Protests in Ramallah Challenge Abbas over Gaza

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Yara Hawari the Palestinian Policy Network says the Palestinian Authority is resorting to violence against its own people because it has lost its legitimacy, as it collaborates with the Israeli siege on Gaza

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Story Transcript

SHIR HEVER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Shir Hever, in Heidelberg, Germany.

Palestinians under Israeli occupation in the West Bank are not indifferent to the Great March of Return in Gaza. 132 Palestinians were killed in Gaza by Israeli forces since March 30. Solidarity demonstrations were organized in the West Bank, as well. They demonstrate not just against the Israeli occupation and the siege on Gaza, but also against the Palestinian government in Ramallah, which has added its own sanctions on the Gaza Strip in order to punish the Hamas party that has ended up hurting two million Palestinians living in Gaza regardless of their political affiliation. They also demand that Hamas and Fatah will end their 12-year feud and reconcile their differences. The Palestinian Authority and its President Mahmoud Abbas has forbidden these demonstrations, and sent the police to break them down with violence and with arrests.

On Saturday, however, the protest was allowed to take place. The Palestinian Authority official Saeb Erekat agreed that the sanctions were not popular. A recent article about this with the title “Why is the Palestinian Authority attacking Palestinian protests?” was just published in Al-Jazeera, and the author Yara Hawari is here to discuss it with us today. Yara is the Palestine Policy Fellow of Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network. She graduated her Ph.D. from the University of Exeter in Middle East politics, and publishes in various media outlets. Thank you very much for joining us now.

YARA HAWARI: Thank you for having me.

SHIR HEVER: So, explain the position of the Palestinian Authority regarding the Israeli siege on Gaza. What is the role of the Palestinian Authority, and what kind of sanctions do they add on top of the Israeli policies?

YARA HAWARI: So in rhetoric the PA is very clear with regards to the Israeli siege on Gaza. It’s against it. But actually, in practice and in policy it’s contributing to the overall suffering of the Palestinian people in Gaza. For many years now, under the direction of President Abbas, they’ve been imposing crippling sanctions on the people of Gaza. And these sanctions include the slashing of government employee salaries by 30 percent, the forced retirement of PA employees by over a third, and also, and quite seriously, the restriction of medical supplies into Gaza and the restriction of permits for cancer patients from Gaza to travel to the West Bank.

So all in all, this is a practice of collective punishment in what is quite a nasty political game between Fatah and Hamas. And the outcome is, is basically adding to the suffocating of the Palestinians in Gaza who are already facing a horrific Israeli siege. And so that’s why I think what’s happening in Ramallah now is very important, and it’s very interesting, this campaign that has arisen over the last few weeks is directly targeting these sanctions that are imposed on their brothers and sisters in Gaza. And they’re very clear about stating that this is not in solidarity with them, but this is with them, that they are one people, and that this is a collective punishment that they won’t accept.

SHIR HEVER: To quote the title of your own article, why does the Palestinian Authority try to crush the demonstrations? Are they not aware that cooperation with the Israeli siege on Gaza is a very unpopular position among Palestinians, whether they are in Gaza or in the West Bank?

YARA HAWARI: I think the PA is worried about these demonstrations for several reasons. Firstly, this campaign is attracting Palestinians from all over historic Palestine. We’ve seen people in Haifa come and join the protests. We’ve seen people from Hebron. So it’s attracting a huge, huge amount of Palestinians from all different walks of life and from all different political affiliations. And I think that’s quite important. They’re uniting under this banner to lift the sanctions of of Gaza, and it’s a direct challenge against the Palestinian Authority policies.

And we haven’t seen the likes of this for quite a few years, and the PA hasn’t been directly challenged in such a way for quite some time. So obviously, I think the PA is trying to repress this, for obvious reasons. And it’s not happy about seeing this sort of unified front against them.

SHIR HEVER: Talking about Palestinians who live under Israeli occupation in the West Bank, as well as Palestinians coming in solidarity to join these protests from, from Israel. So Palestinians living as citizens of Israel. But I want you to explain your point about the lost legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority, and when you say that the Palestinian Authority has a crisis of legitimacy, where do you see that manifesting? What kind of challenge is there to the Palestinian Authority right now in Palestine?

YARA HAWARI: Yeah, I think the PA has had its legitimacy challenged quite a lot over the years, and it’s been dwindling for some time now. I mean, what was very demonstrative was when they cracked down on the protest over two weeks ago very brutally. They used their security forces to attack protesters, to use tear gas against them. They employed the use of Fatah thugs to to beat people up, to harass women, to sexually assault them.

And these kind of actions is not the actions of illegitimate leadership that allows political freedom that allows dissent and opposition. So I think this was very demonstrative that the PA is weak, and it fears its own legitimacy, it fears that it’s losing legitimacy in the eyes of the people. What’s important to mention, of course, is the PA as a structure is very separate to the PLO. The PA as a structure is quite often seen by many Palestinians as a mechanism that is keeping them occupied. It’s a mechanism that’s supported by the international community, but also, importantly, by Israel, through its security coordination. And this security coordination is a huge area of discontent for many Palestinians, because it is the very mechanism that allows for the maintenance and the continuing of the occupation. And I think here is the important point, and it’s where the PA is seriously losing legitimacy in the eyes of its own people.

SHIR HEVER: Right. Well, now that that President Abbas is close to retirement, and he’s been in the hospital recently, he’s not very young. And there’s a lot of talk about who is going to replace him, who will be his successor. And it is interesting that you’re mentioning the security cooperation with Israel, because almost all of the successors named as possible followers to him, to the position of president, are people who were very active in this security cooperation with Israel. Do you think the Palestinian Authority is strong enough to continue to operate after his retirement now that there’s also talk that maybe the succession, conflict between the various contenders might even descend into bloodshed?

YARA HAWARI: This ongoing debate about who will take over in a post-Abbas era is all hypothetical, and I think it’s quite difficult to sort of assess what the likelihood outcome is. But what is very clear is that even post-Abbas, the structure will remain. PA is not a structure that necessarily relies on Abbas. It’s a structure that’s in place, as I mentioned earlier, that’s supported and maintained by the international community and Israel. So I think it is likely that the situation post-Abbas will get worse, but I don’t think that the PA will crumble once the current president steps down.

SHIR HEVER: I was speaking with Yara Hawari, the Palestinian policy fellow at Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, a graduate of the University of Exeter in Middle East politics, and author of many articles on areas of it. Thank you very much for joining us.

YARA HAWARI: Thank you for having me.

SHIR HEVER: Thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.