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Palestinians: Do They Need to Wake Up?
The news that came out of Gaza on 12th November was that Baha’ Abu al-Ata, a former commander of the northern brigade of Islamic Jihad in Palestine, had been assassinated in a targeted - and precise - killing. The reactions were almost instantaneous. Viewed as a ‘ticking bomb’ by Israel, he was also an influential military leader in Gaza who worked outside the consensus of Hamas. So the pundits immediately started conjecturing about the Palestinian reaction.

16 November   |   2019   |   Subject  Middle East & North Africa (MENA)

In a part of the world where tit-for-tat killings are commonplace, and where Hammurabi’s law of ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ prevails with alarming frequency, a number of rockets were lobbed from Gaza on targets in Israel that reached as far as Tel Aviv - the first time since 1990. This of course meant that the Israeli air force counter-attacked and demolished a number of houses, killing upward of thirty Palestinians.

As has been the case on previous occasions, the UN and Egypt swung into action to organise a truce that would prevent the mutual killings to spin out of control and morph into another major war that could also draw in Hamas. So far, nothing out of the ordinary in terms of action and reaction, or in terms of diplomacy.

But what can this latest round of violence, as well as its timing, indicate to a seasoned observer? Did the killing result in more costs or in more benefits for Israel? And what did it show of Palestinian realities?

  • It does not take much sagacity, nor much cynicism for that matter, to suggest that this extra-judicial killing of Baha’ Abu al-Ata served the interests of the caretaker prime minister. Benyamin Netanyahu, let us recall, had failed to form a new government, and the Israeli president Reuven Rivlin had tasked his rival Benny Gantz to try his hand too. So this ramping up of tensions would in all likelihood help scuttle the attempts by Kahol Lavan (Blue White) leader Benny Gantz from forming a fresh government that would exclude Netanyahu. This is classic Netanyahu: create a nationwide crisis in order to benefit from it politically - ergo, personally.
  • But why would Netanyahu resort to such tactics to spoil Gantz’s chances to form a government that excludes him? Is it only an unquenchable thirst for power? Not solely, but equally an attempt to stay in power so he can be immune from any prosecution in view of the fact that the Attorney-General has been drafting a legal opinion recommending that Netanyahu stand trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in what is known in Israel as Cases 4000 as well as 1000 and 2000. So a crass attempt to firewall himself from any legal action.
  • A question that comes to mind here, in view of the two bullet points supra, is whether eliminating Baha’ Abu al-Ata was worth paralysing half the country for two days and resulting in considerable economic loss. And this question in turn opens up a far more relevant and broader question which has begged for an answer for years. Is this the way to deal with the perceived insecurity from Gaza, or is the better option to conclude a long-term ceasefire that would lead to a settlement of the overall conflict? In the haze of many emotions, let alone of political or religious histrionics, people might not think rationally - diplomatically - but surely the answer to this cyclical violence is not predicated upon self-interest or defined by fear alone?

Having briefly touched upon Israeli realities, the next juncture is to look at corresponding Palestinian realities.

