By Hammam Farah
Special to PalestineChronicle.com
The Current Crisis
Since Hamas’ brutal takeover of the Gaza Strip and the consequent formation of an emergency government in the West Bank, reports have claimed that the internal fighting has left Palestinians with two governments; an increasingly isolated and shunned Islamist Hamas government in Gaza, and an internationally backed Fatah government in the West Bank that is highly if not fully dependent on US and Israeli support for its survival. The US and the European Union immediately threw their support behind Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ emergency government, made up of Fatah loyalists, pledging to lift a more than a year long economic embargo on the Palestinian people, while Israel says it will free up the millions in tax revenue it collects on behalf of the Palestinians.
This quick resumption in economic and political support for the emergency government should not come as a surprise in light of the fact that ever since Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections for the PA in 2006, the US and Israel have been bolstering Abbas’ security forces by transferring large supplies of weaponry and tens of millions of dollars to Fatah militias such as Gaza warlord Mohammad Dahlan’s Preventative Security Force, a symbol of corruption and mafia-like policing in the ghettos. Nor should we be surprised that the US chose to impose the economic embargo after Hamas won the elections and then proceeded to arm and train anti-democratic elements within Fatah. The US is only doing what it does best. As Ali Abunimah, founder of the Electronic Intifada, points out, “US Deputy National Security Advisor Elliott Abrams — who helped divert money to the Nicaraguan Contras in the 1980s and who was convicted of lying to Congress in the Iran-Contra scandal — has spearheaded the effort to set up these Palestinian Contras…Abrams is also notorious for helping to cover up massacres and atrocities committed against civilians in El Salvador by US-backed militias and death squads.” At the same time, there was increased speculation that Hamas was being backed by Iran.
The clashes that followed between Fatah and Hamas elements culminated in a bloody, yet quick Hamas takeover of Gaza and the dissolution of the unity government agreed upon by the two movements just a few months ago. Its replacement by a Fatah dominated emergency government in the West Bank has been protested by Hamas, which insists that there is nothing in the Palestinian Basic Law that allows for the formation of such a government, and that the previous unity government is still the legitimate one. Elements within Hamas then did not waste any time in proclaiming a ban on women not wearing the head veil and also proceeded to burn a convent and attack a church that belongs to Gaza’s small Christian community. The entry of food, medicine, and other essential supplies has been severely curtailed by the Israeli government as aid agencies scramble to find ways to deliver these materials into Gaza. As Fatah relocates and concentrates itself in the West Bank, the complete isolation of Gaza and the certainty of a human catastrophe loom over the caged ghetto. And all for what? For control over a failed and miserable institution that serves as nothing more than a prisoners’ representative to the real jail warden of the region: the Israeli government.
When Israel captured and occupied Gaza and the West Bank in 1967, it began a process of colonization by building settlements within the land and transferring parts of its own population into the occupied territories, in flagrant violation of international law, particularly the 4th Geneva Conventions. This would go on for decades until one could hardly separate between the Israeli state and the territory it occupied. The only thing that kept Israel from annexing the land was its Palestinian population. If they were given citizenship, Israel would eventually lose its Jewish majority and the political power with it (and we need to remind ourselves that Palestinians were the majority before they were ethnically cleansed in the Nakba, or “Catastrophe” of 1948). Because of that, this population had to endure decades of settlement expansion into its territory, denial of citizenship and therefore basic political and civil rights, and the violent crackdown on any resistance to the settlement project.
After the first Palestinian uprising, or Intifada, within these territories, Israel signed a deal with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) that would establish the Palestinian Authority in the Occupied Territories in order that the Palestinians there would have some sort of representation, or a limited form of autonomy for a period of five years in which negotiations would take place for a final solution. Also accompanying this deal, the Israeli government expected that the PA would police the territories and prevent any further uprising in return for some political appeasement. This became known as the Oslo peace process. Let us be clear that a sovereign Palestinian state was never on Israel’s agenda during the Oslo years from 1993 to 2000. While Palestinians thought that Oslo would serve as a means to an end, Israel saw it the other way around.
Settlement expansion continued unabated throughout the West Bank. Jewish-only roads which linked these settlements to Israel divided the West Bank into isolated cantons, much like the South African Bantustans or the North American reservations. All the while, the Israeli military protected the settlements with hundreds of checkpoints and maintaining military law on the 3.5 million Palestinians in the territories in order to restrict their movement and provide security for the settlers. During the second Palestinian uprising that began in 2000, this military tyranny only became worse as violent repression and economic deprivation intensified and war crimes committed. The construction of the illegal Apartheid wall throughout the West Bank put the nail in the coffin as the wall severed Palestinian communities from each other and destroyed people’s livelihoods. The uprising was crushed and with it the vision of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state that Israel never shared to begin with. Although Israel pulled its settlements and military out of the Gaza Strip in 2005, it still effectively controlled its borders and airspace, which meant that all goods and humanitarian aid, including the flow of people in and out of the strip was at the whim of the Israeli military.
