Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has described his security forces’ cooperation with the Israeli military as “sacred”. But an armed attack on an Israeli checkpoint this week by a Palestinian security official, which left three Israeli soldiers injured, suggests that Abbas’ view may not be widely shared among Palestinians.
In many Palestinians’ minds, non-violence has become tainted by association with Mahmoud Abbas’ years of ineffectiveness and his security coordination with Israel. But some Palestinian intellectuals are advocating non-violent resistance on pragmatic grounds, emphasising the futility of violence faced with Israel’s military superiority.
Israel has little but stopgap measures to defend against Palestinian protests. Its intelligence agencies cannot predict the lone wolf, its guns cannot deter the knife, its military might cannot subdue the craving for justice and dignity. The current unrest may recede, but more waves of protest of ever greater intensity are surely not far behind.
Abbas knows a decision to pursue war crimes trials against Israel at the Hague threatens the PA’s very existence. If he ends coordination and goes on the offensive, why would Israel allow the PA to continue functioning? But if his security forces continue to collaborate with Israel, how can he retain credibility with his people? This leaves the Palestinian leader with only two credible strategic options – aside from dissolving the PA himself.
There are many obstacles to be cleared before anyone in Israel reaches the dock in the Hague accused of war crimes. The first test will be whether Mahmoud Abbas’ nerve holds. It will be 60 days before the application to join the International Criminal Court takes effect. In the meantime, Israel and the US – neither of which has ratified the Rome Statute – will exert as much pressure on him as possible to change course.
Staff at Bir Zeit, the most prestigious of the Palestinian universities, ordered Amira Hass, a reporter for the Israeli Haaretz daily, to leave a public meeting. She was told it was for her own “safety” in case students protested against her presence. The decision has provoked a heated debate among Palestinian intellectuals, students and activists about how far refusal to cooperate with Israelis should extend.
This month Israeli media reported claims that Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, had offered the Palestinian leadership the chance to annex to Gaza an area of 1,600 sq km in Sinai. The donated territory would expand Gaza fivefold, and provide the basis for a Palestinian state outside historic Palestine. What should we make of such reports?
In a sign of how unpopular the PA’s security cooperation has become, crowds of Palestinian youths attacked a police station in Ramallah last month, during an incursion by the Israeli army. In unprecedented scenes, the youths shouted “Collaborators!” at the Palestinian police, attacked three police vehicles, and threw stones at the station as officers cowered inside.
The unity government simply breathes new life into the illusion – created by the Oslo accords of two decades ago – that good governance by the Palestinian Authority can change the Palestinians’ situation for the better. In practice, such governance has entailed submitting to Israel’s security demands. An occupied people needs not better rubbish collection but an effective strategy for resistance.
The biggest paradox of the two-decade peace process is that, to realise his goal of statehood, Mahmoud Abbas is using a vehicle, the Palestinian Authority, that is incapable of bringing him to his destination. The nearer he gets to real statehood, or a prosecution against Israel for war crimes, the more certain it is that Israel and the US will pull the plug on the PA. But if the PA never becomes more than a security contractor for the occupation, then it will be brought down by the wrath of the Palestinians themselves.
Israel alone had the means, track record, stated intention and motive to kill Yasser Arafat. Without Israel’s fingerprints on the murder weapon, it may be impossible to secure a conviction in a court of law, but there is evidence enough to convict Israel in the court of world opinion.
Interview with Awad Abdel Fattah: ‘The PA is still using the discussion about one state as a way to frighten Israelis. The demand for justice and equality should not be used as a scare tactic: in fact, we should be making the argument that one state would be good for Israelis too.’
If there was a moment defining the shift in Israel’s strategic position over the past year, it occurred in September when the Israeli embassy in Cairo was overrun by hundreds of Egyptian protesters, some armed with sledgehammers. It was not quite the fall of Saigon. But it indicated how in a few months Israel had gone from a state adept at shaping its regional environment to one increasingly buffeted by forces beyond its control.
Paradoxically, during the street protests and political upheavals that rocked the Arab world in recent months, the Palestinians were mostly invisible. Far from leading the regional convulsions, the Palestinians saw their own struggle eclipsed. Belatedly, however, the first shoots of the “Arab Spring” have appeared in the divided Palestinian lands of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Israeli officials have expressed alarm at a succession of moves by the interim Egyptian government that they fear signal an impending crisis in relations with Cairo. The widening rift was underscored yesterday when leaders of the rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation pact in the Egyptian capital. Egypt’s secret role in brokering the agreement last week caught both Israel and the United States by surprise.
After a lengthy lull, violent confrontation has returned to the centre stage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Over the past week, the Israeli army and Palestinian militants have appeared keen to flex their muscles with regular exchanges of fire. Israel’s tanks and fighter planes have attacked the Gaza Strip, killing civilians and fighters, while Palestinian militants have launched mortars and rockets, some reaching as far as the Israeli cities of Ashdod and Beersheva.
More than a thousand Palestinians who staged a day of rage in the West Bank city of Hebron last week were left with few illusions about how their struggle for liberation differs from that of Tunisians, Egyptians and Libyans. The protesters were confronted, on one side, by massed ranks of Israeli paramilitary police, while Palestinian security forces assisted by blocking the entry of demonstrators from the other side. Squeezed into their own little Tahrir Square, the protesters suffered tear gas and baton attacks from the Israeli police while the Palestinian forces mutely stood by.
Is the Palestinian Authority finished and, with it, 18 years of the Middle East peace process? That is the question increasingly being asked by Palestinians in the wake of a week of damaging revelations that Palestinian negotiators secretly made major concessions to Israel in talks on Jerusalem, refugees and borders. The question of the PA’s survival, and the future direction of Palestinian politics, has gained added urgency as the wider Middle East is rocked by unrest, from Tunisia to Yemen.
For more than a decade, since the collapse of the Camp David talks in 2000, the mantra of Israeli politics has been the same: “There is no Palestinian partner for peace.” This week, the first of hundreds of leaked confidential Palestinian documents, the so-called Palestine Papers, confirmed the suspicions of a growing number of observers that the rejectionists in the peace process are to be found on the Israeli, not Palestinian, side.
Top Palestinian officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas, are engaged in “very serious” discussions about whether to abandon negotiations with Israel and seek United Nations recognition of a Palestinian state, a senior Palestinian official said yesterday. The official said there was momentum building among senior Palestinian political figures to act on a long-standing threat to bypass the current peace process, which has stalled, and ask the UN Security Council to recognise Palestinian statehood.
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