The Ramallah incident was not the first attack on peaceful demonstrators protesting the politics of their leadership, yet it reflects a qualitative turn in the political stand of the Palestinian Authority.
Since the Oslo agreement, the Palestinian Authority, under the leadership of Yasser Arafat, combined the continuation of the national liberation struggle with a policy of compromises with the Israeli occupation. These compromises often provoked popular opposition, but were never perceived as a betrayal of the national struggle. The diplomatic efforts of the PLO leadership didn’t always enjoy unanimous support, but they were considered to be part of the national aspiration for freedom and statehood. Like the PA political leadership, the Palestinian police force were composed of former liberation fighters and saw their job as a continuation of the struggle to liberate the Palestinian people from Israeli occupation.
The suspicious death of Yasser Arafat and his replacement by Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen) mark the end of an entire chapter in the history of the Palestinian national liberation movement, and the autonomization of the Palestinian Authority from the PLO. Since the dismantling of the Palestinian National Unity government and the forced separation of the West Bank from Gaza, both conducted with American encouragement, the Palestinian Authority has become neither the expression of the PLO nor the democratic choice of the Palestinian population.
As harsh as it may sound, the Palestinian government and administration are US-Israeli tools, lacking in Palestinian legitimacy—except the election of Mahmud Abbas to the presidency—an event that will not happen again.
This qualitative change affects every level of the Palestinian Authority: the Prime Minister, Salam Fayyad, was imposed by the US administration, directly from the International Monetary Fund; he has never been a member of Fatah, and his first move was to fire thousands of PLO activists from the PA administration, replacing them with technocrats who have no past in the national movement. Under the direction of US General Keith Dayton, who has become the US proconsul in Ramallah, his most important mission became to “rebuild” a strong Palestinian police, after obliging the old guard to resign.
These new police forces were trained in Egypt and have no connections with the old national guerilla organizations; they are composed of mercenaries without any national consciousness or tradition, ready to obey any order coming from their superiors.
A few weeks ago, a news report about the new Palestinian police force was broadcast on Israeli television. In the first section of the report, one was shown the trainees learning… Hebrew (“to communicate with the Israeli colleagues,” explained one of them); in the second, they were in action, brutally raiding a supposedly Hamas run bookshop; in the third, the “interrogation” of the old bookshop owner, a pathetic copy of an ISS interrogation. No wonder that in this program, the Israeli journalist was very sympathetic to the renovated Palestinian police.
The time has come to call the situation by its real name: a neocolonial domination by way of a proxy indigenous administration of collaborators, receiving their orders and armament from Washington and Tel Aviv.
When the late Edward Said called Yasser Arafat “Pétain and the PA “collaborators,” I had a long argument with him, and I think I convinced him that these definitions were not appropriate. The refusal of Arafat to accept Barak’s diktats in Camp David and his imprisonment in the Muqata confirmed that he was not Pétain. Unfortunately, what was incorrect concerning Yasser Arafat is now true regarding the new Palestinian leadership, which has become an instrument serving Israeli occupation/colonization, and lacks any accountability to the Palestinian people and its national organizations.
This is indeed an important turning point and it should become a major concern for the Palestinian civil society and national movements. The strategies of yesterday are not relevant anymore: the political situation looks less and less “Algerian” and more and more “South African,” and for years to come, the main challenge will be to adapt the political objectives and the timing to this new reality.