Bethlehem, occupied Palestinian territories – Like every night since the kidnapping and murder of 16-year-old Palestinian teen Muhammed Abu Khdair, a group of young Palestinian men in Bethlehem covered their faces with t-shirts and kuffiyehs (checkered scarves), and headed to their usual positions near the Israeli army post next to Rachel’s Tomb.
Palestinian Authority (PA) forces surveyed the scene from behind the youth, who threw stones and dodged volleys of tear gas, rubber-coated steel bullets, and live ammunition fired by Israeli soldiers from their watchtower.
For many, this non-interference on the part of the PA is a major source of anger, as protests continue to spread across the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and in Palestinian communities in Israel over the military offensive under way in the Gaza Strip.
“The Palestinian police is mercenary of the Israeli occupation; they just watch and do nothing,” said Majdi, a 28-year-old from Deheisheh refugee camp and one of the usual protesters. His friend, Dia, added that: “It’s worse than that,” alleging that Palestinian police document the people who throw stones and pass the information on to Israeli soldiers.
First outlined under the Oslo Accords of 1995, Palestinian-Israeli security coordination gave limited powers to a new PA security force, operating within PA-controlled areas of the West Bank. This 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 Jewish settlements in the area.
The future of this security coordination with Israel must be questioned, said Mohammed Shtayyeh, a member of the Fatah leadership. “The Israelis are not playing according to the rules of the game, so what’s the point?” he told Al Jazeera.
I am one of the people who are calling not to dismantle the PA, but to change its function: from it being a service provider, to it becoming a resistance authority.
An important member of Palestinian negotiation team for two decades, Shtayyeh currently serves as senior adviser to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
“At the moment there are popular movements in different areas of the West Bank, maybe it’s all spontaneous, nobody is stirring it. That’s why I am one of the people who are calling not to dismantle the PA, but to change its function: from it being a service provider, to it becoming a resistance authority,” Shtayyeh said.
As Israel intensified its bombardment of Gaza on Monday, Hamas issued a statement promising to respond to the Israeli offensive, while also calling on the Ramallah-based PA to “decide where they stand because this is the moment of truth”.
Shtayyeh said that although Abbas is on the side of his people, the situation is complicated: “No one can declare a war on Israel on their own. You cannot decide on your own to shoot rockets from Gaza, and than ask Abu Mazen [Abbas] to take responsibility for it”.
After years of division between the two Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas worked out a reconciliation agreement and formed a new consensus government at the beginning of June this year.
“Even if the government is schizophrenic, with one side working on security issues with Israel, and the other engaged in resistance against it, it will survive – there are too many interests at stake,” said Samir Awad, a political science professor at Birzeit University in Ramallah.
While Awad told Al Jazeera that the PA is “inept”, he said it would survive the wave of criticism because “no one – not the Americans, not the Israelis, not the Arabs, and not the Palestinians has anything to replace the Authority with”.
Many Palestinians, some of whom had high hopes for reconciliation, now say they cannot see any signs of the agreement on the ground.
“Palestinian Authority (PA) forces attacked a demonstration in Hebron organised by Hamas in support of hunger-striking prisoners, and that was already after the deal was made,” Badia Dweik, a human rights activist in Hebron, told Al Jazeera.
It’s high time for the international community... to uphold their responsibilities and provide protection to our people.
People feel cheated, he added, describing the consensus government as just as a political “tactic”. In Gaza, there is a similar sentiment.
Simah, a 32-year-old mother of three who works as a computer programmer for the PA government in Ramallah, told Al Jazeera that the agreement changed nothing. “There is no government now that wants to take responsibility for the situation here,” she said.
In a televised address late on Tuesday night, Abbas said he would go to international organisations to stop the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. “It’s high time for the international community … to uphold their responsibilities and provide protection to our people,” Abbas said.
“Ending the [Palestinian] division and achieving [national] reconciliation are not in contrary with peace if there was an Israeli partner,” Abbas added.
Meanwhile, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah said that the Ramallah-based government was taking steps to provide Gaza with aid, including medical supplies and fuel.
But for many, that’s too little, too late. “We want [Abbas] to speak in our name, to stress that resistance always comes as a response to the occupation,” said Hebron activist Dweik.
“Before the unity, and after unity – there is only one thing I can do in a gesture of solidarity, when soldiers invade, when settlers steal land, when the army bombs Gaza,” said Majdi, one of the Palestinian youth participating in nightly clashes with the Israeli army in Bethlehem.
“I come here and throw a few stones.”