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Who’s responsible for the Palestinian political crisis?

Jamal Juma’
Date Published: 
October 01, 2007

The West Bank and Gaza are in disarray—beset with constitutional chaos, contradicting authorities, and cross accusations. Yet, as the tensions in the streets simmer down, the most surprising thing is that anybody out there in the world can be surprised at all. The foundations of what has happened in Gaza and the West Bank this summer were laid long ago—and it was the Israeli Occupation and the US and Europe who were the chief architects. The question of where the responsibility lies, with Hamas or Fatah, is thus utterly out of place. The real plotters of the current situation are Israel, the US and Europe. The latest round started almost one and a half years ago when the Palestinian people voted in the elections for the legislative council against the party the Occupation and the international community expected them to vote for. The aims of the West and the Occupation were immediately clear: Palestinian democracy (which miraculously worked even under conditions of brutal occupation) had to be destroyed and Hamas was not to be governing the Palestinian National Authority, whatever the movement might state or compromise on. The plans to get there might have developed only over the following months. Almost instantly, sanctions were imposed on the Palestinian people. The plan was to starve them until they revolted against the forces they had just elected. The scheme—evidently—didn’t work out. Palestinians never fought for bread but rather for their rights and they have never been willing to exchange UN sacks of wheat for the right to return to their homes and statehood. To instigate the revolt, strikes of the public services have been organized by the Fatah movement asking for salaries. Yet, it was evident that the strikes were not coming from the people who had just voted Fatah out of power because of the political and financial corruption many leaders of the movement are considered to have succumbed to. The strikes had thus no relevant impact on the political set up. They had only one effect—after months of all Palestinian National Authority offices being completely paralyzed and life going on as usual, dictated by the Occupation’s random rules, it became clear that the Palestinian National Authority is not governing anything and, in practical terms, is a completely redundant body. Bantustan rule But behind the scenes more hideous and sophisticated plans have been developed that furthermore seek to use the current Palestinian political set up to achieve the overall aims of Israel: the substitution of the two-state solution with a Bantustan rule for Palestinians divided into 4 major ghettos on not more than 12 % of historic Palestine, each of them separated from the other. The first steps towards this reality has already been undertaken during the Oslo period. Gaza has been completely isolated from the West Bank and increasingly from the rest of the world. The redeployment from Gaza in August 2005 has further evidenced the Israeli plan for a complete division between the West Bank (or what will remain of it) and the open air prison to which Gaza has been transformed. Gaza has become a veritable laboratory for the West Bank. Slowly even the 50% of the West Bank—not much more than the Palestinian built up areas—that are to become the three ghettos surrounded by the Apartheid Wall are isolated from each other and from the rest of the world. Recent announcements that access to the southern ghetto including Bethlehem and Hebron will soon be regulated by a separated visa are further underlining the institutional process that is going hand-in-hand with the facts created on the ground. The results of the Palestinian elections had little or no effect on this “unilateral disengagement” or Bantustanization of Palestine. They evidently put in doubt the possibility for the Occupation to have a malleable Palestinian leadership willing to reign peacefully over the ghettos. Yet, they opened the way for a vicious plan to disband a unified Palestinian National Authority that, in the case of the Bantustanization of Palestine, would have been more of a hindrance than of use. The existence of such a plan has long since been no secret. In the streets of the West Bank and Gaza, in the taxis, and in the living rooms, people were talking about it. The international news agencies carried the news. The Occupation, the US, the EU and some docile Arab leaders were plotting to overthrow the Hamas government (and later the National Unity government) and to conduct the Palestinian leadership—against the will of the people—into the hands of Abu Mazen [Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas] and the most discredited wing of the Fatah movement. That Israel and the international community were planning such a coup was evident long before the “Action Plan for the Palestinian Presidency”, a 16-page secret document detailing the steps to de-authorize the Palestinian parliament and government, and thus Hamas, was leaked to a Jordanian newspaper Al Majd. Armed escalation When it became evident that sanctions would not make the Palestinians bow to the will of Israel and the West, the political tensions had to be escalated. Fatah leaders such as Muhammad Dahlan were buoyed since the elections by the fact that they could expect any possible outside support to defeat Hamas. Clashes have been