Can the PA govern occupied Palestine?

Mahmoud Abbas allegedly told Israelis they could “take the keys” to his office if a Palestinian state isn’t created.

Palestinian Authority To Seek Full UN Recognition At The General Assembly Next Week
Mahmoud Abbas' Palestinian Authority has come under fire from Palestinians in recent years [GALLO/GETTY]

Ramallah, occupied Palestinian territories – As Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas once again threatens Israel with disbanding his Ramallah-based administration, Palestinians living under Israeli rule are increasingly questioning whether the PA is truly looking out for their interests.

“Before the establishment of the Palestinian Authority, we [were] able to confront Israeli soldiers face to face and have direct contact with the occupation. Now, we have a buffer zone, controlled by the Palestinian Authority, not allowing us actually to exercise our right of resisting occupation,” said Haidar Eid, a Palestinian political analyst and professor at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza City.

“We have to get rid of this façade and go back to the principles of a national liberation movement. Now people started openly talking about the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority.”

Local media here reported in late December that Abbas again threatened to disband the PA if Israeli settlement construction continued in the West Bank, and if negotiations towards a two-state solution remained at a standstill.

“I cannot accept to remain the president of an authority that doesn’t exist.

–  Mahmoud Abbas, PA president

According to the Israeli daily Ha’aretz , Abbas said if no progress were made after the Israeli parliamentary elections in January, he would call Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and tell him: “Sit in the chair here instead of me, take the keys, and you will be responsible for the Palestinian Authority.” 

But this wasn’t the first time Abbas has made such a threat.

In 2011, Abbas said he would quit if a Palestinian state was not established.

A year earlier, Abbas threatened to dismantle the PA if peace talks failed. “I cannot accept to remain the president of an authority that doesn’t exist,” he said. In fact, Abbas has made dozens of similar statements over the past ten years. 

Though she wouldn’t comment directly on the president’s most recent statement, PA government spokesperson Nour Odeh told Al Jazeera the recent media reports were false, and the expression of “handing the keys back” to Israel was not accurate.

“This image means that the Palestinian Authority is an Israeli creation,” Odeh said. “This is something that is absolutely not right and I think it’s a completely unacceptable statement to make. The Palestinian Authority is here to serve the Palestinian people. That’s what it does. It is answerable only to the Palestinian people.”

Security co-operation questioned

Despite these assurances, Palestinians have openly questioned the Palestinian Authority’s role more and more over the past few years. One of the primary criticisms has, without a doubt, been the PA’s ongoing cooperation with Israeli security forces, including the Israeli army.

“For Israel, security [cooperation] means security for the state of Israel and security of Jewish-only settlements in the West Bank. This is the anti-thesis of our national aspirations and even the human rights of the Palestinians,” explained Eid, author of a paper [PDF] titled “Will the New Palestinians End Security Coordination?” 

Palestinian-Israeli security coordination was first set out under the Oslo Accords of 1995. Under the agreement, limited powers were assigned to a new Palestinian police force, operating within Palestinian-controlled areas.

This police force, however, was subject to the overall authority of Israeli security forces – including the army and police forces – which, under Oslo, continued to be responsible for external and border security, overall public order, and the safety of Israeli citizens living in illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

Palestinian children jailed for throwing stones

Numerous joint security bodies were formed, included Joint District Coordination Offices (DCOs), and Oslo stipulated that joint Israeli-Palestinian operations could be carried out. The Palestinian police force was, however, forced to apply to the DCO for authorisation to take part in operations in Israeli-controlled areas.

Recently, there have been signs of a weakening partnership. In early December, Palestinian security forces clashed with Israeli soldiers after the latter attempted to detain an on-duty Palestinian police officer. 

The situation was equally tense in November, when Palestinian police blocked the Israeli army’s entrance into Tulkarem and Jenin – two West Bank cities under the sole control of the Palestinian Authority – to conduct operations. 