  • One thing that was clear for knowledgeable analysts is that Islamic Jihad in Palestine, purportedly supported by Iran, did not work with Hamas. So I would argue that Hamas, as the main resistance force in Gaza, will have found itself in a real quandary. Should they become involved in the fighting when Israeli warplanes are attacking Gaza houses? Or should they hold their nerves? It seems to me that minus verbal bluster and ominous warnings, Hamas chose not to be dragged into this latest conflict - with kudos perhaps to Egypt.
  • However, the oft-confused if not also feeble response from the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah was also revealing of the glaring dystrophy in Palestinian realities today. Weakened considerably by the US-Israeli aggression against their rights and aspirations - remember the transfer of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem or the withholding of US funds to UNRWA and other humanitarian organisations or the penumbra of a “deal of the century” - Palestinians are also facing two withering internal challenges. What are they?
  • The paramount deficiency is the lack of unity amongst Palestinian ranks. The grassroots in their majority do seek unity, but the politicians in Gaza as well as in Ramallah, spurn it since it does not provide them with the upper political hand. The Palestinian Authority is still smarting from its defeat in Gaza as far back as June 2007 when Hamas took over the Gaza Strip and chased away the representatives of the PA. And Hamas is deeply distrustful of a PA that mothballs the Legislative Assembly following the elections in 2006 and ends up in a situation where all powers are ostensibly in the hands of PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Is this a case of “Never the twain shall meet” from The Ballad of East and West by Rudyard Kipling?
  • The Palestinians have two tools that could solder their realities. And they are difficult tools that require a resolute understanding that personal egos and power or financial plays should be subsidiary to the national interest. The first tool is unity, not in the sense of uniformity of ideologies which is well nigh impossible, but a diversity that comes together and acknowledges the bigger challenge - the occupation of Palestinian territories and the gradual dispersal of the Palestinian conflict from the regional and international agendas.
  • The second potent tool is fresh elections. The president was elected in 2005 and has been in power for a fourth unofficial quadrennium. The Legislative Assembly was also elected in 2006 and has been dormant since a year later. Palestinians pride themselves for conforming with their constitutional obligations as well as fundamental freedoms, and this unending shilly-shallying is hugely detrimental to the Palestinian cause.

But would elections and unity, painstakingly negotiated and adhered to by the various factions, salvage what is becoming a fragile let alone vulnerable Palestinian reality on the ground? I would still argue that these two steps would help massively re-position the Palestinian conflict on the world scene and also re-engage it with key world players.

However, Palestinians also possess a nuclear option relative to their size and influence globally. If all else fails, is it not time for the Palestinian Authority to gird up its political loins, bite the bullet and dismantle the structures of the Authority? After all, what should be the primary role of the Authority and its myriad politicians or functionaries today? Is it not to serve the weary Palestinian people - men, women and children, Muslim or Christian? What builds up Palestine in real rather than virtual terms is the firmness of purpose to sacrifice oneself for the larger good - namely, for self-determination. Are Palestinian politicians from Gaza to the West Bank able and willing to do so?

After all, let us not overlook the fact that the Palestinian National Authority was set up as an interim body in 1994 following the Gaza-Jericho Accord of the same year and as a direct consequence of the 1993 Oslo Accords. So if Palestinians were to revoke the defunct agreements, International law should kick-start the Geneva Conventions. These Conventions - four treaties and three additional protocols - were adopted by States in 1949 after WWII in order to seek the protection of people who are not (or are no longer) taking part in hostilities, including inter alia the prisoners of war and civilians. As such, the financial responsibility of maintaining the occupied territories would then fall back on Israel. Interestingly enough, one of the rumours I keep picking indicates that the so-called deal of the century choreographed by Jared Kushner and his acolytes also addresses the future of the Palestinian Authority.

However, legal scholars might well have to tackle yet another moot case whereby President J Trump is re-elected in 2020, and Benyamin Netanyahu, appointed as prime minister for another four-year term, passes legislation in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) that would annex large parts of the West Bank occupied territories. How would this annexation - already creeping for years with a plethora of enclave laws - impact the status and enforceability of International law?

A constellation of less than caring international partners who are mired down in their own domestic woes, regional Arab neighbours who are far more interested in countering Iranian ‘hegemony’ than Israeli occupation, a powerful and corrosive occupying Israel that rides roughshod over Palestinian rights and an occupied Palestine that is increasingly flaccid, have all congregated over the past few years to create a potion that has passed its expiry date. The two-state solution has for all intents and purposes been superseded by the one-state solution. But what next? The zero-state solution where Palestinians replay 1947 and become the recipients of some aid as well as some fringe benefits?

If it is time for Palestinians to act in the face of bullying or sinister adversaries, is it not also time for them to wake up?

© Dr Harry Hagopian   |   2019   |   16 November


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