Israel-UAE deal far from the worries of average Palestinians – opinion

Palestinians are always hopeful that the world, and especially their Arab brothers and sisters, will place the Palestinian cause above all else. They have grown accustomed to disappointment.

THE MAIN concern of most Palestinians today is clearly the worsening economic reality. A market in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip. (photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
THE MAIN concern of most Palestinians today is clearly the worsening economic reality. A market in Rafah, in the southern Gaza Strip.
(photo credit: ABED RAHIM KHATIB/FLASH90)
I went to Ramallah, Bethlehem and some other Palestinian towns to speak to people to hear what they think about the Israel-United Arab Emirates normalization deal. I am writing my impressions, which is to say that this is not a scientific study and I am not bringing hard data from public opinion polls. The people I spoke with are very connected to the grassroots and I believe that what they told me reflects what many West Bank Palestinians think.
To begin with, it is more than fair to say that the Israel-UAE deal is not nearly the main issue that people are concerned with. Most people I spoke with said that the deal wasn’t a surprise at all, as “what was under the table is now on top of the table.” There is clearly more disappointment than resentment. Palestinians are always hopeful that the world, and especially their Arab brothers and sisters, will place the Palestinian cause above all else. They have grown accustomed to disappointment. I asked people if perhaps the deal might actually be able to help the Palestinians, because the Israeli-UAE friendship might enable the new allies to more effectively advocate on behalf of the Palestinians within the Israeli decision-making circles. Almost everyone I spoke with thought that would not happen. They said that Israel and the Emirates are just pursuing their own interests and they don’t care about the Palestinians. Most Palestinians I spoke with would not describe the deal in positive political terms, however, there were some people who expressed the wish that the Palestinian political leadership would come up with a constructive response, rather than always saying no. There are business people among those with whom I spoke who are looking into how to profit from the new business opportunities that might develop. I have myself been approached by several people who thought that joint Israeli-Palestinian business efforts could succeed in the UAE, perhaps better than just Israelis working alone vis-à-vis the Emiratis. I don’t know if they are right or not. I have also been approached by some Palestinian business people who are looking even further into the future and suggested that we already begin to explore business opportunities in Bahrain, Oman and Sudan.
The main concern of most Palestinians today is clearly the worsening economic reality. If things are hard in Israel, in the West Bank they are much more difficult. There is no cash in the market, people pass “rubber” checks to each other without money in the bank to back them. The Palestinian Authority does not have the ability to pay salaries which are already months in areas. The PA is the largest employer, and without the salaries of the employees there is no ability of the economy to function. The PA is also the largest procurer of goods in the market and when the PA can’t pay its bills, businesses cannot import more products or raw materials and the economy is quickly coming to a standstill. The immediate impact of the economic situation is, of course, growing despair and fear – not for the future but for the immediate present.
The second impact is the sharp rise in accusations of PA corruption. Talk of corruption has been around since day one of the creation of the PA, and there is no doubt that the inflow of large amounts of money in the past created a lot of abuses by people in power who had access to the money. Today there is much less money available, and a lot more talk about corruption.
Most people spoke about their government being detached from the people – as if they live in a different world. There is great resentment against the leaders and while speaking rather freely about their feelings regarding the PA among their friends and family, everyone said that it would be very dangerous to post anything of this sort on the social media. The fear of repression by the PA against any possible opposition is higher than I have ever seen.
Another subject getting quite a lot of attention surrounds new Palestinian laws for women’s equality. Last weekend, there was a demonstration by Palestinian women’s organizations in favor of the new Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDEW) ratification law being forwarded by the PA. PA President Mahmoud Abbas signed this international convention. Now they are obligated to reform laws to be in accord with the convention and to formally ratify it. These are quite controversial because there are many aspects of the convention which go against the tenants of Islamic jurisprudence. One example is the inheritance laws, which would grant equal economic rights to women. The small demonstration–  held in Manara Square in the center of Ramallah by women’s organizations in favor of the law – received the protection of the Palestinian police. This past Saturday, a larger demonstration was held in the same place organized by Hizb al Tahrir – the Islamic movement strongly opposed to the new reforms, and the Palestinian police violently broke up the demonstration. I discussed this issue with a group of young Palestinian men, several of them fathers to daughters. They were divided on the issues of the law. They all supported the idea that young girls should not be allowed to be married before the age of 18, but they were divided on other aspects of the law – especially on the inheritance issue. They voiced the concern that civil laws cannot override clear religious laws written in the Koran. If the issues are matters of interpretation, then modern civil laws could be acceptable, but if the civil law goes against the Koran, they say the majority of Palestinians will be against the reforms, not just the religious people. But the unifying issue of concern for all of them was the response of the PA police in limiting freedom of protest. The violence used by the police against the Hizb al Tahrir demonstration, they said, was a sign of the times and the decreasing democratic space today.
Hamas, which views the public’s opposition to the CEDEW law as a symbol around which it can effective rally public support. This week Hamas issued a statement on the CEDEW which says the following:
“We are following up with concern the crackdown by Palestinian Authority security forces against a protest in Ramallah against the implementation of the CEDEW treaty and the new Family Protection Law, passed last May. We call on the PA security forces to provide protection for the protesters and preserve their right to peaceful protest against the law at the same level provided to supporters of the Family Protection Law. We confirm that the CEDEW treaty and drafting bills related to the Personal Status Law under this agreement requires community and elite discussion to come up with the best recommendations that are in line with the Islamic law. We are going through a pivotal stage of the Palestinian history amid increasing attempt to liquidate the national Palestinian rights. Recruiting efforts should be a priority to face off the Israeli occupation and its colonial projects.
“Thus, we call on the West Bank-based government to revoke the new Family Protection Law until reactivating the Palestinian Legislative Council, which can debate bill according to a democratic mechanism unanimously accepted by all Palestinians.”
The writer is a political and social entrepreneur who has dedicated his life to the State of Israel and to peace between Israel and her neighbors. His latest book, In Pursuit of Peace in Israel and Palestine, was published by Vanderbilt University Press and is now available. It will soon appear in Arabic in Amman and Beirut.