- Published on Sunday, 07 October 2012 03:12
- Category: Featured Partner: Palestine Note
Patrick O. Strickland - The immense demonstrations that swallowed the Israeli-occupied West Bank two weeks ago have temporarily subsided, but the calm is temporary. Rather than aiming all of their frustration at Israel, Palestinians of all stripes called for an end to the Western-backed, entirely undemocratic leadership of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
Neither peace negotiations nor armed struggle have managed to liberate millions of Palestinians toiling under a brutal military occupation or in the wretched conditions that accompany imposed exile. The only viable alternative is a wide scale nonviolent revolt against both the present Palestinian leadership and Israel’s 45-year occupation.
The advent of the Palestinian Authority in 1994 was packaged as a huge step towards freedom. Coupled alongside Israel’s ostensibly endless policy of colonizing the West Bank through the expansion of illegal settlements, nearly two decades of the PA’s own pervasive corruption, political frivolousness, ineptitude, and misguided economics have widened the gap between Palestinians and the ultimate end of self-determination.
The Abbas-Fayyad regime’s close economic, political, and security cooperation is both high unpopular and destructive. After six years of no elections, President Mahmoud Abbas lacks charisma as well as popular support for his diplomatic efforts. Additionally, the PLO’s inability and unwillingness to unite the Hamas leadership of the Gaza Strip with that of Fatah in the West Bank continues to be a deep reserve of anger for a populous sick of internal divisions standing in the way of liberation.
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, with the hopes of erecting an independent economy as the foundation for a future Palestinian state, has enacted a number of policies focused on the development of the private sector in urban centers such as Ramallah—the result has been an unsustainable bubble, an addiction to foreign aid, greater inequality, and the hastened flight of Palestinians from the economically devastated Area C to the cities.
In other words, tensions were boiling under the surface for a long while, and it was no surprise that long overdue demonstrations erupted across the West Bank. Distended streets and alleyways pumped thousands of Palestinians into the centers of cities, villages, and refugee camps across the West Bank. The protests were complimented by large-scale public sector strikes.
In Ramallah, drivers turned their taxis into barricades, blocking entrance into Al-Manara Square, the throbbing heart of the downtown area, paralyzing traffic and clogging the city’s main arteries. “I can’t fuel my car, so Fayyad can take it!” several reportedly chanted.
In Hebron, angry protesters called for the annulment of the 1994 Paris Protocol, a lopsided agreement that has turned the West Bank into Israel’s captive market, while others hurled stones at the municipality building. Large protests blocked roads in Ramallah, Tulkarem, and Bethlehem, during which some protesters set tires and electricity pylons on fire.
In a thinly-veiled attempt to co-opt the momentum of the demonstrations, President Abbas, speaking to a meeting of Arab League ministers in Cairo, boldly pronounced that the arrival of the Palestinian spring, stating that the PA is “in line with what the people say and what they want.” The next day, Fayyad denied the arrival of the Arab Spring in Palestine, providing a telling display of disunity within the leadership and alienation from the street.
For now, protests have been pushed aside. President Abbas’s renewed UN bid is proving to be a useful distraction, and intra-union quarrels have rendered much of the opposition fragmented. Furthermore, Fayyad has enacted partially successful efforts to mitigate public outrage through economic reforms. The Prime Minister declared that the installation of a minimum wage for both public and private sector employees and expense cuts for several ministries. Though the government employs 25 percent of working West Bank Palestinians, it has been unable to pay salaries on time or in full over the last year. The PA announced it will repay the deductions “as soon as possible.”
However, Fayyad has also admitted that there is little to be done about the primary trigger of the demonstrations, soaring fuel prices that lead to a rise in living costs across the market.
Flirting with the absurd, Hamas officials attempted to capitalize on the demonstrations, declaring that the Gaza Strip a hundred percent free of financial corruption since the Islamist party took over in 2006.
In reality, disputed Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Fayyad’s counterpart, and his band of Hamas theocrats have scarcely done a more convincing job in the besieged Gaza Strip. Turned into an open-air prison, the Gazan-based leadership’s inability to stabilize the security situation has provided Israel with ample pretexts to shower the strip with bombs that not only claim many civilian lives but also disrupt vital aspects of daily life.
Hamas’s militancy has given Israel the warrant to continue the suffocating blockade, which has resulted in complete economic devastation. A recent UN report concluded that Gaza will be “unlivable” by 2020: unemployment hovers around 45 percent; the population is expected to increase by half a million; the government operates on 80 percent aid dependency; and over 75 percent of water is unsafe for consumption. Israel may be the immediate source of this astounding poverty, but Hamas has done little to ease these crushing burdens.
The Palestinian leadership, both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, cannot convince its constituency to suppress its legitimate grievances for long. Indeed, Fayyad’s reforms do not surpass the cosmetic, and economic conditions that serve as precursors to contentious politics are still present. Hamas, on the other hand, lacks the resources to absorb another half million people into its already shattered infrastructure.
The Palestinian leadership will only be able to redeem itself if it enacts a campaign of economic and political disengagement from Israel, including a complete boycott of Israeli goods in the West Bank. Such a campaign would greatly compliment the numerous campaigns of nonviolent resistance to the occupation that have emerged over the last few years and could deliver a potentially stultifying blow to the institutions of occupation.
It is no exaggeration to say that the spirit that informed recent demonstrations echoes of the First Intifada, as much a revolution against an out of touch leadership as it was against Israel. If Palestinian leadership does not act quickly to align itself with popular demands, it will doom itself to irrelevancy. When distraught demonstrators set both tires and effigies ablaze, and in some cases even their own bodies, they were also burning down the post-Oslo illusion of self-governance. As the late Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani wrote during the onset of the First Intifada, “Ah, generation of betrayal, of surrogate and indecent men, generation of leftovers, we’ll be swept away—never mind the slow pace of history—by children bearing rocks.”
Patrick O. Strickland is a freelance American journalist living and traveling on both sides of the Green Line in Israel and Palestine. He is a weekly correspondent for BikyaMasr and contributes regularly to CounterPunch, Palestine Chronicle, Socialistworker.org, and elsewhere.
This content is provided courtesy of Palestine Note