The Palestinian Authority must abandon tyranny and adopt democracy

Chairman of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council saying that elections would be held within the next six months. Expectedly, his decision was criticised by Palestinian factions, notably Hamas and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Hamas termed the decision as "an invalid political decision because it is issued by an illegal body". PFLP perceived the decision as one that shunned options for “any national dialogue to achieve Palestinian reconciliation".

The EU intervened to say that "the Palestinian Authority must fully resume its governmental functions in Gaza." This statement lets the cat out of the bag and exposes the EU’s real intent. On one hand, the EU shed crocodile tears over how the PLC dissolution supposedly "brings to an end the mandate of the only elected governing body of the Palestinian Authority, a development the EU missions regard with concern." Its incongruities, on the other hand, are evident from its call to other Palestinian factions to "engage in good faith in the reconciliation process".

Political analysts in Palestine view this double speak as having as its hidden agenda the goal of perpetuating the authoritarian rule of Mahmoud Abbas. For good measure, and for purposes of good PR, the EU also called for "work towards genuine and democratic elections for all Palestinians". This is a tall order given that the very dissolution of the PA and its projected outcome is a very dubious agenda of Abbas and his friends in the West.

It is no surprise that the EU can make such contradictory announcements and get away with it. After all, the PA’s existence has roots in the Oslo Accords which imposed on Palestinians an outside obligation. And that interference never ever ended. The accords imposed conditions in conflict with the Palestinian aspirations and rights. It called for International consensus, tantamount to consent of outer forces in any national consensus, thus imposing western patterns of democracy quite alien to the region. In essence, this was violation of democracy because it offered the West an unwritten veto. The best example of this was when the EU refused to recognize Hamas's electoral victory in 2006. On the morning after the results were announced, Angela Merkel said words to this effect: The results are unacceptable. The EU then proceeded to push three conditions in return for recognition: Rejection of resistance, recognition of Israel's right to exist and an acceptance of the Oslo Accords. It was a subtle way of demanding that Hamas had to evolve into a political force created in the image of the EU. It was never even pretence in Europe to want Hamas to claim its legitimacy from foreign powers rather than from the Palestinian people. So much so for EU crudely thrusting its own understanding of a Middle Eastern democracy on the Palestinians, who, themselves, were asserting their independence, while fighting a colonial power – Israel occupying their land. Hamas-led Palestinian government was toppled in 2007. The four-year term of PLC ended in 2010; since then Abbas has been unconstitutionally extending its life while the majority (Hamas) members are either in Israeli jails or confined to Gaza.

Few thinking people in Palestine would view the PA as the authentic voice of the Palestine's political process at an international level. But the PA is maintaining that delusion. Those who know understand that the PA is pursuing its illusory representation of Palestinians within the international community. All along the only body of interests it accurately represents, is its own.

The PA is a sort of political façade always acting in ways that gains them international appreciation while on purpose ignoring real Palestinian aspirations and needs. The PA has, objectively speaking, mere symbolisms to show as successes. If there is a criterion that it must be judged by, it is whether there has been any impact on halting Israel's colonial expansion. On that score the PA has been a monumental failure. Political analysts aver that PA’s persistence in this exploitative system is founded in externalizing the question of Palestine. It perpetuates the myth that Palestinians need international legitimacy for their anti-colonial struggle. The contradiction is stark especially when one recognizes that the PA looks for its legitimacy in exactly the same political spaces that established colonial Israel in the first place in the homeland of the Palestinians.

The EU's reasons for holding the PA as the entity that can usher in a democratic process in Palestine have nothing to do with Palestinian rights. In line with the rest of the international community, the EU prefers to view Palestine from the paradigm of humanitarian issues. The EU is, thus, able to take refuge behind the real fact - an Israeli colonization is on and it must be undone. Right now, Israel's colonization camouflages its true self because it conveniently puts itself at par with other democratic states, not as a crude and barbaric colonial power in the 21st century.

