Thursday, January 13, 2011
Difficult Position For The Palestinian Authority
By Daoud Kuttab
This commentary was published in The Jordan Times on 13/01/2011
The choices facing Palestinian leaders as they try to navigate their responsibilities while the 44-year-long Israeli occupation continues are difficult.
Some Palestinian activists of the Islamic Hamas movement were detained by the Abbas-Fayyad government in a general crackdown against armed resistance movements that sees attempts by the Palestinian Authority to apply the rule of law in the occupied territories as part of the Palestinian leadership’s commitment to the international community. Of course, in return for this, the Israelis were obliged (according to the roadmap) to freeze all settlement activities as the two parties prepare for peace talks that are aimed at ending the occupation and creating an independent, viable and contiguous Palestinian state.
Last week, the Hamas activists went on hunger strike. Palestinian and Arab mediators intervened and the Palestinian leader asked for the release of the Islamist activists. Without a clear promise from the Israelis, the Ramallah-based Palestinian leadership expressed its worry to the intermediaries that itcannot guarantee the safety of the released men.
The occupied Palestinian territories are such that a dual sovereignty system applies. With the crazy advent of areas A, B and C, the Oslo Accords signed in 1993 were expected to separate the issue of security arrangements. Palestinian security was in total control of area A, which constituted mostly the populated urban areas, while the Israelis retained security control over areas B & C. But after the 2000 Al Aqsa Intifada, the Israeli army stopped honouring this agreement and has since then regularly infiltrated areas under the security control of the Palestinian Authority. All attempts since then to return to the pre-2000 security arrangements failed. Israeli military forces enter at will in all Palestinian areas, often arresting people, and at times leaving injured and dead behind them.
This is why the PA, despite its impressive security accomplishments worked out in art under the auspices of US General Dayton, is unable to protect anyone unless the Israelis give the ok to that person. Without such a waiver (and sometime despite it) no one’s life is protected.
Although the intermediaries were told so and despite the fact that the Hamas leadership was informed of the PA’s inability to protect the Hamas activists once released, the leadership insisted that they wanted to their men released as part of a goodwill gesture towards reconciliation between Hamas and Fateh.
Not long after their release, however, the Israelis were quick to arrest the Islamist activists. Worse, the Israelis killed an innocent person as they were seeking one of the Hamas members. Sixty-five-year-old Mohammad Qawasmeh was killed in his bed. The Israeli army assassins in search of Wael Bitar had gone to the wrong floor of the building and shot the elderly man in bed. The Israelis later arrested Bitar and admitted their mistake.
In addition to this tragedy, the PA found itself on the defence for not protecting its own citizens from the actions of the Israeli army. Hamas officials in Gaza and Damascus, sharply attacked President Mahmoud Abbas and the Palestinian leadership. They felt somehow that the Ramallah-based leadership failed to prevent the arrest and the assassination actions by the Israelis. The fact that the PA and the Israelis are regularly exchanging security information, Hamas officials hinted, should have at least prevented this tragedy and the arrests from taking place. Hamas and its spokesmen never admitted having been informed that the released fighters would be at risk because of Israel’s failure to promise their safety.
The US, whose security officials helped train the Palestinian security and which considers a Palestinian state necessary for its interests, must not allow the Israelis to get away with continuous infiltrations into Palestinian territory. And instead of the US wasting more time in a useless peace process, a more valuable effort could be to force the Israelis to respect the integrity of Palestinians, instead of undermining their leadership. It is becoming clearer that despite Israel giving lip service to peace, it is in fact working to discredit the Palestinian leadership in front of its own people.