Monday, January 24, 2011
Most of the Arab world’s anger so far has been directed not at the Israeli government but at the PA. This makes sense: Arabs take Israeli rejectionism for granted. Unlike many liberals in Europe and America, they cannot afford the luxury of delusions about our ally’s role in the region. The PA’s collaboration has also long been clear, but the extent of the betrayal revealed in the documents is nauseating. They record Abbas greeting Condoleeza “birth pangs” Rice with, “[y]ou bring back life to the region when you come.” “I would vote for you”, senior negotiator Ahmed Qureia told Livni; Ariel Sharon was my “friend”, Abbas enthused. We already knew about the PA’s collaboration with the US and Israel to overthrow Hamas; its support for the Gaza siege; its close cooperation with the Israeli military; and its diplomatic manoeuvres to bury the UN inquiry into the 2008-9 Gaza massacre. These new leaks promise to reveal how PA “leaders were privately tipped off” in advance about the Gaza massacre – something previous leaks have already confirmed.
Again, none of this should come as a surprise. The PA is a product of the Oslo process, which was designed, as former Israeli foreign minister Shlomo Ben-Ami put it, to groom a Palestinian leadership class to act as “Israel’s collaborator in the task of stifling the [first] intifada and… [cut] short what was clearly an authentically democratic struggle for Palestinian independence”. The aim, another Israeli minister explained, “was to find a strong dictator to ... keep the Palestinians under control.” The PA is “almost wholly dependent upon American, European and Arab political and financial support, as well as security and economic cooperation with Israel” and so can only operate within limits dictated by Israel and its international backers. This was dramatically illustrated when Palestinians elected a government that didn’t enjoy the backing of their occupiers in 2006. The US, Europe and Israel responded by starving it of funds, isolating it diplomatically, kidnapping a third of the cabinet, killing hundreds of Palestinians, destroying Gaza’s only power station, and training and arming Fatah militias to overthrow it. It is a mistake, then, to focus overly on the corruption and venality of Abbas, Erekat, et al. The more important point is that the PA is structurally incapable of serving as an instrument of Palestinian liberation. Our takeaway lesson from the documents should be the need to end our government’s support for Israel’s occupation and Abbas’s quasi-police state in the West Bank.
The PA’s strategy as revealed in the documents is delusional, on the (perhaps unreasonable) assumption that its objective is to secure a negotiated settlement to the conflict. It appears to be under the impression that if it just offers Israel one more concession, cedes one more bit of territory, compromises on one more basic Palestinian right, then the U.S. will force Israel to accept a settlement. The reality of the American role hardly needs elaborating here; it is encapsulated well enough in Rice’s response to the ethnic cleansing of over 700,000 Palestinians in 1948: “Bad things happen to people all around the world all the time.” The gaping yawn wasn’t transcribed. When Palestinian negotiators objected to Israel’s insistence on annexing yet more Palestinian territory, Rice was blunt: “You won’t have a state… your children’s children will not have an agreement.”
It is still too early to predict how reaction to the leaks will play out. The PA is denying everything on the grounds that, paraphrasing Erekat, ‘we can’t have offered Israel virtually all of East Jerusalem, because if we had then obviously Israel would have accepted it’. What is the Arabic for ‘facepalm’? “We don’t hide anything from our brothers”, Abbas insisted as the PA threatened to shut down Al Jazeera. Abbas has accused Al Jazeera of declaring “war” on the Palestinians – Erekat is presumably drawing up an agreement to cede East Jerusalem to Riz Khan.
The popular legitimacy of the PA, already damaged, is surely now destroyed. In the long-term – possibly sooner - this could spell its demise. Certainly Palestinians will not achieve their liberation under its auspices.