By Ramzy Baroud
The political discourse of Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank, is similar to that of an ineffectual ruler who has been isolated in his palace for far too long. The ruler speaks of prosperity and peace, and tirelessly counts his innumerable achievements, while his people are dying of starvation outside and pointlessly begging for his attention.
But Abbas is no ordinary ruler. He is “president” by name only — a designated “leader” simply because Israel and the US-led international political system insist on recognizing him as such. Not only did his political mandate expire in 2009, but it was quite limited even prior to that date. At no point in his career did Abbas ever represent the entire Palestinian people. Now, at 85 years of age, the chances are that he will never serve in such a role.
Long before Abbas was the US and Israel’s favorite Palestinian “candidate” to rule over occupied and oppressed Palestinians in 2005, two separate political discourses were evolving in Palestine and, with them, two uniquely separate cultures. There was the “Oslo culture,” which was sustained by empty cliches, platitudes about peace and negotiations and, most importantly, billions of dollars, which poured in from donor countries. The funds were never truly aimed at achieving the coveted just peace or Palestinian independence, but to sustain a dismal status quo, where Israel’s military occupation was normalized through “security coordination” between the Israeli army and Abbas’ PA.
This culture, seen by most Palestinians as treacherous and corrupt, was celebrated in the West as “moderate,” especially when compared to the other Palestinian culture, dubbed “radical” or, worse, “terrorist.” The latter culture, which has been shunned for nearly three decades, is — thanks to the recent popular revolt in Palestine and the stiff resistance in Gaza — finally prevailing. The show of strength exhibited by the Palestinian resistance in the besieged Gaza Strip beginning on May 10 — especially within the context of a popular uprising that has finally unified Palestinian youths not only in the Occupied Territories, but all of historic Palestine — is inspiring a new language. This language is not only being utilized by a handful of so-called radical intellectuals, but by many political and academic figures who have long been affiliated with the PA.
In an interview with the British newspaper, The Independent, soon after the end of the Israeli war on Gaza, former PA minister and veteran politician Hanan Ashrawi spoke of the sociopolitical changes underway in Palestine. “Hamas has evolved and it is gaining support among young people, even Christians,” Ashrawi said, adding that: “Hamas has every right to be represented in a pluralistic system.” However, this is not about Hamas alone. It is about Palestinian resistance as a whole, whether represented in Islamist, nationalist or socialist trends.
Abbas once referred to the Palestinian resistance in Gaza as “frivolous.” Today, not many Palestinians in the West Bank, even in Ramallah, would agree with that assessment. This was apparent last week, when US Secretary of State Antony Blinken rushed to Israel and the Occupied Territories in a desperate attempt to revive the old language, which Palestinians are now openly challenging. Inside Abbas’ luxurious office, Blinken spoke of money, negotiations and, inappropriately, “freedom of expression.” Abbas thanked the American diplomat, oddly demanded a return to the “status quo” in Jerusalem, renounced “violence and terrorism,” and called for “peaceful popular resistance.”
However, in the streets of Ramallah, a few hundred meters away from the Blinken-Abbas spectacle, thousands of Palestinians were battling PA police while chanting “America is the head of the snake,” “security coordination is shameful,” and “the Oslo Accords are gone.”
The protesters included Muslims and Christians, men and women, young and old, and represented all Palestinian factions, including the PA’s dominant party — and Abbas’ own — Fatah. The protesters were accurate in their chants, of course, but what is truly significant is that Palestinians in the West Bank are finally overcoming many obstacles and fears, the stifling factional division and the brutality of Abbas’ security goons, and are openly challenging — in fact, they are ready to dismantle — the entire Oslo culture.
Blinken’s visit to Palestine was not compelled by concern over the plight of occupied and besieged Palestinians, and certainly not over their lack of freedom of expression. If that was the case, the US could simply end or, at least condition, its $3.8 billion of annual military aid to Israel. But Blinken, as the top representative of the Biden administration’s foreign policy, had nothing to offer by way of new ideas, strategies or plans, let alone language. All he brought was the promise of more money for Abbas; as if American aid is what the Palestinians are fighting and dying for.
The latest Israeli bloodbath in Gaza — the killing of hundreds and the wounding of thousands, the wanton destruction and the systematic violence — is a watershed moment in the history of Palestine, not because of the tragedy that Israel has, once more, orchestrated, but because of the resilience of the Palestinian people and their collective response to this tragedy. The consequences of this realization are likely to change the political paradigm in Palestine for years to come.
Many have rightly argued that the Oslo Accords, as a political doctrine, is long dead. However, the Oslo culture of unique but misleading language, factional division, classism and utter political chaos, which has persisted for many years, is now likely on its way out too. Washington, Tel Aviv and Abbas’ PA cannot possibly resuscitate the miserable culture that Oslo has imposed on the Palestinian people. Only Palestinians can lead this transition to a better future — of national unity, political clarity and, ultimately, freedom.