Amira Hass: Missing the Government of Thieves

By Amira Hass

Slogans shouted at rallies sound better when they rhyme. "Not Ismail, not Haniyeh, we want back the government of haramiyeh." Haramiyeh means thieves, and the protesters in Ramallah – Palestinian Authority workers who have not received their salaries for the last seven months – shouted what can be heard in conversations in the streets of the West Bank and Gaza Strip: Hamas may be clean, but the Fatah thieves are preferable. After all, the reasoning goes, when Fatah was in power, our salaries were assured. 
The continued strike at PA offices, the rallies of the clerks and the demands for a unity government – all call on the Hamas-led government to recognize the negative balance of its brief tenure. There is justification for the complaints: A government is supposed to make sure that civil servants get their salaries, as part of fulfilling its obligation to protect the welfare of the population. A government – even one as lacking in powers as a Palestinian government under Israeli occupation – is supposed to weigh its political and ideological platform against its ability to meet its civil and economic obligations. But under Hamas, the backbone of society collapsed when the civil servants’ livelihood – as basic and modest as it was – was no longer assured, as it had been during 12 years of chronic instability.

The Fatah governments bequeathed to the Hamas government a dependence on the funds of donor nations, whether they were used for development or to cover the annual budget (including covering the funds that Israel plunders from the Palestinian people in broad daylight, in the form of the taxes it levies on Palestinian transactions, without transferring it to the Palestinian treasury.) But the fixed global donations to the PA are not made without recompense, which was a process of political negotiations, as faltering as it was, including the Palestine Liberation Organization’s recognition of the occupying State of Israel and the State of Israel’s recognition of the PLO as the representative of the Palestinian people.

This year, the donor states decided that they would not let the Hamas movement get the best of both worlds: refraining from recognizing agreements that formally made the establishment of a "government" possible, while receiving the fixed donations. That is logical. The Fatah movement, which is having a hard time digesting its removal from office, is relying on the logic of the international position and is acting in its way to topple the elected government. Fatah is behind the strikers (in the Arafat era, those who led struggles for fair wages were persecuted by the security services and placed in jail.)

But while Fatah is demanding that Hamas recognize the negative balance of its brief tenure, the Fatah movement and its leaders – from PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas on down – are refusing to draw the relevant personal and political conclusions from the negative balance of their extensive time in power when it comes to the extremely important issue of the struggle for independence and liberation from Israeli occupation. On the basis of these promises, most of the Palestinian public supported the Oslo process. But the logic of "the gradual liberation from occupation," on which the Oslo Accords were based, has utterly failed.

Before the Oslo Accords, the West Bank and Gaza were occupied territory. Before the Oslo Accords, most of the Israeli public took for granted that "there is no peace with settlements," as the slogan had it. Under the Oslo Accords, 60 percent of the territory (including the settlements) which was classified Area C, meaning under Israeli security and civil control, essentially became disputed territory, with the world allowing Israel to use its military, economic and diplomatic supremacy to annex significant portions of it in the framework of the final-status agreement.

In this period, the borders of the Palestinian enclaves (Area A and Area B) were fixed, creating isolated islands that were the only areas Israel allowed the PA to develop. During the Oslo period, it was proved to Israelis that "peace is possible even with settlements." The settlements expanded and developed without end, while the elected Palestinian leadership negotiated with the Israeli government, and was unable to prevent the construction of even one settlement house.

Before the decade of negotiations began – the Madrid Conference in 1991 and then the Oslo process – Israel respected the Palestinian right to freedom of movement. The regime of limiting movement, which began in 1991, only intensified after 1994. The Fatah government will be remembered as one that collaborated with the severe and comprehensive damage to the basic right of freedom of movement. The Palestinian leadership and PLO leaders accepted a system whereby they and their business, personal and political associates were granted the freedom of movement that the rest of the population did not enjoy. They owe their personal financial standing, their relative comfort and their feeling of "freedom" to a privilege that the Israeli occupation regime granted them. Under those circumstances, they could not lead a political struggle against the severe and highly destructive Israeli method of control over the Palestinians’ time and freedom of movement.

However, the negative balance of one movement does not cancel out that of its competitor. Apparently both movements are now competing for power and are forgetting that their job is to shorten the days of foreign – Israeli – rule over their people.

© Haaretz (, September 27, 2006 

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