The fallout from the Palestine Papers had hardly hit the ground before the ground itself moved. The final day of Al Jazeera’s presentation of its cache of leaked documents exposed in graphic detail the security collaboration between Israel and the Palestine Authority, created and groomed as Israel’s sub-contractor. By then, all eyes were on Tahrir Square.
As the drama of Egypt’s revolution unfolded, Palestinians came out onto their own streets too. But their journey is many times more complicated. Aside from the struggle with Israel, three major democratic themes have come to the fore: the continuation of the PA; a call for renewal of the PLO; and the need to end the bitter divisions of the past few years between Hamas and Fatah.
The PA and the PLO
The only vote Palestinians might be offered in the foreseeable future is one for an institution with no power other than repression. Even a complete change of personnel will still leave intact the institution of the PA, and its role as Israel’s guard-dog. And the franchise in such elections is limited to the 40% or so of Palestinians living in the occupied lands.
If elections are called in an attempt to shore up the PA’s legitimacy, a widely favoured option is to boycott the whole charade and demand that the current leadership resigns and dismantles the PA. It is not even clear if anyone has the legal authority to call or organise such elections. The large NGO sector’s leading body PNGO stated that without prior reconciliation of Fatah and Hamas, any elections would lead to more friction.
An interlocking system of outworn mandates long ago installed Abbas and his crowd to run the Palestine Authority and its police, prisons and secret service on behalf of Israel; and to conduct secret talks with Israel.
Much of the PA old guard regime derives its position from the PLO, whose structure reflects the difficulties of organising direct elections: seats on its National Council have always represented Palestinian political parties and civil society NGOs. But it is decades since it was all put in place, not all the organisations are still functioning, and fewer are democratically controlled by their members. Other movements have sprung up since and are not represented. Hamas is among those not included.
Many Palestinians are now calling for the PLO’s leading National Council (the PNC) to be re-formed with a direct democratic mandate. The General Union of Palestinian students issued a call for direct elections to the PNC, saying “only a reformed national representative institution, that includes the will of all Palestinians, both in the homeland and in exile, can restore the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”
Ali Abunimah discusses here the practical and political implications that he says “strike me as the ones Palestinians ought now to be debating”. He also speculates on whether a centralised leadership, with its dangers of selling out the struggle, is desirable or whether the Egyptian revolutionary model of a diffuse leadership would be better.
Pink Slip Campaign
In Washington and New York, the US Palestine Community Network has targeted the Palestine UN Mission, where members taped their trademark Pink Slip Notice of Termination to the door.
The Notice “terminates the PA’s employment as a representative body … due to the following failures and ineptitudes:
* Failing to relinquish power after expiration of legal mandate
* Oppressing, imprisoning and killing its own people
* Silencing political dissent through bullying, threats, detentions and murders
* Assisting in and encouraging the illegal blockade of Gaza
* Obstructing the passage of the Goldstone Report* Corruption and mismanagement of national funds
* Conceding the rights of the Palestinian people on the land, Jerusalem and the right of return.”
They demand: Suspend and terminate the Oslo Accords; Terminate the Palestinian Authority — Mahmoud Abbas must resign; End all PA security arrangements with Israel; Release all Palestinian political prisoners from Palestinian jails; build a coalition of Palestinian forces to resist apartheid, colonialism and ethnic cleansing. See video
Maybe individual members of the PA’s Legislative Council (whose functions have been frozen, so law is now made by presidential decree) won’t wait to get their personal Pink Slip but might lead the way to winding up the PA by resigning their seats now. When they, or members of the PLO’s diplomatic delegations, get the message and walk away — as did diplomats of the regimes of Mubarak, Ben Ali and Gaddafi — then the winds that blew through those regimes will also shake the Palestinian establishment.
Demonstrations in Gaza and the West Bank have been organised and supported by independent youth movements, students organisations, the Palestinian NGO network, trade unions and professional syndicates, women’s and community organisations and the Popular Committees that have carried the fight against the occupation and the wall: no shortage of activists and leaders there!
Some of these organisations are new, some have been in struggle for decades. Many were involved in the call for BDS which is now a global movement numbering hundreds of thousands of activists.
At Bil’in, they’re preparing for their 6th conference together with the International Solidarity Movement. Maybe they too will have something to say about the continuation of the Palestine Authority, and of the Oslo process that has destroyed the Palestine economy, allowed a doubling of settlements and providing cover for the last 20 years of Israel’s colonisation and dispossession.
Abbas: Beware the Ides of March
Serious initiatives are underway based in Gaza and the West Bank to create the basis for united structures.
Eighty-one Palestinian NGOs operating in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem called for respect for freedom of expression and assembly and the restructuring of the PLO to represent all parties of the Palestinian national movement, and an end to “politically motivated detentions”,
Youth groups and left wing parties are also working for a united movement. While unity meetings are in preparation, a “Day of Rage” is due on 15th March*, with plenty of chance for discussion and debate during the planned sit-in protests.
Lawmakers, academics and human rights activists have been invited to prepare a basis for constitutional unity that could be accepted by all parties, to be presented to a gathering called by independents to pave the way for reconciliation and create coherent governance.
However, Abu Ahmed Fuad of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP, which is part of the unity moves) stated that the root cause of the division was the Oslo accords: “the Oslo agreement and the political leadership committed to it is directly responsible for Palestinian weakness and for today’s division”. The imperative therefore is “terminating the Oslo accord and all that has followed from it and returning instead to mobilizing the Palestinian community everywhere it is present.”
* The Ides of March, the day that spelled the end of Julius Caesar
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