Although intended to inspire his Fatah Party followers, a televised speech by Mahmoud Abbas on the 51st anniversary of the group’s launch highlighted, instead, the unprecedented crisis that continues to wreak havoc on the Palestinian people.
Not only did Abbas sound defensive and lacking in any serious or new initiatives, but his ultimate intention appeared as if it was about his political survival, and nothing else. In his speech on Dec. 31, he tossed in many of the old clichés, chastising Israel at times, although in carefully-worded language and insisted that any vital decisions concerned with “the future of the land, people and national rights” would be “subject to general elections and (voted on by the Palestine) National Council (PNC), because our people made heavy sacrifices and they are the source of all authorities.”
Ironically, Abbas presides over the Palestinian Authority (PA) with a mandate that expired in January 2009 and his party, Fatah, which refused to accept the results of elections in the occupied territories in 2006, continues to behave as the “ruling party” with no mandate, aside from the political validation it receives from the US and their allies.
As for the PNC, it served as the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) until the PA was established in 1994. Propped up by international funds, the PA was initially formed as a means to an end, that being “final status” negotiations and a Palestinian State. Instead, it became a status quo in itself, and its institutions, which largely reflected the political interests of a specific branch within Fatah, replaced the PLO, the PNC, together with all other institutions that expressed a degree of democracy and inclusiveness.
Whatever PLO structure that symbolically remained in place after the PA soft coup is now a rubber stamp that does not merely reflect the wishes of a single party, Fatah (which lost its majority among Palestinians in 2006), but an elitist, wealthy group within the once-leading party.
Oddly, Abbas described the PA as one of the greatest achievements of the Palestinian people. I say, “oddly” because the PA was the outcome of the now practically defunct Oslo “peace process,” which was negotiated by Abbas and a few others at the behest of the late Palestinian Fatah leader, Yasser Arafat.
The whole initiative was founded on secrecy and deceit and was signed without taking the Palestinian people into account. Worse, when Palestinians attempted to vote to challenge the status quo wrought by Oslo, the outcome of the elections was dismissed by Fatah, which led to a civil war in 2007 where hundreds of Palestinians were killed.
But aside from the historical lapses of Abbas, who is now 80-years-old, his words — although meant to assure his supporters — are, in fact, a stark reminder that the Palestinian people, who have been undergoing a violent uprising since October, are practically leaderless.
While Abbas explains that the reason behind the “habba” or the “rising” — a reference to the current Intifada — is Israel’s continued violations and illegal settlement, he failed to endorse the current uprising or behave as if he is the leader of that national mobilization.
The PA’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, has recently announced that talks between the PA and Israel are still taking place, a terrible omen at a time when Palestinians are in desperate need for a complete overhaul of their failed approach to politics and national liberation.
However, the problem is much bigger than it appears. Reducing the Palestinian failure to the character of a single person is deeply rooted in most political analyses pertaining to Palestine for many years. Alas, once aging Abbas is no longer on the political scene, the problem is likely to persist, if not addressed.
Thanks to that generation of young Palestinian leaders, which also included leaders of the PFLP and other socialist groups, there was, for once, a relatively unified Palestinian platform that did represent a degree of Palestinian priorities and objectives. But that relative unity was splintered among Palestinian factionalism: Within the PLO itself, and then outside the PLO, where groups and sub-groups grew into a variety of ideological directions. A long and tragic episode of national collapse followed. When the Palestinian Resistance was exiled from Lebanon in 1982, following the Israeli invasion of that country, the PLO and all of its institutions were mostly ruled by a single party. Fatah, by then, grew older, operating within geographical spheres that were far away from Palestine. It dominated the PLO which, by then, grew into a body mired in political tribalism.
It is this class, which is fed with US-western money and perks and happily tolerated by Israel, which must be confronted by Palestinians themselves, if they are to have a real chance at reclaiming their national objectives once more.
The current wisdom conveyed by some, that today’s Intifada has superseded the PA, is utter nonsense. No popular mobilization has a chance of succeeding if it is impeded by such a powerful group as those invested in the PA, all unified by a great tug of self-interest. Moreover, waiting for Abbas to articulate a stronger, more convincing message is also a waste of time.
A starting point would be a unified leadership in the occupied territories that manages the Intifada outside the confines of factions. Abbas cannot stay forever. Therefore, the future of Palestine cannot be left to his followers, to manage as they see fit and to protect their own interests. The future of an entire nation is at stake.