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The PA's "One Gun" belongs to Israel

January 29, 2016 at 9:32 am

In December the US weapons industry trade publication Defense News carried a telling interview with two top big-wigs in the Palestinian Authority. These were PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat and mukhabarat chief Major General Majid Faraj.

The magazine’s Israel bureau chief, who conducted the interviews, described them as “the top two advisers” to PA leader Mamoud Abbas. Abbas is now 80 years old, has no clear successor, and has claimed he will not stand again for elections to the presidency of the PA.

In fact, Abbas has only won a single election, way back in 2005. Fresh elections are years overdue, and have been blocked at every turn. Back in 2006 Hamas, Palestine’s Islamic resistance movement, won elections to the PA’s legislative body. After a months of civil war with forces loyal to Abbas, the elected Hamas-led PA government was overthrown in a coup in the West Bank. Hamas pre-empted a similar coup in Gaza and kicked out militias loyal to Mohammad Dahlan, who had been backed by the CIA, Israel and other Western forces in an attempt to overthrow the results of a fully democratic election.

Since then there have been varying degrees of division between Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the forces of Fatah in the West Bank. Various “unity deals” have come and gone without being implemented.

The reality is that elections to the PA were always for show, so that the West could claim it was backing the forces of democracy in the region. When the democratic processes did not go the way that the imperial power and its allies insisted on, the results could be overthrown.

The main function of the PA has always been to protect Israel from Palestinian popular anger and resistance to its illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. This is why the PA’s number-one area of spending is military and police, amounting to as much as 36 per cent of its total budget. This far outstrips spending on health, education or agriculture. As a percentage of total budget it is much more than the UK (10 per cent), India (16 per cent), Israel (20 per cent) and even the USA (23 per cent).

The PA acts as a buffer between Israel and the Palestinian population. It means that Israel is able, to some extent, to corrupt an elite sector of the population in order to get it to enforce occupation on itself. It is a classic colonial trick.

Back in January 2011, the Palestine Papers were obtained by Al Jazeera. These were documents from the PLO’s negotiations department leaked by a disillusioned former staffer. One of these documents showed Erekat describing in stark terms to a US State Department delegation the brutal and violent nature of the PA: “we have had to kill Palestinians to establish one authority, one gun”.

MEMO fact sheet: Palestinian security cooperation with Israel

Defence News describes this in gushing terms as the PA’s “cardinal policy”. Erekat is fawned over as an “erudite, Western-educated political animal”. Major General Faraj is described in more circumspect terms, but it still considered as one of two (with Erekat) “potential successors” to Abbas.

This shows how much the western political, military and media establishment care about democracy. A recent poll of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza showed Erekat’s standing at a mere 3 per cent where he to stand for the PA presidency. In fact the winning candidate would likely be from Hamas: former PA prime minister Ismail Haniyeh would win in an election against Abbas: 51 per cent to 41 per cent.

The PA in general is highly unpopular with the Palestinian population in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip (to say nothing of the majority of the Palestinian population which lives in exile, mostly as refugees). The same poll says 65 per cent want Abbas to resign, while 78 per cent perceive PA institutions to be corrupt.

Erekat even admits in the interview that the PA and their “One Gun” are unpopular, protecting as they do Israel from Palestinian resistance organisations like Hamas. (The poll also shows that most Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza support armed resistance: 66 per cent support an armed uprising. And 64 per cent support ending “security coordination” with Israel: the PA’s One Gun.)

To distract from the realities of the PA’s unpopularity, Eerekat and Faraj boast of how they have protected Israel from Palestinian resistance (armed and unarmed) throughout the current popular uprising against Israeli occupation. Faraj “insists that since October, PA intelligence and security forces have prevented 200 attacks against Israelis, confiscated weapons and arrested about 100 Palestinians”.

Their other tactic is to scaremonger about the so-called Islamic State and how the downfall of the PA would supposedly lead to their rise in the vacuum. Faraj claims that “Daesh is on our border; they are here with their ideology; and they are looking to find a suitable platform to establish their base … The experts all know that in case of collapse, everybody will get hurt … Ramallah, Amman and Tel Aviv must remain immune from them.”

This again avoids two key realities: as with the wider Arab public, the “Islamic State” is widely unpopular with Palestinians (88 per cent in that poll oppose it and say it “does not represent true Islam”); secondly, there are other, far more popular Palestinian political and resistance forces, who are able to fight both Israel and Islamic State. Hamas, for example, has been doing a fair job of combating them in Gaza.

Although people have been predicting the collapse for the PA for years, it has proven resilient. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to imagine that things will carry on in the same manner indefinitely: something has to give.

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

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