Maureen Clare Murphy
The Electronic Intifada / July 18, 2023
Part two of Israel’s air and ground assault on Jenin refugee camp appears to be under way, with Palestinian Authority security forces arresting resistance activists belonging to Islamic Jihad in the northern West Bank.
Israel’s defense minister, Yoav Gallant, had hoped that the two-day operation earlier this month would boost the Palestinian Authority, which has long lost its ability to arrest Palestinians in the city on Israel’s behalf.
More generally, the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is at its weakest point yet. Its future is in doubt with no clear successor to its 87-year-old leader, Mahmoud Abbas, and its legitimacy increasingly in question.
As The Electronic Intifada’s Omar Karmi put it, “on Abbas’ watch, the PA has become anti-democratic and repressive, and is now reduced to being little more than a disburser of international aid and a largely toothless Israeli security subcontractor.”
Not that it was ever intended to be anything else. But this role has become increasingly obvious and untenable.
The Palestinian Authority failed to protect Palestinians in the West Bank from recent Jewish settler pogroms aimed at terrorizing people off of their land. Israel has repeatedly raided cities under nominal Palestinian Authority control, sometimes in broad daylight, often resulting in multiple Palestinian fatalities.
This is to say nothing of the daily abuses meted out by occupation forces.
It is little surprise that armed resistance is on the rise. After the Oslo “peace process” only accelerated Israeli colonization and consolidated Tel Aviv’s control, many Palestinians see little other alternative to securing their freedom and basic rights.
Reasserting control will be an uphill battle for the Ramallah government and will likely only make it more unpopular, especially when it targets the armed resistance.
“We do not ask the security services to fight on our behalf or stand with us, but we ask that they don’t stab us in the back,” was the call from the Jenin Brigades on Monday.
The current Palestinian Authority crackdown – hardly the first – began while the siege on Jenin was still underway.
Palestinian Authority security forces detained two Palestinians who were on their way to help defend Jenin refugee camp from the Israeli invaders in early July, generating public outrage.
So it’s little surprise that three top officials from the Fatah party, the dominant faction in the Palestinian Authority, were heckled and chased out of a mass funeral for several of the 12 Palestinians killed during the military offensive.
CNN reported that the funeral processions “quickly turned into a mass demonstration of resistance, with Palestinian armed factions declaring victory just for withstanding Israel’s firepower.”
Days later, the Palestinian Authority sent a delegation to the city, historically a hotspot of resistance against occupation and colonization – whether by Britain or Israel, and against oppression by the Palestinian Authority as well.
Abbas traveled to Jenin aboard a Jordanian helicopter for his first visit to the city since 2012. It was his first ever visit to Jenin refugee camp since being elected Palestinian Authority president in 2005 (elections have not been held since then).
The rarity of Abbas’ forays outside the Ramallah bubble – and the extraordinary measures that have to be taken to make such trips possible – underscore the PA’s unpopularity, isolation and distance from the people it purports to represent.
Flanked by senior officials, including Hussein al-Sheikh and Majed Faraj, Abbas attempted to reassert Ramallah’s authority and consolidate its power in the city – a demonstration for both the Palestinian public and the PA’s Israeli interlocutors and its American and European sponsors.
“We came to say that we are one authority, one state, one law and one security and stability,” Abbas said, a remark aimed at factions opposing the Palestinian Authority’s collaboration with Israel.
“We will cut the hand that tampers with the unity and security of our people,” he added.
The New York Times reported that video from Abbas’ visit showed PA security forces “blocking an Israeli military convoy from entering [Jenin] – a scene so rare that many wondered on social media whether it had been staged.”
On Monday, the Jenin Brigades – affiliated with Islamic Jihad – accused Abbas of breaking an agreement that the PA would release those detained during the Jenin operation in exchange for Abbas visiting the city without disruption.
Call for transparency
Meanwhile, some Palestinians in Jenin are calling for transparency from the PA – widely viewed by its constituents as corrupt – around the rebuilding of Jenin refugee camp, which Ramallah says will require some $15.5 million.
Not helping public perceptions is the PA’s recent announcement that it is boosting the salaries of security forces at nearly 10 times the rate of the wage increase given to teachers, who went on strike earlier this year.
The needs of people in Jenin refugee camp are undeniably great following Israel’s offensive.
Some 460 homes were damaged, including 70 that were destroyed or nearly so. Critical infrastructure such as roads must be rebuilt, including a health clinic that was rendered inoperable.
Once again, third states will be paying for the damage wrought by Israel, but the so-called international community is growing weary of providing humanitarian aid to Palestinians.
UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for some six million Palestine refugees, is on the brink of financial collapse, with a current funding shortfall meaning that it will barely cover expenses until September.
In June, the UN secretary-general warned that suspension of UNRWA’s operations would have “catastrophic” consequences and reverse decades of human development gains.
Abandoned by world powers and betrayed by their leaders, Palestinians are essentially on their own.
That was the message from the northern West Bank on Monday:
“We don’t ask the Palestinian Authority to stand with us, but stay away from us …. We are capable of protecting ourselves.”
Maureen Clare Murphy is senior editor of The Electronic Intifada