On the Palestine Papers

With the final release this week by Al Jazeera of more than 1,600 documents spanning nearly a decade of negotiations between the PLO and Israel, the backlash within Palestine is now starting to be felt. The Al Jazeera leak was accompanied by ongoing commentary that was, at times sensationalist, and at others, analytically incorrect. Within minutes of Al Jazeera’s reporting, PA supporters decried the Qatari government and uploaded their Facebook profile pictures with images of the Al Jazeera logo superimposed on the Israeli flag. But a very different response emerged from others, particularly from the Palestinian Diaspora, who demanding transparency, democracy and equal rights for all and cannot be easily classified as supporters of the Qatari regime. For these Palestinians, the documents and the allegations by Al Jazeera represent proof of the PA’s ongoing collaboration with Israel.

One such example is that of the assassination of a Palestinian activist in the Gaza Strip. While the Al Jazeera documents reveal a request from an Israeli minister to kill a Palestinian activist based in the Gaza Strip, Al Jazeera concludes that his assassination by Israel several months later must have been coordinated with the Palestinian Authority. Yet there is no direct evidence, merely circumstantial evidence of security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority that spanned many years and involved mass arrests and torture of “peace process” dissidents and Israel or Palestinian Authority critics.

Established in 1995 as a temporary measure, the PA had two primary goals: to provide jobs to thousands of Palestinians to wean them from the Israeli labour market, and through the establishment of various Palestinian security branches, to employ thousands of Palestinians that, in effect, provide security to their occupier. The theory was that, by policing their own people, the PA would prove to Israel that Palestinians are “partners for peace” capable of running their own state. Within years, the PA had the largest security force of any entity in the world and with it, the budget of the PA was largely geared towards endlessly beefing up the security sector. The PA’s security services did virtually everything demanded of them, in the belief that the fabled “security first” approach would provide Israel with the comfort it demanded as ransom to finally end its decades long rule over Palestinians. The approach worked – temporarily. From 1996 to 2000, Israel had the “safest” years of its existence and while it shamelessly doubled its settlements in the West Bank, the nascent and eager-to-please Palestinian Authority crushed opposition to Israel’s unconscionable colonial practices.

By 2000, however, Palestinians had had enough. With no breakthrough in negotiations, Palestinians took to the streets in protest. But rather than pressure Israel to end its military rule, the United States and its European allies, soon pressured the PA to become more repressive against Palestinians, in an effort to lure Israel back to the negotiating table. The perverse result was that rather than becoming the key to end the occupation, the PA became a vehicle to continue the occupation.

Whether by carrying out a repressive crackdown against Palestinians in the mid-nineties, or by engaging in the type of “security co-operation” with Israel that involved the mass arrest and torture of dissidents leaders of the sort recently revealed in the Al Jazeera leaks, the PA’s security services today continue to operate as the security subcontractor to Israel’s occupation, even in the face of Israel’s legion and widely condemned illegal actions. While Israel continues its policies of subjugating Palestinians and stealing more of their land, the Palestinian Authority is cast in the role of ensuring that Israel is allowed to continue to do so quietly and with the PA as the occupation’s proxy subjugator. Protests against the Palestinian Authority are routinely quashed as armed protests against Israel’s actions with those actions the massacres in Gaza or ongoing demolitions. The Palestinian Authority does not serve to protect Palestinians from Israel’s violence but merely to shield Israel, including its settlers and soldiers. Indeed, scores of Palestinians have been killed this month alone). Yet the international community seems oblivious to the obvious contradiction of an occupied people providing security to their occupier. Rather, the success of the Palestinian Authority is measured not by the level to which it is democratic and transparent, but by the level to which its security forces are seen as strong. Similarly, the appointed (not elected) prime minister is seen as a hero in the West and is lauded for his “institution building” but the only institutions that are being built are those of the repressive security apparatus. And, while Palestinian leaders speak of the need for “political solutions,” he and his government willingly continue their repressive policies without regard to Israel’s ongoing occupation and suppression of Palestinians.

And herein lies the problem: national liberation has never been achieved with the occupied serving as the security subcontractor to the occupier, whether that subcontractor is in the form of the Palestinian Authority or in the form of the Hamas-led government in the Gaza Strip. This is not to advocate a return to senseless killings and violence. Rather, what is desperately needed is the establishment of a national Palestinian resistance movement, similar to that movement that swept and liberated South Africa from apartheid and designed to directly confront Israel’s racist and repressive policies, not to protect them. For if there is one lesson that the international community should learn from recent events in Tunisia, it is that the repression of a people at the hands of any government will last only for a short period of time, before people turn against it, rise above it and overthrow it.

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