provoked and both sides, Hamas and Fatah, engaged in a lethal tit-for- tat that cost many lives. Internet cafes went up in flames, streets were controlled by militias. In addition, weapons of all kinds were procured by the US for Muhammad Dahlan and his allies in Gaza. Arms, including small scale tanks, have been found in his ransacked “preventive security” offices. They had passed through Israeli or EU controlled border crossings. Special corps for Dahlan have been trained in Egypt and another 500 are still waiting in Yemen after having been trained there for guerrilla warfare. Hamas was trapped. They believed they either had to act or to accept that forces were building up to literally wipe out their power in Gaza. Thus—they argue—they took the step to eradicate Dahlan and his plots from the Gaza Strip at a time when most of the leaders were outside and his military logistics were not yet ready to respond by provoking an extenuating civil war. In the Machiavellian logic of power, better to loose the West Bank via a take over of the Gaza Strip than to loose both to Dahlan and international pressure. Had anybody thought first about the cause of Palestine and its people and then about the interests of factional power, maybe we could have avoided getting to the stage we are at now. Here lies the grave responsibility of our political leadership: in not preventing a coup, not in orchestrating it. In fact, the present situation could hardly be more favorable for Israel and the US government. The Palestinian political structures in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank appear split. Neither of the Palestinian political factions that are accusing each other of orchestrating a coup have actually gained any power. Hamas is completely trapped within an open air prison with no control over borders, access or any other means to keep the population alive. Dahlan and his allies have fled to the West Bank and are now facing a political Fatah leadership that is not at all willing to stay under his command and has even issued a public statement calling for him to be tried in court. The call for escalation in the West Bank issued by Dahlan to make up for the defeat in Gaza has been only heeded in isolated cases. Political “leadership” Meanwhile the Action Plan for the Palestinian Presidency continues. Abu Mazen is now “legitimately” the only internationally recognized Palestinian leader. A new government has been formed and immediately backed by the world. Sanctions have been lifted to overload the new “government” with funds. Once again, the world thinks it can buy the surrender of the Palestinian people with its money. No doubt, the whole Palestinian cabinet together would have gotten not more than a hand full of votes in any Palestinian election. But on this point who cares? The prime minister is now Salam Fayyad, loyal son of the World Bank willing to implement the economic steps to ensure that the Bank’s plans for the sustainability of the ghettos will be implemented and Palestinian dispossessed farmers adequately exploited in the Israeli sweatshops constructed on their confiscated lands. Next to him are all those that signed up for normalization with Israel long ago. The world has finally overcome the problem of Palestinian democracy and popular will when dealing with its “leaders.” If this looks bad, the way ahead seems even more worrying. Ehud Barak—former Israeli Prime Minister who first proposed a wall to be built in the West Bank and the leader of the Labour party—has become defense minister. His first proposal was an invasion into Gaza. After watching the Occupation create an even worse humanitarian situation and commit further massacres, the international community and some Arab countries would probably then come forth to “save” Gaza and install an international force there to take up the job the Occupation left behind. Hamas would continue to claim its rule over Gaza, de facto reigning over not much more than the rubbish collection in the overcrowded strip. In the West Bank, Abu Mazen is more and more inclined to dissolve the whole Palestinian National Authority (PNA) and the collateral problems of democracy. Doing away with the PNA and calling upon the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) to take over its place could be a possible option that Abu Mazen is considering. The PLO could then adopt an Emergency Government and confer upon it a semblance of democracy. Hamas, not being part of the PLO, would be bypassed by the historic body of Palestinian leadership and all those Palestinian parties that are now cut out from the power game would be appeased via their representation in the PLO. They would then maybe help to shore up support a “reformed” Emergency Government. The international community would be more than gratified with the “solution.” This step would further cement the divide between the West Bank and Gaza but, more importantly, calling in the PLO to come to save the Bantustans would disfigure even this last Palestinian political body that held together the Palestinian struggle in its core principles of liberation of our land and return for our refugees. Early elections, called for by the minor political parties in Palestine in the hope to gain a space in the political power game, are practically off the table. It is rather improbable that Gaza would join in the elections and West Bank elections are not an option. Further, Fatah in the current situation is less than ever prepared to run