Palestinian Elections Could Cement Antidemocratic Leadership
Noura Erekat explains fight taking place in the Palestine Liberation Organization as PA President Mahmoud Abbas speculates about a coming Intifada
JAISAL NOOR, PRODUCER, TRNN: Two Palestinians were killed in fighting on Tuesday in the West Bank, as President Mahmoud Abbas warned of another intifada or uprising if conditions don’t improve for the Palestinian people, and peace talks aren’t resumed. The deaths come at a time of increasing violence and tensions between Israelis and Palestinians, and clashes at the al-Aqsa Mosque.
Now joining us to discuss all of this is Noura Erakat. She’s in Fairfax, Virginia. She’s a human rights attorney, assistant professor at George Mason University, and co-editor of Jadaliyya magazine. Thanks so much for joining us, Noura.
NOURA ERAKAT: Thanks for having me.
NOOR: So we know there’s been ongoing violence, which is almost a normal thing to happen in an occupation like that of the Palestinian territories. But what do you make of [Mahmoud] Abbas’s warnings of another intifada? We’re just around the 16-year anniversary of the Second Intifada, which started in the year 2000.
ERAKAT: I think that you rightly point out that a military occupation suggests the normalcy of violence that Palestinians endure on a daily basis. So even outside of the media cycles, when Israelis are also subject to that violence, that’s what’s considered exceptional. And the norm is the way that structural violence is meted against Palestinian bodies in the form of the taking of life arbitrarily, as well as their detention without due process and administrative detention, as well as in the policing of their daily lives and the restriction of their movement. And so on and so forth. In the Gaza Strip, of course, it’s the most severe because of the restriction not only of movement but even of food, where they’re kept just above a level of starvation.
That we’re seeing now what looks like clashes, where Palestinians are responding to this violence, this institutional and structural violence, and they’re responding in forms of armed resistance, is what’s being highlighted. And that, in fact, is being provoked at the al-Aqsa Mosque by Israeli troops who around last week’s Jewish holiday were restricting the movement of Palestinians, and their access to prayer in order to make it fully available to Jewish worshipers.
The reason that becomes such an incendiary move is because Palestinians in general are restricted from access to worship. They, Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, absolutely cannot reach Jerusalem. Those who can reach by exception, by filing of a permit that’s overseen by a military authority that decides whether or not they’re allowed to enter. And so you have the denial of access on religious movement not only for Muslim Palestinians, but for Christian Palestinians as well who have been denied access to Jerusalem over the past decade to celebrate and commemorate Easter, and reach the Church of the Holy Sepulchre there. The reason that this becomes interesting, because it’s happening around this time, is as you mentioned on September 20, 2000, after the collapse of the Camp David accords, Ariel Sharon had entered the Temple Mount with 1,000 armed troops, which was the provocation or the straw that broke the camel’s back, and began what was a five-year clash between Israeli military forces and Palestinians.
And that clash of five years happened to be much different than what’s known as the First Intifada in the late ’80s because of its militarized nature and its exclusionary nature, because it was not a popular uprising as much as the first one was, but instead was more of, in fact, a military confrontation. And during that time we see the initiation of new laws of war that Israel introduced. It was the beginning of when Israel declared war on Palestinians who are otherwise civilians under their occupation and deserving and needing of their protection. It was the beginning of extra-judicial assassinations when Israel took ownership over them, calling them targeted killings, which have now become normalized and accepted, and even adopted by the United States.
At the end of five years, 3,000 Palestinians had been killed. 1,000 Israelis had been killed. Israel used this as the cover to initiate a much more militarized relationship with Palestinians in building, beginning the building of the annexation wall that has been declared illegal by the International Court of Justice, clamping down on its control of Jerusalem. And so now what we’re seeing is what I think will become greater violence against Palestinians, more laws that treat them like suspects rather than civilians under occupation, under the cloak of violence.
And in fact, Benjamin Netanyahu has now proposed the use of lethal fire to respond to stone throwers. Which–you know, we’re talking about shooting to kill Palestinians who could be at protests, who may or may not be throwing stones. But those who are throwing stones most certain–and including children–will be subject to this lethal policy. And so there’s a lot to worry about during the clashes not because of what it means for the next juncture as much as it means more violence against Palestinians in the name of security without any oversight.
NOOR: And I also wanted to ask you about what’s going to come next for the Palestinian leadership. There’s been rumors that [Mahmoud] Abbas will not seek another term as president. You’ve noted that Mohammad Dahlan is a leading candidate for Palestinian political transition. And he played a very pivotal role in getting the Palestinian unity government thrown off–basically what some would all a civil war in Gaza back in 2007.
ERAKAT: You know, Mahmoud Abbas is quite old, and ready transition out, and wants to hand this off. To hand off leadership under occupation, first we should understand how farcical this notion is that you have a state-led, and there is responsibility to govern one’s self. Palestinians should be invested in a transnational government authority, but basically that represents a national liberation movement across the Palestinian diaspora.
So first, let’s point out the absurdity of the concept of trying to have elections for an administrative body under occupation that functions under the tutelage of the United States. Secondly, there is even under these absurd conditions, to do this you need a unity government. And that unity government has either been stalled or impeded for several years. The last attempt was in April 2014, which was a successful attempt to enter into a unity government, which was immediately undermined by Israel. And we saw that in the attack on Gaza, which was in part a response to the fear that unity government had raised for them. It was a necessary but insufficient step forward. That unity government has yet to be set up.
Now we’re seeing different moves where Abbas is interested in possibly holding elections with the participation of other factions, whether or not they’re–you know, Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not members of the Palestinian Liberation Organization. And whether or not there’s a unity government or they’re members of the PLO, he wants to see a transition before he leaves that consolidates the role of an old guard with [inaud.]. Under this framework Mahmoud Abbas has, they’re putting feelers out for who would be a plausible candidate.
Unfortunately, unfortunately, Mohammad Dahlan, who as you mentioned was part and parcel of the civil war, the attempted coup against Gaza backed by the United States, in 2007, is one of the leading candidates but not for good reason. Only because he happens to be under the–he’s a beneficiary of the United Arab Emirates where he has been in exile. He is an opponent to Abbas, which is the only thing he has in common with Hamas, because they both are opponents to Abbas. Notwithstanding that, because of the amount of funding available to him, he’s been able to develop patronage systems in the West Bank, in Gaza, has indicated that he wants Hamas and Islamic Jihad to be members of the PLO. He’s indicated that he would end security coordination with Israel, but everything in his record indicates the opposite, that he would actually strengthen that security coordination.
And he is in fact set to become an autocratic leader. He is in fact set to become a dictator of the Palestinian people, to rule by force even if he was to come to power through an electoral victory and in fact would be something of the most awful outcome. You have no state, no liberation movement, and a dictator to police Palestinians who should be led and ushered, and let to lead themselves to resist Israeli occupation.
The other six most, or five most viable candidates in addition to Mohammad Dahlan aren’t necessarily better, with the exception of Marwan Barghouti, who has been a political prisoner in Israeli prisons since 2002 for his role in the Al-Aqsa Intifada, or the Second Palestinian Intifada.
NOOR: Well, Noura Erakat, thanks so much for joining us.
ERAKAT: Thank you for having me.
NOOR: And for our viewers, thank you for watching us at the Real News Network.
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