Whither the Palestinian Authority? Neocolonial Police or Defender of Autonomy?
Shir Hever of the Alternative Information Center says the Palestinian government is now in a state of crisis, and its fragility is probably more than it ever has been before
JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome, everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.
On Monday in Paris, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held an impromptu meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry on the sidelines of the UN climate negotiations. Netanyahu was also seen shaking hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the first time the two leaders met face-to-face since 2010. Netanyahu told Israeli reporters the next day that he does not wish for the collapse of the Palestinian authority, but urges a change in the behavior of its leadership.
Joining us from Germany is Shir Hever, an economic researcher in the Alternative Information Center, a Palestinian-Israeli organization active in Jerusalem and Beit Sahour. Shir, welcome back to the Real News.
SHIR HEVER: Thanks for having me, Jared.
BALL: So tell us what you make of this. Netanyahu says he does not want the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, but what effect are his policies having towards that organization?
HEVER: Yeah. This was a statement he did for Obama’s sake. He wants the United States to believe that Israel is trying to support and sustain the Palestinian Authority, the Palestinian government. But in fact, the Palestinian government is now in a state of crisis, and their fragility is probably more than it ever has been before. The Israeli military forces are active in the West Bank and attacking Palestinian targets, and the complete inability of the Palestinian government to protect its own people reduces its popularity and its legitimacy.
Just today there was an article by Amira Hass, from the Haaretz newspaper, where she talks about symbols of Palestinian Authority itself being attacked by the Israeli army. And one example is a radio station that dared tell people as a sort of public service where the Israeli soldiers are active so that they can protect themselves, or avoid these areas. The next day the Israeli military attacked that radio station and closed it down. And that kind of takes away the mask, as if the Palestinian government has some kind of sovereignty, as if it is somehow on the way to becoming an independent state, which a lot of people believed after they got semi-official status at the UN.
Now the Israeli army is actually very worried that the Palestinian Authority may collapse. And you see many senior officers putting pressure on the government to do something actually to support the Palestinian government, because the Palestinian government is doing a very important service for the Israeli army. They’re repressing Palestinians, preventing demonstrations on behalf of the Israeli government, and prevent–and freeing the hands of the Israeli army to do other things. Just today the Israeli forces entered the refugee camp of Shuafat, where the Palestinian government is not active, in order to demolish a single house. They brought in 1,200 heavily armed soldiers, 1,200 soldiers to invade this refugee camp, in order to demolish a house.
Now, the house demolition is collective punishment. It’s a collective punishment, it’s in violation of international law. But beside the point, the amount of effort the Israeli army has to invest, they spent more money on this invasion than the value of the house. So that’s something that the Israeli army would rather not do. And actually, Netanyahu is sort of warning that they might need to start doing that sort of thing again, also in areas where the Palestinian Authority is active, and if the Palestinian Authority is going to collapse.
BALL: So as we were talking a little bit off-air, what are the feelings towards the Palestinian Authority of those among the most so-called progressive or radical Palestinians? And then on the other side, what is it exactly that Netanyahu would like to see the Palestinian Authority perform as a role within Palestine? What is it that both those two sides of this discussion really want to see from the Palestinian Authority?
HEVER: Well you see, within the Palestinian government there’s more than one voice. Mahmoud Abbas, the president, has a very clear agenda. He wants a diplomatic path towards sovereignty, towards Palestinian independence. This path seems to be a very difficult path to travel. And Mahmoud Abbas is quite close to retirement, he’s not a young man anymore. And it seems very unlikely that he will see it through.
The other people in the government have other opinions. Many of them say, well, actually, it’s absolutely clear that the Palestinian government is serving the purposes of the Israeli government, of the occupation. So if we want to be free we should just dissolve it. And that sentiment is echoed among a lot of Palestinians on the ground in many of the cities, and people who can remember how the situation was before 1994 when the Palestinian government was established, and who say, well, actually, things were better back then under direct Israeli rule. And that’s something that, of course, is very hotly debated.
But if you also look at how the Palestinian parties, all of the Palestinian parties, even the very conservative ones like Hamas, are very ambivalent towards the recent clashes where lone Palestinians, and many of them minors, underage, are trying to attack Israelis in a sort of act of desperation, an act that shows their complete lack of hope for the direction of Palestinian government, they just tried to express their desperation with violence. And of course, the Israeli military forces, they are meting out hundred-fold more violence against Palestinians. But even though this is the case, most Palestinian parties, or actually all of them, are very ambivalent and they’re very reluctant to openly support these attacks. The Hamas party made some statements where they sort of encourage these people to attack. But in practice, they’re actually not doing anything. They would actually rather see the violence dwindle down.
Now, your second question was about–.
BALL: Well, I was just asking what the progressive Palestinian community feels about the Palestinian Authority, and then what role they would like to see it play within their community. And then similarly, what then, or opposingly, what does Netanyahu want to see the Palestinian Authority play–though I think you made the point earlier that the hope there is that for him, at least, that they would play the role of police force that Israel itself would not have to play.
HEVER: Yeah. But the Authority has been playing that role of the police force, and that was actually the plan of the first Israeli prime minister to allow the Palestinian Authority to be established, Yitzhak Rabin. He said, we want somebody to create order on the ground without the need of the high court and without human rights organizations. That was his vision for the Palestinian Authority, somebody to control that area on Israel’s behalf.
Of course, the Palestinians have other ideas. That’s not why they established this organization. They want to become free of Israeli occupation. After 23 years of negotiations and establishing this institution I don’t think they’re closer to freedom, or at least most of them don’t feel closer to freedom. So that creates doubts about this institution.
From the point of view of Israel, however, there is a problem. Because when you have these attacks coming from individuals, and when you have this very high level of violence and very low level of a sense of security on the street, then the Israeli government needs to find some kind of scapegoat. And Netanyahu has from the beginning selected the Palestinian government itself to be his scapegoat. And even as Palestinian police were helping to disperse demonstrations against occupation, so they were actually working for the Israeli police, Netanyahu was blaming the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas for incitement to violence against Israel.
And that’s something that shows that he’s now maybe looking at a different direction. He needs that scapegoat so badly that he’s willing to allow this whole system that allowed occupation to continue to collapse. And I’m not completely sure if the occupation can continue without that system. And I think that’s what worries the Israeli soldiers so much.
And Netanyahu made another statement which is very interesting. He said that he’s going to punish the European Union for calling to label products from the illegal colonies in the West Bank by not allowing them to be part of the peace negotiations anymore. He’s going to cut them out of the loop. But in my many conversations with European politicians about what is the role within these negotiations, usually they describe the situation that the Israeli government calls them to increase their support for the Palestinian Authority because the Israeli government is worried if there’s not going to be enough international aid, and especially European aid, to support the population in the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Then the Palestinian Authority will collapse, Israel will have no choice but to reestablish its own institutions of military government, and that’s something that they don’t want to do, because it costs a lot of money.
So Netanyahu’s statement that he’s going to cut out the European out of the loop, the European Union out of the loop, is something that actually threatens to have an effect exactly like he describes. What would happen if the European Union would say, well, if we don’t have a role in the peace negotiations anymore, then all right. We won’t have a role. And that would actually put the responsibility back on the shoulders of the Israeli government under international law to care for the population under its control.
BALL: All right. Well, Shir Hever, thanks again for joining us here at the Real News Network.
HEVER: Thanks for having me, Jared.
BALL: And thank you all for joining us here at the Real News. And for all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball in Baltimore saying, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace, if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.