Palestinian Affairs: No room for optimism from Ramallah

Palestinians continue on their path regardless of Israeli political uncertainty

PA PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas speaks with Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, earlier this year.  (photo credit: MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/REUTERS)
PA PRESIDENT Mahmoud Abbas speaks with Palestinian leadership in Ramallah, earlier this year.
The question many Palestinians were asking this week was not whether Israel was headed toward a third election, but when Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas would issue a “presidential decree” setting a date for new presidential and parliamentary elections.
The political crisis in Israel does not seem to have grabbed the attention of many Palestinians, including Abbas. Some said this week that they anyway don’t see a major difference between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. Others argued that the political crisis is an internal Israeli affair that does not affect the Palestinians and won’t have any impact on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In his recent public statements, Abbas has been careful to completely ignore Israel’s political crisis, focusing instead on issues related to Palestinian domestic issues, such as his initiative to hold long-overdue presidential and parliamentary elections and the ongoing power struggle between his Fatah faction and Hamas.
In a speech in Ramallah earlier this week, Abbas again pledged to combat corruption in the PA and announced that the Palestinians were headed toward holding new elections. He also repeated his famous statement that the Palestinians “won’t sell Jerusalem or the Palestinian cause.” He also vowed to do his utmost to thwart the construction of a field hospital in the Gaza Strip by US volunteers belonging to an American NGO.
“We will work against it round the clock,” Abbas said, referring to the hospital, which is being built near the Erez border crossing as part of the ceasefire understandings between Hamas and Israel. “We will raise our voice, and it won’t pass.”
Earlier in the week, Abbas told senior Palestinian officials during a meeting of the PLO Executive Committee in Ramallah that Israel was “continuing its assault on Palestinians in Jerusalem” by preventing PA institutions and officials from operating in the city. He also strongly condemned Israeli plans to build a Jewish neighborhood in the heart of Hebron and repeated his threat to renounce all agreements signed between the Palestinians and Israel in the past three decades.
Although Abbas and senior PA officials have chosen not to speak in public about the political crisis in Israel, some Palestinian officials expressed disappointment that Netanyahu would remain in power, at least for the next few months. After the results of the last Israeli election, these officials were quick to voice joy over the “end of the Netanyahu era.”
More recently, the Palestinian officials appeared to be in an upbeat mood when they heard that Netanyahu had been indicted for fraud, bribery and breach of trust.
“We saw the results of the election as a major defeat for Netanyahu,” said a PA official in Ramallah. “We were hoping that Netanyahu and his right-wing government would vanish. When he failed to form a coalition, we were hoping that he would disappear from the political scene. And when he was officially charged with corruption, we were also hoping to see an end to the Netanyahu era. Now it seems the man will remain in power for at least several months, and that is very disappointing for us.”
It’s not that Palestinians believe that whoever replaces Netanyahu would endorse a pro-Palestinian policy and bring about real change with regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For several years now, the Palestinians’ main motto has been: “Anyone but Netanyahu.”
Nabil Amr, a former PA minister, said that he would like to see Netanyahu stand trial for “war crimes” against Palestinians, and not just because of “cigar boxes and champagne bottles.” Amr expressed fear that Netanyahu would “make a desperate attempt to exploit his remaining days in power” to take further measures against the Palestinians, such as applying Israeli sovereignty to the Jordan Valley.
Palestinian political analyst Adel Samara said that as far as the Palestinians are concerned, Netanyahu is responsible for the destruction of the dream to establish an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital on the pre-1967 lines.
“Together with the Trump administration, Netanyahu has destroyed the two-state solution,” Samara said. “The policies and decisions of the Netanyahu government and the Trump administration have destroyed any chance of a just and comprehensive peace in the Middle East.”
SAMARA AND other political analysts in the West Bank said that all that’s left for the Palestinians to do is to get their act together, end the Fatah-Hamas rivalry, hold new elections and pursue the diplomatic offensive to gain worldwide support for the Palestinian cause and rights.
“Our top priority now should be to end the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” said Ramallah-based Fatah operative Marwan Salah.
“The continued dispute between Fatah and Hamas has caused huge damage to the Palestinian national enterprise. The Palestinian public is fed up with this power struggle over money and power. People have lost confidence in both the Palestinian Authority and Hamas. They want to see real change. They want unity and elections. It’s time to put our house in order. Israel holds three elections in one year, while we have had only three elections [for the PA presidency and parliament] in the past 26 years.”
Hamas and several Palestinian factions have welcomed Abbas’s initiative to hold new elections, and say they are awaiting a “presidential decree” setting a date for the vote.
Abbas, however, does not seem to be in any rush. In fact, some of his political opponents are convinced that the PA president, who will soon celebrate his 85th birthday, was never serious about his intention to hold elections. Abbas’s initiative, announced in late September, came as a result of pressure from the European Union and other international parties, they argued.
Apparently, Abbas was taken by surprise that Hamas and most Palestinian factions responded positively to his call for holding new elections. He now seems to be searching for an excuse to avoid the vote. That excuse could come in the form of Israeli opposition to holding the proposed elections in east Jerusalem. Earlier this week, Abbas and some of his senior officials made it clear that there will be no elections without the participation of Arab residents of east Jerusalem.
WHILE THE Palestinian media have been extensively covering the political crisis in Israel, the Palestinian public continues to demonstrate a growing apathy toward the challenges facing Netanyahu and Gantz.
Although Palestinian officials in Ramallah have been expressing a strong wish to see an end to the Netanyahu era, for now they seem to be more worried about the construction of the field hospital in the Gaza Strip – a project they believe is part of an American-Israeli conspiracy to “solidify” the split between the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Finally, there are also some Palestinians who consider the political crisis as a sign of the imminent demise of Israel. That wishful thinking was expressed by Khaled al-Ma’ali, a Palestinian columnist, who published an article on the Ma’an News Agency website titled “The third election – does it mean the demise of Israel?”
According to the writer, the failure of the Israeli political parties to reach agreement on the formation of a new government is proof of the near demise of the occupation state.” He added: “History has shown that great empires collapsed from within and not due to external forces.”
Ma’ali pointed out that slain Hamas founder and leader Ahmed Yassin had predicted that Israel would cease to exist in 2022.
“Although it was not taken seriously, this prediction may soon be fulfilled,” he said. “An entity that is considered the fifth or sixth military force in the world but is unable to confront the resistance in Lebanon and the Gaza Strip is a weak and fragile entity that will disappear sooner than we think.”
Palestinian officials in Ramallah, meanwhile, do not seem to be pinning any hope on such delusional prophecies.
The PA, they say, should pursue its diplomatic offensive to rally worldwide support for the Palestinians, notwithstanding the political turmoil in Israel.
A nonbinding resolution supporting the two-state solution, endorsed by Congress last week, was received with a loud sigh of relief in Ramallah. The PA is also feeling buoyed by Luxembourg’s current push for EU states to recognize a Palestinian state.
It now remains to be seen whether Abbas will manage to make inroads on the internal Palestinian front, including resolving his dispute with Hamas and holding new elections. For what it is worth, it was hard this week to find a single Palestinian prepared to voice any kind of optimism regarding the proposed presidential and parliamentary elections and the rivalry between Ramallah and Gaza.•