Israel’s PR problems and the Palestinian Authority

Palestinian protesters rally in Ramallah, denouncing the Palestinian Authority in the aftermath of the death of activist Nizar Banat while in the custody of PA security forces (Abbas Momani - AFP)

Asa Winstanley

Middle East Monitor  /  August 14, 2021

Liberal Zionist newspaper Haaretz wrote an especially galling headline this week: “After String of Fatalities, IDF Chief Urges: Reduce Shooting of Palestinians,” it read.

In the article itself, the nonchalance with which the Tel Aviv publication describes the frequent shootings “by mistake” of unarmed Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is quite frankly infuriating.

One cannot imagine the same passivity being deployed in an Israeli press report about Israelis – even Israeli soldiers – being killed by Palestinians.

The Israeli daily newspaper explained in the piece that the military’s chief of staff had asked his officers “to reduce the number of shootings of Palestinians by soldiers in the West Bank” because it’s just starting to look too bad.

“Reduce” the number of shootings, not stop killing innocent Palestinians altogether. This is so typical of the criminal Israeli army, always having one eye on international public relations.

I also rather suspect that the army brass has a second eye on its closest local ally: the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Many people in the West – even inside the Palestine solidarity movement – do not seem to understand that, despite its name, the PA does not act in the interests of Palestinians. Rather, it is an adjunct of the Israeli occupation. The PA protects Israel every single day.

Its armed forces – by design, both in theory and in practice – have absolutely no authority to act against the Israelis who harm, attack or even kill Palestinians in the West Bank. PA forces must immediately evacuate any area of the West Bank where they are deployed, on the whim of Israeli commanders.

PA armed forces, therefore, act only against the Palestinians themselves. As an example, take the most recent Israeli war against the population of the Gaza Strip in May.

During this surge in Israeli violence against Palestinians all over historical Palestine, we saw an almost unprecedented unity between Palestinians everywhere: in Jerusalem, in Gaza, in the 1948-occupied territories also known as “Israel”, and even overseas. The Palestinian diaspora played a major leading role in mobilizing massive demonstrations all over the world.

In the West Bank, too, there was massive popular support for the unity uprising. But there were no truly mass protests, simply because the PA’s forces prevented them from happening.

Massive popular protests in the West Bank against Israeli settlements or soldiers would have been prevented by the violence of PA forces themselves, and everybody knew that, which is why they mostly didn’t bother.

For proof of this, one only needs to look at the recent PA violence against Palestinians in the West Bank. Popular Palestinian activist Nizar Banat – a father and a candidate in the elections that the PA’s leader Mahmoud Abbas recently cancelled – died after a brutally violent arrest by PA forces at the end of June.

Banat’s supporters say that the killing in police custody was a deliberate and planned assassination by the PA’s most brutal elements, who refuse to countenance any criticism or dissent.

Banat, who disseminated his views via videos on his popular Facebook page, was a staunch critic of “security coordination” – the PA’s most important policy: collaboration with the Israeli army.

Throughout the history of the PA, from its very inception in 1993’s Oslo Accords, violent collaboration with the Israeli enemy has been the raison d’être of what in its early years was called the “Palestinian entity” by Western diplomats.

That is why important Palestinian intellectuals and leaders, such as George Habash, Joseph Massad and the late, great Edward Said opposed Oslo from the beginning. Said famously called it “the Palestinian Versailles” since it was the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO)’s main instrument of surrender to the enemy.

With the PA’s authority among Palestinians already at breaking point, it is no wonder that the Israeli army brass is starting to worry about appearances. It is far better for the PA to kill resistant Palestinians – like Banat – than for Israeli forces to risk doing so themselves. Having Palestinian sub-contractors helps to deflect attention and blame, providing a useful buffer between the Israeli occupation and the Palestinian population of the West Bank.

Too many Palestinians killed at once, and the dam may start to break. It becomes harder and harder to justify the existence of the PA if Israel is free to slaughter Palestinians at will.

These are the cynical calculations of Israeli army authorities.

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East