In Israeli and Palestinian Voices: A Dialogue with Both Sides, I dissect the weaknesses of President Mahmoud Abbas and his Palestinian Authority (PA) which has neither the mandate to negotiate a conflict-ending peace deal with Israel nor the ability to deliver on one.
The PA recently signaled its willingness to resign in order to facilitate the establishment of a new Palestinian unity government between rival Fatah in the West Bank and Hamas in the Gaza Strip. These are empty gestures as the current unity government is essentially defunct, with Hamas saying that Fatah has prevented its consensus government from handing out salaries to 50,000 employees in Gaza and Fatah accusing Hamas of running a parallel government in the coastal enclave.
Despite these contradictions, the PA insists that reconciliation is essential for the Palestinian “national project and to enhance its capability to face the biggest challenge—ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 borders with east Jerusalem as its capital.” Hamas, in an equally worthless statement, said that it was “ready to form a new unity government without preconditions.”
.Abbas, who will turn 81 next month, has no succession plans and despite frequent threats to resign, will, alas, likely die in office. The Palestinian constitution is in tatters and so too his Fatah party, which has continued to allow Abbas to rule without elections.
The people in the Gaza Strip fare no better. Rather than focusing on mechanisms to liberate Palestine, the Hamas government there seems intent on turning its attention to repressing dissent, similar to that of the West Bank government. Caught in between these two entities are the Palestinian people.
For more than two decades, Palestinians have been saddled with the failed negotiations process and despite its disastrous effects the Palestinian leadership has refused to seriously pursue an alternative strategy. Even Abbas’s declaration before the United Nations last year that the Oslo Accords was “dead” was a guise to press Israel to resume negotiations, as he later admitted. Abbas refuses to endorse the growing boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. He refused to condemn Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2014 and has failed to bring war crimes charges against Israel for its repeated attacks on the Gaza Strip.
January 2016 marks 10 years since the last Palestinian parliamentary elections in which Hamas overwhelmingly secured the majority of seats. Almost immediately, the international community, which claimed to support Palestinian democracy, decided it would no longer support a Palestinian government with Hamas at its helm, unless and until Hamas agreed to abide by a number of conditions.
No such conditions have ever been placed on any Israeli government either for its refusal to end their illegal occupation of Palestinian land or for its continued expansion of Israeli settlements. After the January elections funds to the donor-dependent Palestinian Authority — dependent only because Israel refuses to allow the Palestinian economy to flourish — were immediately cut and so began the long and still ongoing battle between Hamas and Fatah over who should “rule” over the Palestinians. That divide remains in place today despite the fact that national unity is consistently mentioned by the Palestinian people as their foremost concern.
And so. 10 years on, Palestinians have one president, whose term expired seven years ago, two prime ministers who have never been confirmed by parliament, and a parliament that has not convened since 2007 but whose term expired six years ago. Similarly, the PLO which claims to represent Palestinians worldwide hasn’t convened in years. These failed institutions are due in large part to President Abbas who has consolidated power unto himself, destroyed Palestinian institutions and worked on behalf of his occupier in helping to maintain its illegal occupation of his own people.
Meanwhile, 10 years on, the Gaza Strip assaulted by Israel in 2008-2009, in 2012 and 2014, and attacked 700 times in 2015 without so much as a whimper from the international community, is on life support. 1.8 million people live in Gaza with 4, 505 inhabitants per square kilometer, 475,000 of whom live in emergency shelters or with other families. 17,200 homes have been destroyed or severely damaged by repeated Israeli attacks, with only 900 homes rebuilt or repaired since the latest war in 2014, and 244 schools remain destroyed or damaged. Nearly 45% of all Gazans are refugees and nearly 50% of them are below the age of 18. 90% of the water is unsafe to drink and according to the United Nation, Gaza will be unlivable by 2020.
Without meaningful leadership, the Palestinian people in both the West Bank and Gaza are left few options for a viable future free of Israeli occupation and aggression.
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