For all countries which view Israel-Palestine from this prism, the PA is a convenient entity to deal with. By continuously depicting Palestine as an international concern, Abbas has formulated a narrative that it alone can defend liberal and democratic values in political life in Palestine. When the EU goes along with the PA, it, in fact, tacitly supports a regime that has no popular mandate and by all opinion assessment outlets has no popular support. It is a raw dictatorship by an oligarchy.

At every level of everyday interference in the internal decision-making processes of the Palestinian polity, the West is interfering by prompting people to shun Hamas despite its popularity on the streets. The western media always refers to Hamas as a terror group, rather than as a resistance force. They satisfy themselves that their label is apt because in times of war, Hamas strikes back at Israel with weapons regardless of how minimal their military impact is.

Europe hangs on desperately to its guilt complex as a tool of political convenience. It pitifully pretends that the horrors of the Holocaust visit its rulers and people even to this day. Therefore, it will never surrender its total loyalty to Israel. Hamas will not countenance such political bigotry. It claims its right to resist and resist violently in line with the Universal covenant on human rights and international law which allows occupied people to resist occupation by all means. Further, Hamas will not allow a hierarchy of political priority in the political equation involving Palestine and Israel. Israel’s security concerns cannot have priority in matters of security especially when it is Palestinians whose security is always threatened.  

Clearly, EU must accept the fact that it is Hamas that won in 2006 and will probably win again if a free and fair election is held. EU will help Abbas stall an election and this would be decidedly undemocratic. A Palestine solution minus EU, North America is ideal. But these two western structures will not allow another force from elsewhere to emerge as mediator. It would offend the racial sensitivities of the western powers which suggest that democracy in their image is the only way.   

The PA under Abbas dominated politics in Palestine through a vice-like grip over various institutions and by confining alternative political forces. In addition to the split between Hamas and Fatah, which has been a formidable stumbling block for internal Palestinian politics, this has left little room for democracy and popular political participation. Indeed, Abbas is now entering a decade past his elected mandated term as PA president.

He has now dissolved the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) and called for elections within six months. Hamas countered this move by asking for simultaneous Presidential, PLC and  Palestinian National Council elections. He has introduced a caveat in his announcement.  Abbas will have the elections only if they include East Jerusalem. This is a non-starter because Israel will not countenance it because this challenges their notion that Jerusalem is wholly theirs.

With the split between the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the PLC is dormant and legislative processes are moribund. The Basic Law (essentially the Constitution) also contains a clause stating that if the President is unable to fulfill his role (that is, if he dies), the chair of the PLC takes up the position for 60 days before a general election. By initiating the dissolution, Abbas has sought to claim democratic credentials in the international community by dubiously claiming that it is Hamas and other political forces which contest the legitimacy of the dissolution of the PLC, and Israel which will not allow elections in East Jerusalem.

On the street, Palestinians are disillusioned. They know the PA cannot and won’t deliver serious results that will advance Palestinian rights and an end to the occupation. They are not impressed by the PA heading up the G77 or all the breakthroughs in the UN system. What they do know is that a corrupt and tyrannical PA is unable to counter the stranglehold Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian lands and the cruelties that accompany them. Israel’s policies cripple democratic institutions and its brand of colonial rule divides the liberation forces.

The Palestinian liberation project is now under threat. The PA is staring at self-defeat. Abbas lacks vision and will to alter things and create democratic spaces within which Palestinians will organize themselves with the PA being the rallying base. 

As Al Shabaka, a Palestinian Policy Network that educates and fosters public debate on Palestinian human rights and self-determination within the framework of international law, argues: “Palestinian civil society and activists across historic Palestine and the diaspora need to call for a democratically elected, accountable, and representative leadership. This must be a collective call with measures to protect those who are vulnerable to repression and harassment from the security forces”. It also calls the international community to step up its efforts to pressure the Israeli regime to respect Palestinian rights.

Until the PA transforms radically and becomes the political space for liberation from the colonialist-apartheid regime and has the ending of the occupation as it’s definitive vision and goal, Palestine will continue to suffer internal divisions to the benefit of Israel.   (5 Feb, 2019)