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No matter how many compromises the Palestinians make, it will never be enough for Israel and the West

February 8, 2016 at 3:23 pm

The battle to replace Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as head of the Fatah movement is underway. Simultaneously, Fatah and Hamas are trying, for the seventh time since 2007, to reconcile in a Qatari-brokered meeting in Doha with the aim of forming a unity government.

With these developments, a broader conversation about the future and the centrality of Palestinian political representation has resurfaced. Recent comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry suggest that there is a general understanding among the policy-makers that the real deal-breaker for a viable solution to the Palestine-Israel conflict is solving the problematic impasse over the Palestinian political leadership.

This is an exaggeration. While a strong and unified Palestinian leadership is important, it is not the most crucial factor in dealing with the overall conflict.

Mahmoud Abbas has been in power at the head of the Palestinian Authority for 10 years now; an entire decade. During this time, at the expense of the human rights and security of his people, he has made compromises in order to show donor states and Israel that the PA can be a “team player” for peace.

Donors want a Palestinian leadership that supports their agenda, which includes the provision of security for Israel. This demand has taken the shape of subcontracting the occupation whereby the PA is charged with protecting Israel’s hegemony in return for the building of the infrastructure of statehood. This, in essence, was what the Oslo Accords were all about. Oslo’s security sector framework is a prime example. Policing in Palestine has meant more insecurity for residents of the still-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. In fact, one of the runners-up for Abbas’s position, and the head of the General Intelligence Service, Majid Faraj, says that security coordination will probably continue no matter who goes or who stays. Security, he believes, is a bridge for peace and statehood.

Another man of the peace process enterprise, chief negotiator Saeb Erekat, is a great supporter of the “One Authority, One Gun” approach. He admits that after dedicating more than 42 per cent of the PA’s total budget to security in order to demonstrate that the authority can ensure Israel’s security, Palestinians have never been further away from statehood. Erekat’s nephew, who worked as an officer under Farj, was killed recently by an Israeli soldier after he, it is alleged, opened fire first.

The Palestinian leadership and consequently the Palestinian people have always been punished for being, as Sam Bahour puts it, “unreasonably reasonable.” The more that the PA sacrifices the protection of the Palestinians to show that it can secure Israel’s occupation in the name of goodwill, the more that it has distanced itself from the national liberation struggle.

Yet the leadership is making desperate efforts to stay in power and please donors, even though the latter, especially the Western powers, haven’t rewarded that PA leadership with a sovereign Palestinian state. Just look at the numbers. When the peace process first began, there were 200,000 illegal Jewish settlers in the occupied Palestinian territories. Today, that number has risen to 600,000. The Israeli government recently approved plans for over 150 new homes in these illegal settlements. On 2 February, Israel’s Civil Administration in the West Bank demolished 23 homes and three outhouses in the southern Hebron Hills villages of Jinba and Halawa. Immediately, 60 more illegal settlers were housed on the site. There is still no State of Palestine in sight.

There are more Palestinians in prison than ever before. There are more house demolitions than ever before. And Gaza continues to be the military laboratory for Israel. For the PA, this compliance with Israel’s security logic has also cost it its popular support; two-thirds of the Palestinians say that they no longer believe in the statehood project which was promised to them.

This is not to suggest that the Palestinian Authority does not matter. This is to say that no matter what Palestinians do, no matter how many compromises they make, it will never be enough for Israel and its allies.

Since 2005, Palestinian civil society has engaged in the non-violent boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) campaign, demonstrating that the occupation can be fought by internationalising the conflict and calling on people of conscience all over the world to take on a role. BDS is criticised in Canada, the United States and Europe.

Since the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian Authority has policed what is left of Palestinian society in the occupied West Bank and it still has to prove to Israel and its allies that it can and will do more. Meanwhile, in Gaza, the Hamas military wing pushes armed resistance to make the point that people will continue to resist despite the disproportionate military force used against them and the grossly asymmetric nature of the conflict. Non-violent or violent, international or local, Palestinian representation from the grass root level to the top down will never do enough to satisfy the occupiers.

Thus, while a unified and truly representative leadership is important for the Palestinian people, it has to be said that donor states don’t need to wait for that to happen in order to push Israel to end its illegal occupation. The international community does not need to wait for Palestinian national reconciliation to hold Israel accountable for its human right violations. The international community does not require Hamas and Fatah to be on good terms to sanction Israel for its obsessive and illegal settlement construction. The international community does not need a new Abbas or a friendly Hamas in order to stand against Israel’s settler-colonial policies.

What the international community does need, though, is to acknowledge that for far too long the life of Palestinians has been disregarded in the negotiations. And that as long as this remains the mainstream position of Western governments, no presidential succession, dissolution or unification of Palestinian leaders and leadership will make a substantial difference to the status quo.

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