The Palestinian Authority prime minister’s recent resignation was sudden and without warning. But what made Rami Hamdallah pack his personal effects into a car and drive away from his office, leaving an unidentified official to tell waiting journalists that he had sent his resignation to PA headquarters?
If there were operational difficulties, why didn’t Hamdallah ask to meet President Mahmoud Abbas to present his list of complaints and try to find solutions? Speculation is rife that he did call Abbas after finding out that one of his deputies was a signatory for PA financial transactions, didn’t like the answer he got and left in a fit of pique.
Maybe the truth is a little more complicated, with pressure from the US and Europe, as well as some Arab countries, to go back to negotiations with Israel without preconditions. Could there also be the issue of internal friction within the PA itself? And what about Hamdallah’s political naiveté and inexperience in not realising that his appointment to a titular role in a presidential system would be bound to frustrate him? He couldn’t form his own government or appoint his own deputy; no wonder he was frustrated. What made him accept the position in the first place? We may well ask.
There is a lot of anger at Hamdallah’s resignation, not least because his timing and the manner of his going have revealed a lot of the problems which beset the Palestinian Authority.
The foremost of these is its lack of legitimacy. Post-Oslo, the Palestine Liberation Organisation shrunk in almost direct proportion to the swelling of the PA to the extent that it no longer represents the people of Palestine. This was very obvious when Hamas won the 2006 election so comprehensively. There has been no meeting of the Palestinian National Council despite so many of its members dying and others getting very old and infirm. The PA’s frame of reference, the PLO, has thus shrunk in its authority and representative constitution.
Added to that is the fact that the PA’s policies built around negotiations and security cooperation with the Israeli occupation have achieved little, if anything at all, for the Palestinians. On the contrary, the occupation has been strengthened and the number of illegal Jewish settlers has more than doubled since Oslo. This is the elephant in the room for the PA under Mahmoud Abbas, who is unwilling or unable, or both, to explain why this is so.
The policies adopted by the PA/PLO belie the name of the organisation: Palestine Liberation Organisation. It has forgotten about liberating the land from Israel’s occupation, seeking instead to work with it. Having abandoned resistance to the occupation in favour of security cooperation and negotiations, the PA/PLO also lacks electoral legitimacy. Much is made of the fact that Hamas’s mandate as the elected government expired in 2010, when new elections should have been held, but Mahmoud Abbas’s term of office expired in 2009, so his current position is even more tenuous. The split between Fatah, which controls the PA/PLO, and Hamas has exposed the deficiencies in the political system. They are responsible for its continuation.
While the PA continues to try to follow Oslo, Israel has more or less ignored and abandoned it, hence the proliferation of settlements with the tacit support of the West. When pressure is only placed on one side to comply with the terms of agreements they are basically a waste of time. Such imbalance has seen the PA become entirely dependent on the occupying power with its already limited autonomy eroding almost daily. That is what makes any talk about a president and prime minister competing for power within the PA so ironic; there is no power to begin with.
Even though the Palestinian Authority has received more than $25 billion in aid since it was established the economic situation is worse than ever before and debt is growing. Most of the aid, by a long way, goes on enhancing security agencies which operate as extensions of their Israeli counterparts. Only 1 per cent has been allocated by the PA for productive agricultural and industrial projects. As a result, most Palestinians are becoming poorer and more are enduring unemployment.
The legitimacy of the PA is hit further by the fact that it has not committed to the implementation of the basic law, ignoring the need for elections and freezing the Palestinian Legislative Council, Palestine’s equivalent of a parliament. The president is in charge and there are no checks and balances in place to monitor what he does. The main representative bodies are in limbo: the PLO is absent without leave; the PNC is in intensive care; and the PLC is prevented from operating, with many elected members locked up by the PA and the Israelis. It doesn’t take much imagination to see that conditions are in place for an “Arab Spring” rebellion against a corrupt presidency, as we have witnessed in other countries in the region.
Underlying all of this is the basic weakness of the system in Palestine. Pressure was exerted on Yasser Arafat to create the role of “head of government”, a prime minister, which was meant to weaken the president’s position and provide for a more flexible leadership ready to do Israel’s bidding.
The solution does not lie in Fatah taking sole control of the government, or for the president to form the government by himself, or to reappoint Hamdallah. It is not even in the formation of a national reconciliation government without agreeing to national and democratic bases upon which it should be built.
It needs a radical rethink which bypasses the requirement to wait for negotiations or the conclusion of power struggles across the region. Negotiations under such unequal terms and with such an imbalance of power between the two sides are a waste of time and effort. They seek to provide a fig-leaf for Israel’s creation of “facts on the ground” so that the new reality will be to Israel’s benefit and will be the only game plan on the table.
The US is not an honest broker, despite its claims to the contrary, and the so-called International Middle East Quartet serves merely to protect Israel’s interests. The Palestinian Authority is mistaken in placing complete reliance on such bodies to achieve a just and lasting peace.
The solution lies in putting Palestinian interests first through having a political agenda which represents the people of Palestine and their rights. Reconciliation must take place as a priority; it should not be subject to US and Israeli approval. Palestine’s new status with the UN should be pursued as one form of resistance to Israel’s occupation, along with other resistance efforts, including boycotts, the isolation of Israel internationally and sanctions. Legal action against Israel and its war criminals should also be taken without delay.
Only by taking such a radical approach can the PA show true leadership and independence of though and action. Only then can it claim to be truly representative of the people of Palestine. Only then will it have reclaimed any degree of legitimacy and, I believe, only then will it be successful.
The author is a Palestinian writer. This article is a translation of the Arabic text which appeared in As Safir newspaper on 25 June, 2013