Human rights abuses

According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the Independent Commission for Human Rights (ICHR) – the official Palestinian human rights ombudsman – received 584 complaints of torture and inhumane treatment by Palestinian security forces in the West Bank between January 2009 and July 2012.

“In summer 2012, dozens of police – including plainclothes officers – severely beat peaceful Palestinian demonstrators and journalists during a protest in Ramallah against a meeting between Abbas and then-Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz.

These violations included “severe beatings, slamming detainees’ heads against the wall, forcing detainees to stand or sit in painful positions for prolonged periods, and sleep deprivation” and of 109 cases of alleged abuse reported in 2012 (as of August), 62 were allegedly carried out by civil police investigators, HRW found. 

In summer 2012, dozens of Palestinian Authority civil police – including plainclothes officers – severely beat peaceful Palestinian demonstrators and journalists during a protest in Ramallah against a meeting between Abbas and then-Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Shaul Mofaz.

Abbas set up an independent committee of inquiry shortly after the violence took place. No criminal charges, however, are understood to have yet been handed out to any member of the Palestinian security forces.

Palestinian civil police officers are trained by US, Canadian and European police trainers, and were formerly led by US army general Keith Dayton. Today, a main mission leading this training is named the European Union Coordinating Office for Palestinian Police Support (EUPOL-COPPS), which is headed by former Northern Ireland police officer Ken Deane.

When asked if the EUPOL-COPPS mission monitored alleged human rights abuses committed by the Palestinian police force, Deane said this did not fall into the mission’s mandate.

“All our advising, all our mentoring, would have that underpinning of expecting and ensuring that human rights and international standards are respected,” Deane told Al Jazeera from his Ramallah office. “That to us is a given and it is a non-negotiable. So all we do would never contravene that either implicitly or explicitly, but we don’t specifically monitor alleged human rights abuses or complaints.”

While the mission remained entirely focused on Palestinian institutions, “it’s good for the neighbourhood if every neighbour has a good policing, rule of law, service,” he added.

“The government of Israel also has to okay the mandate of the mission, in terms of being here. The mission’s here with the consent of the government of Israel and the Palestinian administration,” said Deane.

According to Randa Siniora, executive director of the ICHR, the biggest problem is that Palestinian police investigations into alleged wrongdoing are conducted internally.

“The investigations are not made public, the person who submitted the complaint cannot know what has happened in his case [or] what kind of disciplinary measure has been taken against that person, and we are not being informed as a commission necessarily on that specific incident,” Siniora told Al Jazeera.

“Proper procedures [must be] put in place with the security agencies in order to ensure that these cases do not go without accountability and that there’s no further establishment of a culture of impunity in our society,” Siniora said.

Exacerbating frustrations

In 2012, the PA had a funding shortfall of approximately $400m, and carried a debt of more than $1bn, according to the World Bank

The PA employs approximately 150,000 Palestinians. It has been unable to pay salaries on time for months. Teachers and other public employees have sporadically gone on strike, while a handful of Palestinians have self-immolated , in protest at the worsening economic situation.

In September, thousands of Palestinians throughout the West Bank and Gaza Strip took to the streets in anger at increasing prices and high unemployment, which hit 17.1 percent in the West Bank and 28.4 percent in Gaza.

According to analyst Haidar Eid, these difficult economic realities, combined with a growing frustration at the West Bank leadership’s inability to end the ongoing Israeli occupation, will eventually lead to the downfall of the PA.

“The Palestinian Authority has been undermined; it has [become] a nuisance. If it cannot pay the salaries of its own employees, how will it be able actually to bring about liberation to the Palestinian people, or even the independence of a Bantustan in parts of the West Bank?” Eid told Al Jazeera.

“The only just solution that some Palestinian activists have started discussing is a secular, democratic state on the historic lands of the state of Palestine, which means the end of the Palestinian Authority and the end of the façade of the peace process doctrine.” 

Source: Al Jazeera