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10 years after Arafat: Where did the Palestinian leadership go?

In both Gaza and Ramallah the Palestinian leadership hasn’t gotten involved in the latest wave of violence. They’re not condemning it, they’re not supporting it, and they’re certainly not offering Palestinians any vision. But Israelis shouldn’t take comfort.

One of the hottest topics in the media recently is the question of whether we can call whatever is happening here lately an intifada. Regardless of whether or not there is an intifada, the source and solution still lie in the hands of the Israeli government, which chooses escalation instead of quiet and ending the occupation. But all that aside, it’s still worth asking: is this an intifada?

The answer for the time being is no, in my opinion. An intifada is a widespread popular uprising, like the First Intifada and like the early days of the second (when mass protests were crushed with overwhelming firepower, after which the terrorist attacks began). Nobody called the bomb attacks of the 90s or the rocket fire from Gaza “intifada.” Same goes for what we’re seeing now — vehicular attacks and stabbings that are the unorganized actions of young individuals, and dozens of stone-throwers in Jerusalem who are not part of a Palestinian societal movement.

Ismail Hanniyeh, Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas

Ismail Hanniyeh, Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas

Beyond the lack of — mass — public participation, the main difference between these past few weeks and the two intifadas is that there is not anybody or anything that can be considered leadership. Not local and not national. It’s nearly impossible to look at the the wave of violent incidents and to not wonder where the Palestinian leadership is. Both Mahmoud Abbas and and Ismail Haniyeh put out statements about the Aqsa Mosque. Gazan officials expressed support for the vehicle attack that killed baby Chaya Zissel Braun; officials in Ramallah sent a condolence letter to the family of Muataz Hijazi, Yehuda Glick’s would-be assassin, whose killing by police is considered by many Palestinians to have been an assassination.

But that’s it. Haniyeh is busy stopping whoever is shooting rockets at Israel, and arguing with Egypt about the destruction in Egyptian Rafah and the demolition of the tunnels. Abbas is still continuing his security coordination with Israel (which is a code word for oppressing any protest against Israel — or the Palestinian Authority), and promised the Americans that he will maintain quiet at least until the end of 2015. Aside from a few limited moves at the UN, which are completely disconnected from reality on the ground, he isn’t offering Palestinians any vision or hope, and is making absolutely no calls for a struggle of any sort.

Abbas and Haniyeh, by the way, are still in the middle of a crisis of rapprochement. Their ongoing non-reconciliation made headlines this week when Fatah canceled its planned Gaza Strip commemoration for Yasser Arafat following a series of explosions targeting the cars of Fatah personnel in the Strip. In Ramallah they blamed Hamas, Hamas rejected the accusation and the ceremony was canceled. In other words: Palestinian leadership? What Palestinian leadership?

Today, on the 10-year anniversary of the death of Yasser Arafat, it’s impossible not to wonder how he would have dealt with this. As Amira Hass wrote in Haaretz last week, Palestinian society has changed and quite dramatically crumbled over the past 10 years. Israeli measures — the separation between Gaza and the West Bank, the wall and Jerusalem and the “economic peace” that created an elite class in Ramallah that is disconnected from most of its people and which is reliant on foreign money and quiet in the streets — have managed to bring about social disintegration that, conveniently, is preventing a popular uprising, and prevents Abbas from encouraging one.

Would Arafat himself have acted any differently? Perhaps. Maybe the symbolic strength of the historical leader of the PLO could have organized a dramatic process of revival and shaking off in Palestinian society. But it could also be that the new reality in the territories would have tied Arafat’s hands, too. As Hass wrote, and as Rami Younis wrote in Local Call during this summer’s war, the Ramallah “coffee house camp” has trouble organizing anything more than conversations these days.

But Israelis shouldn’t feel happy or safe about the absence of a strong Palestinian leadership and the absence of a wide-scale intifada: that has been proven by the recent attacks and disquiet in Jerusalem. When there is no organization and no leadership, people find other ways to unload their rage against the occupation — and it’s a lot harder to deal with lone, scattered and unrelated attacks than it is to conduct negotiations.

Any people ruled by a foreign army and a foreign government that makes clear time after time that it has no intention to take its boot off their necks, will turn to protest. And if that protest fails, they will turn to violence; and if that doesn’t work, then they’ll turn to even more murderous violence. If Fatah can’t bring the goods, then Hamas will. If Hamas can’t, then even more radical groups will. And that will bring about stabbings, and vehicular attacks and in the future, once again, rockets from Gaza and god knows what else.

On the 10th anniversary of Arafat’s death, it needs to be made clear that the Israeli government’s generations of excuses about why the occupation hasn’t ended are empty, and always will be. If the excuses isn’t Arafat, it will be Abbas. If not Abbas, then Hamas. If not Hamas, then ISIS. There’s always a reason not to hold peace talks, there’s always an excuse not to ensure equality and hope and a future for millions of people whose lives we have ruled over for nearly 50 years. And that will always cost us dearly.

