All’s quiet on the West Bank front
Posted on 16 February 2011
Mahmoud Abbas, and Saeb Erekat, must have been delighted to see the revolution in Egypt. It’s not that they care much for people’s freedom but as it completely took over the news, pushing the Palestine Papers almost into obscurity.
Erekat has finally resigned. Not because he has done such an appalling job as head of the PLO’s negotiation team but because someone leaked over 1,600 documents that showed just how badly he (and others) were doing. Erekat is still trying to pin the blame on a few foreigners, but as the papers came from within the Negotiation Support Unit, it’s not too hard to imagine what probably happened. The PLO has since decided to close the unit down.
Then, following panicky moves in other Arab states to prop up ailing dictators, the entire cabinet of the PA resigned. Abbas has asked Salam Fayyad, the prime minister who I thought had resigned, to re-form a new cabinet. It won’t be the same old faces in the same old positions, it will be the same old faces in different positions. And so, as usual, Palestinians are still at square one.
Abbas has also said that there will be both presidential and parliamentary elections. Municipal elections were supposed to have been held in January 2010, but they were cancelled. Unsurprisingly, the West was quite happy to support this undemocratic decision. Hamas has declared it will not participate: “We will not recognise its results. Any elections without Gaza and before reconciliation will be illegitimate and unconstitutional.”
Given that no one recognised the results of the last election when Hamas won, and the current bitter divisions that exist between the two main political parties, it’s hard to see how any elections will bring a better situation that people in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip can trust and have faith in. How can the ordinary Palestinian voter have any confidence in a system that has been held hostage by Israel and the West?
The time for change in Palestinian politics is long overdue. Because of the unique position of Palestinians in the Middle East, their dictatorship has been easily maintained. The occupation and Israel have always provided a diversion from the corruption and nepotism within. At the moment it’s hard to see how anything can change, but that can equally have been applied to Egypt less than four weeks ago. But Egypt also offers the answer: the youth.
A popular uprising led by the new generation would be the only way to dramatically change the political landscape, but the harsh reality is that any form of rebellion will be very violently dealt with both by the PA and Israel. Tunisia just had to depose Ben Ali; Egypt just had to depose Mubarak; the Palestinians have been fighting for decades against an all-powerful enemy, and since Oslo, there’s been two enemies of their freedom and justice.
So while the world is watching with great anticipation, interest and, in some cases, fear as other countries of the Middle East begin to turn on their dictators, Palestine will, for now, remain firmly in the iron grip of Israel and the PA.