It seems natural that Palestinians, upon hearing that the PA negotiated away much of Jerusalem and refugee rights as well as collaborating with Israel to murder fellow compatriots would be furious with the Palestinian government and ready for a change. Certainly, the PA has been forced to defend itself against repeated criticisms stemming from the release of the Palestine Papers, but whose side are the Palestinians on? This question takes root in Ramallah, a Fatah hotbed and political center of Palestine (outside Jerusalem) where for the also couple days crowds have been gathering outside of the local branch of Al Jazeera, marching in solidarity with the PA. Though the crowds remain a modest size (numbering in the low hundreds) those I have spoken with around the city are seem to back the PA, rather than Jazeera. In any event, the PA will come out of this crisis standing and negotiating, regardless of any change in the opinion of Palestinians.
[tweetmeme] To be sure, a sample of Palestinians from Ramallah is hardly representative of Palestinians as a whole, as the group from Ramallah are more likely to back the PA. Yet the march on the Jazeera building and the informal talks I have held around town show a Palestinian public that is torn on this topic. The mini protest against Jazeera left the building vandalized (“Al Jazeera = Zionism”), though no one was hurt. Interestingly, there is a debate about whether the protesters were organized by the PA, with some journalists claiming that undercover police were leading the attack on the building. Given the anger and humiliation of the PA, this is certainly plausible. Yet the opinions floating around Ramallah suggest that the protests could be a true example of what Ramallans think – though I am sure that the PA would not frown on such a protest.
One commenter on this site recently remarked:
You write: “This release will do nothing to bring down the PA. It is an authoritarian government that has not had the consent of the people for years. A government that cancels elections, arrests political opponents, is vastly corrupt, and shuts down protests clearly does not have anyone to answer to. Palestinians will be (and are) upset by the release of these documents, but does Fatah care?”
And yet, you expect Israel to make peace with this government that “cancels elections…etc”?
The PA certainly has its faults and the commenter is right on several points. The PA has questionable legitimacy, at best, after seizing control from the democratically elected Hamas and cancelling elections; it continuously arrests Hamas supporters throughout the WB (and apparently worked with Israel to assassinate political opponents as well); it is amazingly corrupt (though getting better); and routinely shuts down nonviolent protests (ex. last week in support of Tunisians). There is no doubt that Fatah cares. Their role governing the West Bank becomes increasingly more difficult now that the Palestinian Papers have been released, casting light over some of their actions. Yet, they will remain in power due to the simple fact that there is no alternative.
Those who dislike the PA are frustrated and upset with the entire Palestinian political game. Most will not turn to Hamas or PFLP simply because they are just as disgusted with the other groups. Moreover, if you are Palestinian and support a negotiated two state solution, there is no other alternative besides Fatah, as all other parties favor resistance. Finally, as the released documents revealed yesterday, the US and Israel will not allow any other leader besides Abbas and Fayyad. Unlike Tunisia and Egypt, where the backing of the people is being proven to be more important than the support of the American government, American dollars and cooperation with Israel is more important to maintain power than the support of the Palestinian people. The only alternative to the PA is the resumption of full Israeli occupation – something that Palestinians (supporting a two state solution) and Israelis would like to avoid.
Can this kind of Palestinian Authority make peace with Israel? Can I expect Israel to make peace with this government that “cancels elections…etc”?’ I most certainly cannot. Though the reasons have nothing to do with any of the major weaknesses within Fatah or the PA. Even if the PA were the perfect shining example of democratic freedom manifested in a political movement, the overwhelming imbalance of power between Israel and Palestine has created an atmosphere that prohibits true Israeli concessions. A quick look at the Palestinian proposals that were rejected by Israel should be a clear, undisputed example of which side has said no, which side is lacking a true partner in peace.
There has been and still will be a lot of talk about the effects of the Palestinian Papers on the peace process, specifically, and the region in general. Yet, despite the potential to incite, these released documents will do little more than boost Al Jazeera‘s ratings. After the dust settles, the PA and Israel will still be around, doing the same old dance.
Photo from Al Jazeera