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A Palestinian police state in waiting

Clashes in Jerusalem after a Palestinian shot dead by Israeli soldier.

When it comes to Israel, and to supporting Palestinian rights, at the far reaches of acceptability in mainstream British party politics is the idea of supporting a Palestinian state in  Gaza and (some) of the West Bank.

In recent years, this has focused on the campaign to recognise the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank as the “State of Palestine”. There are several problems with the strategy, but the most glaring one is that the Palestinian Authority is in reality little more than a subcontractor for Israeli occupation.

Led by the rapidly ageing and increasingly authoritarian Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority’s main function is to prevent, through violent means, all forms of Palestinian resistance. It targets armed resistance fighters for arrest and torture, but it also does its best to prevent unarmed and peaceful protests against Israeli occupation. It has even worked against Palestinian civil society’s campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS). Abbas has on many occasions says he does not support the boycott of Israel, only of goods from Israeli settlements in the West Bank (this of course, is one aspect of BDS, but his opposition to the rest is telling).

Abbas (whose single elected term as president of the PA expired years ago) has not only signalled his willingness to surrender on the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the lands from which they and their parents and grandparents were expelled in 1948, he constantly does his best to assure the Israeli oppressors that PA armed forces are utterly dedicated to quashing any form of Palestinian resistance.

Abbas infamously declared that his strategy of collaboration (euphemistically termed “security coordination”) is the prime directive of the PA – “I say it on air: security coordination is sacred” he declared to an Israeli audience in 2014.

The part of the British Labour party which is not utterly dedicated to actively promoting Israeli propaganda tends to come down in favour of recognising the PA as a “Palestine” in waiting. But this is the problem: the PA is structurally incapable of being anything other than a subcontractor to Israeli occupation.

That is the major issue. But even that aside, this is not an entity that any self-respecting democrat should be supporting. As well as servile to Israeli dictate, the PA is corrupt and a habitual abuser of human rights.

In its campaign to stamp out any internal criticism, the PA often uses similar tactics to its master: the occupying Israeli entity. Lately, there has been a ramping up of arrests of Palestinians for the crime of free speech. Dissent is not permitted under the PA. The PA has a long record of locking up and harassing journalists who dare report on its crimes.

Both Israel and the PA also imprison young people merely for speaking their minds on social media websites.

Earlier this month, leftist student activist Kefah Quzmar was detained by PA secret police for a week. He had expressed his opinion on Facebook that the PA and its secret police force are “rotten” for their collaboration with Israel. The secret police, or mukabarat in Arabic, grabbed him out of a cafe, beating him once they got him into their vehicle.

He was charged with “insulting a public official”. He was released on bail last week, but still faces jail for these ludicrous charges.

Although the PA claims (using similar language to the Israeli occupier) that such cases are regarding “incitement” against its officials, it’s clear from Quzmar’s Facebook posting that there was no call to violence whatsoever but merely criticism of the PA, something it wants to stamp out.

According to the Independent Commission for Human Rights, who spoke to Mondoweiss, Quzmar is only one of dozens of such cases.

In 2014 and 2015, the PA arrested 78 Palestinians for critical postings on social media. The human rights body says that 18 journalists were detained on free speech issues. Once again, this is similar to Israeli crimes.

The argument of Abbas and his greatly-diminished pool of supporters is that they have been constructing a “state in waiting” under the aegis of Israeli occupation. All that is needed is for the occupation to fall and the “State of Palestine” will be ready and waiting underneath.

But if this really is a state in waiting, it will result in a second police state to succeed the Israeli police state in the West Bank. With no elections, and no accountability.

The PA should not be supported by any self-respecting socialist, democrat or friend of the Palestinian people. Many Palestine solidarity groups have too much of a comfortable attitude to the PA. We need to move on from this, and see the PA for what it really is.

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.

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