|As`ad AbuKhalil says the backlash against the PA's decision to delay a vote on the Goldstone report may signal waning support for Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president [AFP]
The position of the Palestinian Authority (PA) mission in Geneva regarding the findings of the UN's Goldstone report on crimes during Israel's war on Gaza earlier this year was rather surprising - even by the norms put in place when it was established in Ramallah following the 1993 Oslo Accords. On October 2, the PA supported postponing the vote on the report to March 2010.
A popular backlash against the PA's decision was fuelled by charges that it caved in to US and Israeli pressure.
It is not that Israel and the PA have not co-operated before.
Mohammed Dahlan, who was head of the Fatah-dominated Preventive Security service in the Gaza Strip during the 1990s, has been accused by Hamas and other groups of using torture and murder on dissident Palestinians, and on any Palestinian who still pursued the path of armed struggle.
But the reaction in Palestine and the Arab world to the PA decision to delay a vote on the human rights report indicates that the Palestinian public believe the leadership in Ramallah has gone too far in its co-operation (or collaboration) with Israel.
The significance of the this reaction is that for the first time many Palestinians, including many in the Fatah rank-and-file, now feel that the PA no longer leads a Palestinian national movement.
Of course, the origins of the developments in Geneva did not occur in a vacuum and did not constitute an aberration. There is continuity between the Arafat Oslo regime and that of Mahmoud Abbas, the current Palestinian president.
Arafat, however, was far more adept at reading Palestinian public mood and in knowing the red lines that should not be crossed if he were to continue to enjoy political legitimacy.
Arafat may not have known the extent to which the Oslo PA was set up as a collaborative structure by Israel.
New power clique
|Rival Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, criticised Abbas [EPA]
Efraim Halevy, the former head of the Mossad, wrote in his memoirs Man in the Shadows: Inside the Middle East Crisis with a Man who Led the Mossad, that Arafat's refusal to succumb to US and Israeli pressures led them to propose the position of a prime minister in the PA.
The design was to have the Palestinian prime minister draw some of the powers and thunder away from the late president.
It was then that Arafat nicknamed Abbas as "the Palestinian Hamid Karzai". But even Karzai can sometimes voice criticisms of the US, while Abbas will not, or cannot - not even during the Bush presidency when he and his entourage kept referring in glowing terms to the "vision of George Bush."
Ramallah may have been the only place in the world where some people took seriously the notion of a "vision" by George Bush, or "His Excellency, President George Bush," according to the formal refrain of "senior PA negotiator", Saeb Erekat.
Arafat's death cleared the path for a new clique that was handpicked by the US and Israel.
The new clique calculated that they can win elections-under-occupation - to attain a measure of political legitimacy, ignore the Palestinian diaspora, and marginalise Hamas through the strangulation of Gaza and the economic deprivation of entire sections of the population that do not toe the line.
The role of the Palestinian Left was neutralised because all Palestinian organisations are cash-deprived and Abbas could use the financial backing he receives from the US and EU to reward and punish other Palestinian organisations and figures.
It is rather telling that some sections of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) in Ramallah come off sounding like enthusiastic cheerleaders for Abbas, when their own organisation was founded on a principled rejection of the two-state solution, and on an insistence for the full liberation of Palestine "from water to the water", as their famous chant goes.
But the Israeli influence (or even control) over Palestinian and Arab negotiators is not new.
The Palestinian people, however, have been aware of these political intrusions and infiltrations and they discredited those whom they perceived as affiliated with the Zionists. Many were assassinated in the course of Palestinian struggle, but the rules of the game were changed after Oslo.
The public outcry to the PA decision indicates that the Palestinians can no longer tolerate more concessions from their leadership (which now rules without an electoral mandate; Western governments never bother with democratic niceties when it comes to Arab governments).
Abbas perhaps believed that the Palestinian people were too exhausted and too fatigued to notice the extent of his co-operation with the Israelis and Americans. He miscalculated and the Goldstone episode may have weakened him beyond repair.
Of course, Israel and the US can easily sacrifice him, and the glowing Western profiles in the mainstream press of Salam Fayyad, the new prime minister, may indicate that a successor to Abbas has already been chosen.
Fayyad and his people quickly blamed Abbas for the Goldstone fiasco, while he and his entourage came out with unconvincing scenarios justifying the delay.
|Abbas promised to launch a commission of inquiry into the delay decision [AFP]
Abbas finally spoke earlier this week in a rambling and convoluted speech in which he basically denied that the PA mission in Geneva did anything wrong. He did, however, promise a "commission of inquiry".
But he has also effectively announced the results of the mission of inquiry and that its actions have been justified. He may now be buying time and hoping that the Palestinian public can be distracted; Abbas quickly resumed his verbal attacks on Hamas, hoping to rally the Fatah audience one more time.
Hamas, for its part, did not know how to react to the affair.
They continued to speak of reconciliation with Fatah, and even accepted a date for signing an agreement with the PA in Cairo, before they realised the magnitude of Palestinian anger.
Hamas has to realise that it cannot save Abbas in return for political perks that he may have been able to offer. But pressure from the public and from Damascus-based political organisations eventually diverged Hamas away from the path of reconciliation with Abbas.
Problems for Hamas
In any regard, Hamas has its own problems. The group is ruling Gaza in the name of the Oslo Accords, which they have rejected outright on several occasions, and they also cannot speak too loudly in support of the Goldstone report because it has accused them - as well as Israel - of war crimes
The history of Palestinian struggle against Zionism is more than a century old. Early Zionist leaders did not anticipate that the Palestinians would not "understand the language of force."
The Palestinians have historically been let down by their leaders over the past century - from Hajj Amin, to Ahmad Shuqayri, to Arafat, and Abbas and his entourage.
In my opinion, the Israelis have never had as much success in controlling the Palestinian political leadership as they have since Arafat's death.
But the Palestinian people's political imagination always surprises Israel. It will again, no doubt.
As`ad AbuKhalil is a professor of political science at California State University, Stanislaus, and author of the Angry Arab blog.
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Source: Al Jazeera