and win the polls. Way out The way to get out of the political disaster created in the West Bank and Gaza is neither clear nor easy. The Palestinian people will have to create the strength to take their struggle in their own hands again. As a Palestinian grassroots movement we have to contribute to the reshaping and development of our struggle, protecting it from being divided, hijacked, or deviated. We have to shift the confrontation back to the Occupation. The real struggle of the Palestinian people cannot be about who will be in charge of a “National Authority,” which de facto wields no authority over the land or its people anyway. It is the walls, checkpoints, prisons, and the entire Israeli Occupation with its racist policies that has to become the target once again. In order to be able to continue our national struggle with the necessary determination, we have to talk to each other as Palestinians. We have to find unity among the different political expressions, based on the will of the people that continue their resistance and steadfastness on the ground and on the founding principles of our struggle based on our rights to self-determination, land, and return. We have to evaluate the past and the dynamics that led us to the situation we are in now. Since the signing of the Oslo agreements almost 15 years ago, how did our struggle and leadership develop? How could we accept to trap our struggle in the stranglehold of international governments and donors? Finally, we have to come up with a shared political vision of our aims and strategies as a people. Only on this basis we can legitimately talk to the world and effectively face the Occupation. Today, some are still dreaming about a two state solution while a “three state solution” of isolated Bantustans is being cemented on the ground. Instead, the only option that can provide us with a framework that respects human and national rights still consists in the creation of a single democratic state for all. However, the recent developments on the ground in Palestine—more than highlighting a crisis in Palestinian leadership—have laid bare the full extent of the international community’s involvement in a veritable coup demanded by the Occupation against any national and united Palestinian leadership. It shows more than ever the need to stop international support for the Occupation. Complicity or resistance? It is thus up to all those that are able to understand and believe in the rights of the Palestinian people to continue working on your societies and governments to create the necessary fissures and rifts between the Occupation and its international backers. This will help to create the spaces needed to reconstruct our struggle but foremost, it is a moral and political imperative for all those that do not want to be complicit with the crimes against our people. You should hold your governments accountable for abusing your tax money and your votes to overthrow other people’s democratic choices. Maybe, if the world had respected the Palestinian democratic choice and had given Hamas a chance, we would have avoided the current escalation. Hamas was ready to be integrated at the table of the international community. But had the West opted to deal with the Palestinian democratic choices, this would have necessarily been a sign to the Occupation that the Palestinian people, their will and rights do matter. It would have inherently created limits to the Occupation’s wanton destruction of our lives and land. Thus, the international community never considered this an option; they preferred their complete disregard for the democracy they are apparently calling for to be openly shown to the world. The values of democracy have been further plundered. It’s further worth asking those that consider Hamas a politically not acceptable party, whether governments planning and financing coups and occupations around the world are more “politically correct;” and for those that delegitimize Fatah as horrendously corrupt, whether your foreign offices are after all any better. If they are truly against corruption, they would not legitimate immediately an illegitimate Emergency Government formed by unrepresentative individuals and would not arm and finance truly corrupted individuals. To all those that call for negotiations and international mediation on Palestine, ask them whether they seriously pretend that Palestinian can still be so naïve as to consider western powers as anything similar to balanced brokers? Now that your governments have destroyed the already imperfect Palestinian political set up, there is really nobody to negotiate with anymore. More than anything else, however, the global efforts to build the movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions have to be stepped up. In these dark days, the courageous steps to adopt a boycott undertaken by British unions such as the University and College Union and Unison, the public service union, are truly well-needed signs that there is a hope that unconditional international support for Israeli Occupation and apartheid can end. Through the collective efforts of the struggle of the people and solidarity of civil society all over the world, it was possible to stop the plans of Bantustanization in South Africa. We can reach the same power once again to gain the liberation of Palestine and the return of our refugees. About the Author Jamal Juma’ is Campaign Coordinator for the Grassroots Palestinian Anti-Apartheid Wall Campaign (