Internal Palestinian politics resembles a swamp, and Ramallah is the murkiest part of it.
These otherwise calm waters were muddied five months ago, when the United States altered its long-standing policy on Jerusalem and local and international political actors reacted accordingly. On May 14, these changes took effect and the US Embassy was moved to a compound in Jerusalem situated on the 1949 armistice line, thus solidifying Israel’s claim on the whole city.
The ensuing narrative in Palestine has been that the reaction of the Palestinian Authority (PA) to these changes was the strongest in years. It declared it would no longer consider the US a relevant actor in the peace process and called for a series of “day of rage” protests.
It is naive, however, to suggest that the US is no longer a relevant actor to our fate as Palestinians. I would rather argue that the Palestinian political leadership is the party made irrelevant. And we, the Palestinian people, have been completely sidelined in the decision-making over our future.
Since December, we’ve been through an endless cycle of reactionary rhetoric without any real vision or stated plan of action. It led many to believe the Palestinian leadership did not intend to change the status quo, despite all the fiery speeches.
In fact, it has taken measures to entrench even further its grip on power over a growingly destitute and desperate Palestinian population living under occupation.
In mid-March, the already-stalled reconciliation efforts between the PA in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza seemingly hit a dead-end. After an apparent assassination attempt targeted the convoy of Prime Minster Rami Hamdallah and Security Chief Majid Faraj, the PA was quick to blame Hamas for the attack before the dust had settled.
This paved the way for 82-year-old President Mahmoud Abbas to declare new punitive measures, increasing the pressure on the already obstinate Hamas to hand over control of the Strip to the PA.
Then in April, a noticeable change in the West Bank urban landscape was the sudden appearance of banners on roads and public buildings, declaring a “Renewal of Loyalty and Support to President Mahmoud Abbas”.
The banners, sponsored by a wide variety of families and businesses located in the West Bank, were part of a coordinated act to invent renewed legitimacy for the current PA leadership. As I understood from the representative of one business based in Nablus, families and businesses sponsoring such campaigns receive in exchange certain favours and easier access to public resources.
In late April, the Palestine National Council convened, in absence of official representation from Hamas, Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and some independent political figures. In the view of attendees whom I spoke with, the convening of the council successfully served to consolidate the authority of the current leadership of the Palestinian government in Ramallah.
As of now, no major policy or change in strategy has been announced in response to the major political developments of the past five months.
Meanwhile, we’ve marked the 70th anniversary of the Nakba (the catastrophe), as the US continues to push for the “deal of the century” that will strip Palestinians of any rights or claims to their land. All that with the support of Arab states talking about normalisation of relations with Israel. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman reportedly went as far as saying, during a meeting with Jewish leaders in New York, that: “It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining.”
Israel has continued its illegal activities in the occupied territories unobstructed. Globally, the Israeli state’s legitimacy seems to be growing. In early May, Alibaba CEO Jack Ma made an important trip to Israel, where he met with a variety of top officials of the Israeli government, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Israel is one of three countries Alibaba is considering for expansion, according to Ma. Similarly, Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s visit to Israel in March spurred speculation over possible Tesla investment there in the near future.
And all the while, I see us Palestinians and our so-called leaders running around like headless chickens. Sweeping political developments are coming at us like a storm, and we are not able to keep up or respond. What I said six months ago in an op-ed for Al Jazeera titled “Palestinian Authority’s manufacturing of rage” is still true: This rage will not protect Jerusalem or secure self-determination for the Palestinian people.
Sixty-two Palestinians were killed in one day in Gaza, as they were trying to exercise their right to peaceful protest and we cannot do anything but despair and mourn.
In the meantime, the PA continues to coordinate with the very Israeli security apparatus that guns down its people, while Hamas obstinately holds on to its forceful control of the Gaza Strip. What both parties may not realise is how lost and hopeless the Palestinian people feel while they squabble over pitiful political issues.
A change in strategy, an admittance of failure, and introduction of new leadership is the only way out of this swamp of desparation we are in. It is time for our leadership to make bold moves. It is time for us to dictate our future and gain a seat on the international stage as a political entity with real authority.