Middle East Monitor / June 1, 2021
The political discourse of Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank, is similar to that of an ineffectual king who has been isolated in his palace for far too long. The king speaks of prosperity and peace, and counts his innumerable achievements and wealth tirelessly, while his people are dying of starvation outside and begging pointlessly for his attention.
But Abbas is no ordinary king. He is a “president” in name only, a designated “leader” simply because Israel and the US-led international political system insist on recognizing him as such. Not only did the man’s political mandate expire in 2009, but it was also always quite limited even before then. At no point in his career did Abbas ever represent all Palestinians. Now, at 85 years old, the chances are that he never will.
Long before Abbas was the favoured Palestinian “candidate” of the US and Israel to rule over occupied and oppressed Palestinians in 2005, two separate political discourses were evolving in Palestine and, with them, two uniquely separate cultures.
There was the “Oslo culture” sustained by empty clichés, platitudes about peace and negotiations, and, most importantly, billions of dollars, which poured in from donor countries. The funds were never truly aimed at achieving the coveted just peace or Palestinian independence; they were there to sustain a dismal status quo, whereby Israel’s military occupation is normalized through “security coordination” between the Israeli army and Abbas’s Palestinian Authority.
This culture was regarded by most Palestinians as treacherous and corrupt, but it was celebrated in the West as “moderate”, especially when compared with the other Palestinian culture, dubbed “radical” or, worse, “terrorist”.
This other culture has been shunned for nearly three decades but is, thanks to the recent popular revolt in Palestine and the stiff resistance in Gaza, finally prevailing. The show of strength exhibited by the Palestinian resistance in the besieged Gaza Strip from 10 May — especially within the context of a popular uprising that has finally unified Palestinian youth across all of historic Palestine, not only in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem — is inspiring a new language. This is being utilized by a handful of “radical” intellectuals as well as by many political and academic figures who have long been affiliated with the PA.
In an interview with Britain’s Independent soon after the end of the latest Israeli offensive against Gaza, for example, former PA minister Hanan Ashrawi spoke of the changes underway at the socio-political level in Palestine. “Hamas has evolved, and it is gaining support among young people, even Christians,” she explained. The veteran politician added pointedly that, “Hamas has every right to be represented in a pluralistic system.”
However, this is not about Hamas alone. It is about Palestinian resistance as a whole, whether represented by Islamist, nationalist or socialist trends.
On one occasion, Abbas referred to the Palestinian resistance in Gaza as “frivolous“. Today, not many Palestinians in the West Bank, or even in Ramallah, would agree with his assessment.
The above assertion was apparent on 25 May when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken rushed to Israel and the Occupied Territories in a desperate attempt to revive the old language, one that Palestinians are now openly challenging. Inside Abbas’s luxurious office, Blinken spoke of money, negotiations and, inaptly, “freedom of expression”. Abbas thanked the American diplomat, oddly demanded a return to the “status quo” in Jerusalem, renounced “violence and terrorism”, and called for “peaceful popular resistance”.
Yet on the streets of Ramallah, a few hundred metres away from the Blinken-Abbas charade, thousands of Palestinians were battling with PA police while chanting “America is the head of the snake”, “Security coordination is shameful” and “The Oslo Accords are gone”.
The protesters were Muslims and Christians, men and women, young and old, and representative of all Palestinian factions, including the PA’s dominant party, Abbas’s own Fatah. They were accurate in their chants, of course, but what is truly significant is that Palestinians in the West Bank are finally overcoming many obstacles and fears, the stifling factional division and the brutality of Abbas’s security goons; they are openly challenging — in fact, ready to dismantle — the entire Oslo culture.
Blinken’s visit to Palestine was not compelled by concern over the plight of occupied and besieged Palestinians, and certainly not by the lack of freedom of expression. If that was the case, the US could simply end its $3.8 billion of military aid given every year to Israel, or at the very least make it conditional. However, Blinken had nothing new to offer by way of ideas, strategies or plans, let alone language. And he is, remembers, the top representative of President Joe Biden’s foreign policy. All he had were promises of more money for Abbas as if US aid is what Palestinians are fighting and dying for.
Like Biden’s foreign policy, Abbas is bankrupt. He bumbled as he spoke, emphasizing repeatedly his gratitude for renewed American funds, money that has made him, his family, and a very corrupt class of Palestinians undeservingly very wealthy.
The latest Israeli bloodbath in Gaza — the killing of hundreds and the wounding of thousands, mainly civilians, along with wanton destruction — as well as the occupation state’s systematic violence in the West Bank and elsewhere, are watershed moments in the history of Palestine, not because of the tragedy that Israel has, once again, orchestrated, but because of the resilience of the Palestinian people in their collective response to this tragedy. The consequences of this realization are likely to change the political paradigm in Palestine for years to come.
Many have frequently and rightly argued that the Oslo Accords, as a political doctrine, are long dead. However, the Oslo culture of unique but misleading language, factional division, classism and political chaos, which has persisted for many years, is likely on its way out too. Neither Washington, Tel Aviv nor Mahmoud Abbas’s PA can possibly resuscitate the miserable culture that Oslo has imposed on the Palestinian people. Only Palestinians can lead this transition for a better future, that of national unity, political clarity, and, ultimately, freedom.
Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of the Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books; his latest is ‘These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons’ (Clarity Press)