians’ living standard. "The United States is committed to strengthening the Palestinian economy … as an important step toward a peaceful and independent Palestinian state," declared the official July 27 State Department announcement. Why are these news items worrying? Because they show that things have gone back to the way they were – that is, to the style of "managing the occupation" that reigned between 1994 and 2001, into which the Fatah movement integrated well. Now, as then, there is a Palestinian government (the legality of which is temporary and shaky) acceptable to Israel and the West; talks are supposedly taking place; the occupation continues; and the Palestinians are quarreling. Didn’t this all lead to the second uprising?

It is not a Fatah man who heads the Palestinian government in Ramallah, but the spirit of Fatah as a ruling movement that continues to prevail – and with it, what made large portions of the public fed up with the movement. For example, Yasser Arafat unnecessarily inflated his security forces with people from poor families and from refugee families, with the aim of creating a large group of loyalists under his aegis in return for a meager but vital wage. Arafat hoped this would perpetuate their political support for his movement with no connection to his political impotence vis-a-vis the Israeli colonization and the policy of closure and separation.

The failure of this tactic became clear in the 2006 elections. The American and Israeli reliance on "bolstering Abbas’ security mechanisms" shows that Arafat’s logic is continuing to guide the three leaders who see the Palestinian people as the object of all kinds of "gestures" – even in the form of salaries for superfluous security people.

It is as though life under the Israeli occupation is not the main reason for the Palestinians’ distress but rather "poverty" that appears to have materialized out of the blue.

Under the auspices of what is called "the peace process" between 1994 and 2001, and under the mantra of "strengthening the Palestinian economy will advance peace," many of the senior Fatah people and their circles hastened to make their personal fortunes. This might have been legitimate, of course, had the economic situation of a considerable part of the inhabitants of the occupied territories not become worse because of the Israeli restrictions on movement and had it not been a matter of money found for them in the coffers of Arafat and the Palestine Liberation Organization, or in shadier ways.

All too often there was a direct correlation between the newly rich Palestinian’s ties to members of a Palestinian security force and the latter’s ties to the Israeli Shin Bet security service or senior people in Israel. Closeness of this kind (to senior Fatah members and the Shin Bet) provided movement permits, ensured "family reunification," and so on. These and other kinds of occupation-dependent protectionism led the Palestinians to make a connection between "the peace process" and corruption.

The failures of 2006 and 2007 have not produced any proof, yet, that Fatah has learned the lesson. It has not distanced itself from protectionism and the system by which those close to the right people have convenient opportunities to get richer – in a sea of impoverishment.

( – August 3, 2007)

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