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The desperate violence of a dying Palestinian leadership

Monday 2 August 2021, by siawi3


The desperate violence of a dying Palestinian leadership

Amjad Iraqi

President Mahmoud Abbas appears to have lost any last shred of regard for what his people think of his government. In the 10 days since its security forces brutally arrested and killed Nizar Banat, a prominent activist and critic, the Palestinian Authority has relentlessly tried to crush ensuing public dissent by any means necessary.

Police officers armed with batons and tear gas, joined by Fatah thugs carrying sticks and stones, are assaulting Palestinian protesters and journalists on the streets. They are threatening and harassing young demonstrators on social media, targeting women in particular. They are arresting lawyers and political activists over dubious charges such as “causing internal strife” and “insulting the authorities.” This is hardly the first show of the PA’s repressive nature, but it is certainly one of its most vicious.

This flailing violence is, in many respects, the desperate acts of a dying leadership. The PA’s foreign patrons, chief among them the United States, have shown little interest in helping the government, save for some aid money to pay salaries and maintain its forces. Arab states have turned their sights away from Jerusalem and onto Tel Aviv, signing normalization deals to open official relations with Israel.

Meanwhile, Hamas’ intervention during the Palestinian uprising in May has boosted its popularity, while younger grassroots movements are rejecting factional involvement altogether. Even the ruling Fatah party, which split into three separate lists ahead of the now-cancelled Palestinian elections, is no longer a reassuring base for the aging president.

With its circle of support shrinking, the PA is pulling out all the stops to hold on to power. It may be premature, though, to say that the Muqata’a is hanging by its last threads. Colonial rule has often relied on alliances with local elites to control and pacify the native population — and through its security apparatus and patrimonial system, the PA has played that role dutifully. For Israel, these middlemen are key to securing the “stability” that Israelis have enjoyed over the past decade, making the dirty work of occupation less burdensome.

That vested interest, fused with the Palestinian leadership’s corruption and political bankruptcy, gives the PA a strong fighting chance of holding off its discontented masses. All the while, Israel’s government, military, and settler movement can continue solidifying an apartheid regime with little resistance.

This colonial arrangement has played out very effectively in the West Bank for years. Yet its cracks are starting to show and widen. The “Unity Intifada” has galvanized a new stage of Palestinian activism that is cutting across the Green Line and building power from the ground up.

Banat’s murder is now a catalyst for Palestinians to set their sights on their defunct elites and to demand they end their role in preserving Israel’s regime. The PA and its backers still have many tricks up their sleeves to stem this rising tide, but if the momentum on the street remains, it may only be a matter of time before a reckoning arrives.