Palestinians march against the security coordination between the PA and Israel on March 13, 2017 in Ramallah.
Photo Credit: AFP/Abbas Momani
Ramallah-based political analyst and former advisor to Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian negotiators.
Q - There have been a series of protests against the Palestinian Authority (PA) recently, which Palestinian police violently dispersed. What are these demonstrations about?
Diana Buttu - “Last week, the Israeli army invaded the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, an area that is, pursuant to agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, supposed to be solely under the control of the Palestinian Authority. The Israeli army entered Ramallah illegally and using hand-propelled rockets and assault rifles, stormed the home of a young Palestinian human rights activist, Basil al-Araj, killing him after a two-hour assault on his home. During this time, the Palestinian Authority not only did nothing to protect Basil, as one would expect their security forces to protect its citizens, but also provided the Israeli army information about his whereabouts. In addition, the Palestinian Authority had previously arrested Basil at Israel’s behest, imprisoning and torturing him until he and four other Palestinian activists went on a hunger strike to force their release.”
Q - What are the protesters asking for?
DB - “Palestinians are demanding an end to the cooperation between the PA police and the Israeli army, which serves the interests of Israel and its illegal settlement enterprise and not the Palestinian people. This cooperation is a one-way street. It is used to arrest and imprison Palestinians who are resisting Israel’s brutal, nearly 50-year-old military rule, while Israeli soldiers and settlers living illegally on stolen Palestinian land enjoy virtual impunity for harassing, assaulting, and even murdering Palestinians.
“Instead, Palestinians are demanding that the PA actually protect Palestinians, particularly when the Israeli army invades their towns and cities.
“This is not a new demand. Two years ago, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s highest body, its Central Council, voted to end all cooperation between the Israeli army and PA police because Israel has not complied with any agreements it has signed with the PA and instead has turned it into perceived collaborators with its occupation.”
Q - What is it about the collaboration between the Israeli army and PA police that upsets people?
DB - “It has led to Israel and the PA’s imprisonment and torture of Palestinians, including non-violent human rights activists, and has served to crush opposition to Israel’s occupation, theft of Palestinian land, and other human rights abuses. At the same time, this collaboration has not provided Palestinians with any relief.
“Not a single Israeli soldier or settler has been handed over to the Palestinian Authority to face imprisonment or trial for the crimes that they have perpetrated against Palestinians. To the contrary, human rights groups have documented that more than 95 percent of Palestinian complaints against Israel’s soldiers and settlers go uninvestigated by the Israeli army with less than a one percent prosecution rate.”
Q - Given the increasing discontent among Palestinians and the fact that Israel continues to entrench its nearly half-century-old occupation and illegal settlement enterprise, and will likely continue to do so with President Trump in the White House, do you think the PA can continue its balancing act between working with the Israeli army and being responsive to the Palestinians it claims to represent?
DB - “It can do so only so long as Palestinians continue to allow it. The protests are growing and discontent with the PA is on the rise. It can no longer be said that the PA represents Palestinians, by any measure. PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s term expired eight years ago, the Palestinian Legislative Council’s term expired seven years ago, and the PA prime minister has never been confirmed. Abbas rules by undemocratic presidential decree and the Legislative Council has not passed a single law in almost a decade.
“This is hardly the sign of a healthy political situation and the polls show it. According to one recently conducted poll, 64 percent of Palestinians in the occupied territories believe that Abbas should resign. But the international community, including the US, has its head in the sand, preferring to maintain the fiction that this is a representative body when it is not. They will be in for a surprise when the tide turns against the PA, which it will.”
Q - What has the US role in all this been, and is there any way it can help improve the situation?
DB - “The US role has been to demand that the PA serve as a subcontractor for Israel’s occupying army, conditioning US assistance on this. US advisors have trained the PA police who are beating up peaceful Palestinian protesters and the US is the single largest supplier of weapons to the PA. Again, these are not weapons that are used to provide protection to Palestinians, but to protect Israelis as they steal Palestinian land and push Palestinians from their homes.
Since the 1990s, the U.S. government has “committed more than $5 billion in bilateral economic and non-lethal security assistance to the Palestinians” with an estimated $100 million USD yearly since 2009.
“If the US wants to play a constructive role in the region, for starters it must stop arming both Israel and the PA and insist that they end their repression of Palestinian human rights activists.”