Then in 2006, after years of brutal repression by Israel and a corrupt Fatah leadership, the Palestinian Authority had its parliamentary elections and the Islamist movement Hamas won. Dissatisfied with a democratic election that the US itself encouraged, the first international economic embargo on an occupied people in history was imposed, effectively dividing the Palestinian people. And here we are today.
What Does This Mean for the Palestinian Authority?
During the second Intifada, the Israeli government shunned the Palestinian Authority and refused to talk to its president, Yasser Arafat. It destroyed its infrastructure, bulldozed its newly built airport in Gaza, and murdered many of its security personnel. While the Palestinian people continue to suffer under Israeli military law, the Palestinian Authority has disintegrated and is nearing collapse, especially after more than a year of economic sanctions followed by the Hamas takeover in Gaza and the collapse of the PA there. What this means is that once the international community scrambles to boost the PA’s power in the West Bank after having supported Israel in crippled it for the past six years, we will be back to square one where negotiations will take place between a powerful Israeli government and a Palestinian representation that is chosen, handpicked in some cases, and reliant on Israeli and American approval. This time, however, it could be much easier for Israel to appease Abbas by maintaining the PA’s status as nothing more than a prison representation that has no choice but to accept any offers, or crumbs, given to it. The dire humanitarian situation in the territories and the crushing of the Intifada has caused a desperate situation where any Israeli offer could be accepted. Moreover, Abbas may take anything that can bolster his power over Hamas. We could see the classic, “enemy of my enemy is my friend” approach be taken by Abbas, and his friend will certainly not be Haniyeh. One can only hope this will not be the case if and when serious negotiations do take place.
Where Do We Go From Here?
There is some good news, however. For many of us in the international arena, as well as for some in the Occupied Territories themselves, the Palestinian Authority has been exposed as an authority with no authority. We must remind the world that legally, the Israeli government is the occupying power and is responsible for the Occupied Territories. In the words of Mazin Qumsiyeh, co-founder of Al Awda (The North American Right of Return Coalition),
“Does it really matter whether the Palestinian ‘authority’ without authority is in the hand of its ‘President’ or ‘Prime Minister’? These terms are used in sovereign nations and Palestine is certainly not sovereign! … Can it get more absurd than a ‘Minister of Transportation’ having to get permission from Israeli occupation authorities to move from one Palestinian town to another? Can it get more absurd than a Palestinian ‘President’ seeking permission from Israeli authorities for every bulletproof vest worn by his guards? What besides egos and semblance of authority would let the prisoners in a concentration camp continue the charade of electing their representatives to deal with the prison guards? Many Palestinians who are not with titles or positions have called for ending this charade of authority without authority, a government that does not govern, a president who only can preside over submission or ‘Ministers’ who can minister nothing other than a few employees acting as intermediaries between the occupied people and the occupation authorities.”
The West Bank and Gaza have been ghettoized, impoverished, and turned into open-air prisons where the prisoners have turned against one another after their prison riot was quelled. What we have in the occupied territories are not two governments but one: the Israeli government. The PA is nothing more than the prison representation that makes requests of the jail warden for food and recognition. The government of the Occupied Territories is the same government that is in Israel. Under this government’s authority, you have citizens and non-citizens. The citizens have rights and privileges, and among the citizens, the Jewish ones more than the Palestinian citizen minority. The non-citizens (Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza) do not have rights. They are forced into ghettos, many of them refugees from the citizen areas. The citizens are ruled by civilian law, the non-citizens by military law, their ID cards and license plates differentiated to facilitate the discrimination. At the same time, there are also over six million non-citizen refugees living outside the country’s jurisdiction in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and elsewhere and denied their right to return for the same reasons that non-citizens inside the state’s jurisdiction are denied citizenship. This separation between citizens and non-citizens amounts to nothing short of apartheid, and people in the international community are no strangers to dealing with apartheid.
Our role now is to not to consume ourselves with the internal politics of the region or to have senseless debates about what the PA should do next. Nor should we mourn a total collapse of the PA. Ali Abunimah reminds us that “a total collapse of the Palestinian Authority would expose Israel’s legal obligation, as the occupying power, to provide for the welfare of the Palestinians it rules.” We must continue to heed the call of 170 Palestinian civil society organizations for a boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign similar to that imposed on the apartheid regime in South Africa in the past. Palestinians in the Diaspora and solidarity activists need to remind the world that the situation has not changed; that as an occupying power, Israel is still fully and legally responsible for the people of the West Bank and Gaza ghettos. A recently leaked UN report claims that the one-state solution is “gaining ground” as the two-state vision collapses due to settlement expansion and the declining legitimacy of the PA and its institutions. If this takes its toll, it will be time for the Palestinian people to demand the vote, and it will be up to us to fuel that demand with the external pressure exerted by our noble and non-violent BDS movement.
-Hammam Farah is a Palestinian Canadian who was born in the Gaza Strip as part of Gaza’s small Christian community. He resides in Toronto and is a solidarity activist with the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid (CAIA), which is spearheading the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) campaign in Canada.