What Palestinians Want

Is Abbas a legitimate representative of the Palestinian people?

Much has been made lately about the indirect negotiations between Fatah and Israel (I mean, of course, Fatah and not Palestine as the Fatah-led PA represents no one in Gaza).  Mahmoud Abbas has seemed to have found himself in a bind.  The 4 month deadline for indirect talks is nearly and the 10 month settlement freeze is about to end as well.  If Abbas does not maneuver quickly and efficiently, Israel will recommence settlement construction throughout the West Bank (did it ever really stop?) and Abbas will have made no significant strides towards peace.  Furthermore, Abu Mazen has sensed his Fatah party weakening while he is under immense pressure from the US.

With all of this on his plate, one can almost start feeling sorry for the beleaguered politician.  That is, of course, until you think about what the Palestinians really want.

The United States has been pushing Fatah for most of the last decade.  Indeed, after Hamas won a majority in the 2006 elections and took over Gaza, the US refused to speak with the democratically elected leaders of Palestine.  Instead, the Bush Administration – followed by the Obamaites – continued to pour praise and aid on the Fatah-led PA while ignoring half of the divided (and occupied) country.

“But Hamas are terrorists!”  Even if you were to accept this claim, you would have to look at Fatah’s record.  It was not democratically elected and, even further, it illegally postponed the Palestinian elections earlier this year.  Moreover, even if elections took place, Fatah is the only party allowed to run (remind anyone of all the fuss the US made about Russia?).  Basically, the US is trying to force negotiations between Israel who may or may not want peace and a fraying, unpopular party that represents half the country.

Certainly, the PA seems to be at a crossroads.  The US, as a means of pushing the Palestinian delegation towards direct talks has upgraded the PA’s diplomatic status in Washington, giving the Palestinian diplomats certain diplomatic privileges given to other foreign representatives (interestingly, the US asked for Israel’s permission before the upgrade.  No, seriously).  The Palestinian delegation is now given diplomatic immunity and is allowed to fly the PA flag.  On the other hand, Abu Mazen seems to see the cracks in the party’s invincibility.

[tweetmeme] Drifting away from mockery and back to serious analysis, the problems with the Palestinian delegation to these indirect peace talks are manifold.  More importantly, perhaps, is how Palestinians view the work of Abbas, Salam Fayyad (the independent PM appointed by Abbas) and Fatah in general.  Living in the area, I have had the opportunity to speak with many people about their views of the current West Bank government.  I have spoken with various people in numerous towns and villages around the West Bank and the general political feeling seems to be apathy.

There are numerous, very clear social problems in the West Bank: unemployment is still sky high (nearly 65% in Nablus – the second largest Palestinian town); extreme poverty is still rampant; and the Israeli occupation is still limiting access to most Palestinian territory.  Before Fatah had a complete grasp on political control, people were able to express their frustrations by railing against Fatah, Israel or Hamas.  The Palestinian people had a way to vent (sometimes counterproductively).  Now, many people few the governance of Fatah to be equally as oppressive as Israeli occupation.  Speaking out against the Palestinian government brings the possibility of an unending jail term while speaking out against Israel will cause protesters to be arrested by the PA and given to Israel.

The quiet repressive tactics of the PA was demonstrated recently as Palestinian police arrested members of the Islamic party Hizb al-Tahrir who were traveling to the groups annual meeting.  While a reestablishment of the Islamic Caliphate (what Hizb al-Tarir wants) is probably not in the best interests of regional peace, the arrests simply demonstrate the desire of Fatah to remain the only political party.  Furthermore, it shows how the PA is ‘maintaining control’ over the Palestinian people.

Obviously, the opinions that I have heard so far are very one-sided and, presumably, there are those that are happy with the governance of Abbas.  However the majority of Palestinians in my very unscientific study feel as though the Palestinian government is not correctly representing the desires of the people.  Furthermore, many feel as though there is no actions that can be taken to fix the growing gap between the people and the government.

So should we feel bad that Abbas seems to have driven himself into a corner?  On one hand, Abbas is trying to create a Palestinian state with an unwilling Israeli partner and he is, perhaps, the best Palestinian politician for the job.  Unfortunately, the Palestinian president has bet his political standing on a peace process that is going nowhere with a partner that is about to continue building Israeli houses on Palestinian land.  Although Abbas is in a tough spot, he needs to perhaps refocus his efforts on the suffering of the Palestinians.

Photo from IsraellyCool

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