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PA security forces scuffle with protesters in Ramallah 370.(Photo by: REUTERS)
Palestinian protests could signal anti-Oslo movement
Concern exists that the 1993 pact could become target of street angst.
Young Palestinians are growing increasingly frustrated with their government’s continued negotiations with Israel. A series of three demonstrations held in Ramallah within the short span of only four days is arousing concern that the historic 1993 agreement that established the Palestinian Authority and was supposed to lead to statehood could become a target of the populace. At each of the rallies, chants of “the people want to bring down Oslo” were heard.

It is the first time in recent years that Palestinians have demonstrated against ties with Israel. The protests were sparked by a planned meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Vice Premier Shaul Mofaz, who was IDF chief-of-staff during the second intifada, or uprising, and some Palestinians accuse him of being a war criminal. But of concern is the fact that the second and third demonstrations took place even after the complained-of meeting had been cancelled.

Palestinian police used violence against the demonstrators over the weekend, landing several demonstrators in the hospital. The Palestinian interior minister agreed to open an investigation into whether the police used excessive force.

Tuesday’s protests were much calmer and police allowed demonstrators to approach Abbas’s office waving Palestinian flags and chanting slogans.

“We remind the Palestinian Authority that we still toil under the yoke of Israeli occupation, and that is unacceptable under any circumstance to brutally repress the rights of people at a time when we are facing Israeli aggression against us,” warned the Palestinians for Dignity in a statement. The group helped organize the protests. “We call upon the Palestinian Authority to return to the masses and to arm itself with the power of its people for the people are its source of strength and legitimacy.”

Palestinians are growing increasingly frustrated with the lack of movement toward an independent state.

“Our polls show that most Palestinians no longer support negotiations with Israel because they feel the Israelis are not doing anything to go forward,” Nabil Kukali, the president of the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion told The Media Line.

That pessimism is reflected in Israel as well. A new joint Israeli-Palestinian poll found that 71 percent of Israelis and 68 percent of Palestinians believe that the chances of the establishment of an independent Palestinian state next to Gaza in the next five years are low or non-existent.

At the same time, Kukali does not believe that this is a start of a large-scale movement against the Palestinian Authority or against Mahmoud Abbas. He said that most Palestinians are more concerned about economic issues than political ones.

The Arab Spring, with its massive demonstrations against ruling Arab elites, has bypassed Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. There have been no large demonstrations, and even a failed bid for United Nations membership earlier this year failed to bring large numbers out to the streets.

Polls show that support for Abbas is slipping but there does not seem to be an alternative candidate. The most popular today is Marwan Barghouti, a leader of Abbas’s Fatah movement who is serving five consecutive life sentences for terrorism and murder in an Israeli jail.

Palestinian elections, which had been originally scheduled for 2010, have been repeatedly postponed because of tensions between Fatah and the Islamist Hamas movement which rules Gaza. This week, Hamas suspended voter registration in Gaza to protest the continued arrests of its members in the West Bank by security forces loyal to Abbas – the same security forces that used violence to break up the demonstrations in Ramallah.

Without voter registration, there is no chance that elections can be held in the West Bank and Gaza. Even though Mahmoud Abbas’s term officially ended in 2009, it is unlikely that elections will be held anytime soon.

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