Whose Palestine?

The New York Review of Books, June 19, 2014

Hatem Moussa/AP Photo A Palestinian child at the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, June 18, 2014
Hatem Moussa/AP Photo A Palestinian child at the al-Shati refugee camp in Gaza City, June 18, 2014


Then came last week’s abduction of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank. With the help of Abbas’s security forces, Israel has taken the opportunity to arrest some three hundred West Bank Palestinians and counting, most of them Hamas members, and it has threatened to deport some to Gaza. This is Israel’s largest operation against Hamas in the West Bank since the second intifada. Residents of Hebron, the West Bank’s largest governorate, describe themselves as besieged. [...]

Among Palestinians, Abbas’s response to the abductions has compromised his standing, by highlighting the extent of his security cooperation with the Israeli army as it closes off large West Bank population centers and raids Palestinian refugee camps. Unlike the security cooperation that is used routinely to put down his factional rivals in the West Bank, these actions are seen by many Palestinians, and not just Hamas supporters, as against the national interest, an attempt to thwart the freeing of incarcerated Palestinian national heroes in exchange for the Israeli captives. Whereas Abbas sat through nine months of settlement building during fruitless and humiliating negotiations with Israel and could not even achieve the release of all 104 prisoners that the US told him Israel had promised, his rivals are suspected, by Fatah and Israel alike, of having just begun the process of bringing home many more.

[...] The larger question is how long the West Bank status quo will last. No successful national liberation movement has depended so heavily—in the realms of finance, security, diplomacy, and mediation—on the closest ally of its occupier. US funding to the Palestinians is an obstacle to, or excuse for refraining from, just about every means of leverage against Israel that Palestinians might employ. For the Ramallah leadership, maintaining strong ties with the US means it cannot encourage popular protests in the West Bank, cannot limit cooperation on security when Israel invades areas ostensibly under Palestinian Authority control, cannot attempt to join a number of UN agencies and international institutions, cannot grant political freedoms to non-militants in Hamas, cannot meaningfully share power with Hamas in the PLO, and, not least, cannot allow real democracy in Palestine.