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The persistence of the Palestinian Authority

April 4, 2015 at 11:48 am

For years now, analysts and observers of Palestine have predicted a third intifada, or uprising against occupation. The first intifada which, lasted from 1987 until 1993, caught everyone off guard, and few predicted it. This included the PLO itself.

While political cadres of the various PLO factions were active on the ground in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in leading the intifada, including through the Unified National Leadership, the higher echelons of the exiled PLO leadership soon attempted to direct the spontaneous popular uprising from their bases in Tunisia.

Due to the high level of popular Palestinian support for the PLO at the time, this would have not been a problem, were it not for the way that historical PLO leader Yasser Arafat ultimately directed the intifada.

The hard-fought gains that the Palestinian people won through popular resistance, demonstrations, boycotts, stone throwing and (towards the end of the almost entirely unarmed uprising) some limited guerilla actions against Israeli soldiers, were ultimately squandered by Arafat. This was done even against the wishes of many in the PLO, including the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (led by the late George Habash) and independent intellectuals like Edward Said and Mahmoud Darwish.

Said for his part not only left the PLO in protest, but almost immediately saw 1993’s Oslo accords for what they were: “an instrument of Palestinian surrender, a Palestinian Versailles,” as he wrote a month after that infamous ceremony on the Whitehouse Lawn and the orchestrated shaking of hands between Arafat and Israeli war criminal Yitzak Rabin. As early as 9 June 1994 Said described the Palestinian Authority as “an Israeli protectorate resembling… a Middle East version of a South African Bantustan” – an analogy which is now made quite often, but would have been far more controversial in those days.

As with the first intifada, so with the second: few people really saw it coming. Although, like the first intifada, the “al-Aqsa intifada” of 2000-2005 began as an unarmed popular uprising of demonstrations, protests and stone throwing, extraordinary Israeli brutality against the demonstrations meant that it soon escalated, and armed Palestinian factions began to strike back.

The Hebrew press reported that Israeli soldiers fired one million bullets at the demonstrations within the first two weeks of the intifada. With such brutality on display, it is no wonder Palestinians began to lose faith in unarmed resistance.

As the first two intifadas were largely unpredicted, it has since become a fairly regular occurrence for pundits to predict a “third intifada”. Usually alongside this prediction comes another: that its first target will be the Palestinian Authority. This makes a certain logical sense, as the PA is – as Edward Said said it would be – little more than a Palestinian subcontractor for the Israeli occupation regime.

And yet, years later, the Palestinian Authority endures. Despite occasional murmurous of discontent and even demonstrations against the PA (such as 2012’s brief surge of protest against the neoliberal policies of unelected former Prime Minister Salim Fayyad), the West Bank seems largely under the control of the PA – and hence of Israel. What accounts for this?

There are many factors, most of which are beyond the scope of this column. But I would like to highlight a central one here: those wanting to know more should read the chapter “Neoliberal Palestine” in my colleague at The Electronic Intifada Ali Abunimah’s latest book, The Battle for Justice in Palestine (which won MEMO’s 2014 Palestine Book Award).

After the end of the second intifada, and especially after 2007, Israel and its allies sought to impose pacification on the Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank under the guise of “economic peace”. That latter year was when a US-Israel-Fatah coup against the elected Palestinian Authority government, led by Hamas, succeeded in the West Bank, but failed in the Gaza Strip where Hamas (Palestine’s Islamic liberation movement) expelled the US-trained forces of Muhammad Dahlan from Gaza (dubbed the “Palestinian Contras” by Abunimah). In that chapter, he outlines how the brutal neoliberal economic policies of Fayyad, backed by the anti-democratic thuggery of Mahmoud Abbas’s US-trained PA forces kept the people under the regime’s thumb.

All this, combined with a new neoliberal spirit of consumerism and culture of debt, means that people are less likely to resist. Any “third intifada” seems a long way off. But the very nature of spontaneous uprising against oppression means few will really see it coming.

An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.