To stop the attacks, Israelis have to see the whole picture
What Palestinian media is saying about the Jerusalem violence
Netanyahu: Those who call to destroy Israel should have citizenship revoked

This article was first published on +972’s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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    1. Kolumn3

      There is nothing to negotiate about. When the Palestinians and their leadership come around to accepting the permanent existence of a Jewish state in the Middle East then we can chat. Until then all that can be done is to continue dealing with the murderous violence of the Palestinians who continue to insist that the murder of Israeli civilians is legitimate and desirable.

      The fundamental change on the Palestinian side of treating the Jewish presence in Israel as legitimate and acceptable has yet to take place. They continue to cling on to their hopes of conducting sufficient violence against us in order to get us to leave. This was their policy in 1929, 1936, 1947 and continued to be their policy up until this very day. As long as they hold on to their murderous dream we will continue to treat them as what they are – implacable enemies playing a zero sum game.

      And no, this isn’t dogma. It is reality. What would it take for me to change my mind on the matter? When I hear the Palestinians start dreaming about a binational state with autonomous institutions for the Jewish people as a nation, then I’ll know the Palestinians are ready to live together with us and I am sure we can make an agreement. As of now the dream of the “moderates” is a state in all the territory of Israel called Palestine with an Arab majority where Jews are treated as a religious minority at best while rejecting them as a nation. We are intimately familiar with what happens to non-Muslim minorities in the Arab countries. This is a dream that we will take any and all means to resist and crush and all talks would be pointless as long as the Palestinians continue to treat that as their goal.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        No one honest believes this. It’s just a ruse.

        Reply to Comment
        • Kolumn3

          If it was just a ruse the Palestinians would not have rejected Kerry’s framework on the basis that they refuse to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. They would have had no problem with retracting demands to flood Israel with millions of Arabs. And they would have no problem committing to ending the conflict upon achieving their own state. None of these three points were acceptable to the ‘moderate’ Palestinian leadership. Hamas, the winners of the last Palestinian election, are quite explicit in their goal of destroying Israel and expelling or killing the Jews. So are their allies in Teheran.

          That you choose to live in lala land and pretend that everything is Israel’s fault doesn’t change the reality.

          Reply to Comment
    2. Bruce Gould

      It’s often stated that the Palestinians are simply rejectionist and refuse every peace offer made to them, but if you read Jimmy Carter’s “Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid” (note his use of the word ‘apartheid’) you might get a different impression. From the
      Amazon page:

      Q: Your use of the term “apartheid” has been a lightning rod in the response to your book. Could you explain your choice? Were you surprised by the reaction?
      A: The book is about Palestine, the occupied territories, and not about Israel. Forced segregation in the West Bank and terrible oppression of the Palestinians create a situation accurately described by the word. I made it plain in the text that this abuse is not based on racism, but on the desire of a minority of Israelis to confiscate and colonize Palestinian land. This violates the basic humanitarian premises on which the nation of Israel was founded. My surprise is that most critics of the book have ignored the facts about Palestinian persecution and its proposals for future peace and resorted to personal attacks on the author. No one could visit the occupied territories and deny that the book is accurate.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Yes the vicious personal attacks on Carter, and the way the word “anti-Semite” was flung at him, was a sight to see. It encapsulates a lot.

        Reply to Comment
    3. Pedro X

      Where has the Palestinian leadership gone?

      Gone to graveyards of history.
      Oh, when will they ever learn?
      Oh, when will they ever learn?

      Gone to the bone yards are Haj Amin al-Husseini, Sheikh ʿIzz al-Dīn al-Qassām,Yassir Arafat, Sheikh Yassin, Abdel al-Aziz Rantissi, Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, Khalil al-Wazir, Fathi Shikaki, Said Seyam, Nizar Rayan, Abu Nidal, Al Jabari, Jamal Abu Samhadana, Ibrahim Maqadma, Salah Shehada, Mahmoud Abu Hanoud, Raed Karmi, Abu Ali Mustafa, Emad Abu Sneineh, Jamal Mansour, Salah Darwazeh, Yahya Ayash,Nayef Abu Sharekh, Khalil al-Zaben, to name a few.

      All these leaders were bound by the common desire to destroy Israel. The current leadership seeks the same outcome. The new guard of Fatah Marwan Barghouti has called for continuing armed resistance against the Israeli state. Hamas openly calls for Israel’s destruction and a genocide of all Jews. Fatah’s old guard which came from Tunis with Arafat seeks to continue violence and force millions of descendents of refugees upon Israel thus destroying it. They see Israel as another Arab majority state.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ray

        Well, good luck governing your own colonial subjects, if you hate their own leaders so much. I’d tell you I sympathize, but I think you and yours are getting exactly what you deserve. Blame your own leaders.

        Reply to Comment
    4. Pedro X

      I do not disagree with you. The Arabs are colonists in Israeli lands. Palestinian Arabs are from various Arab peoples, none of whom were indigenous to Israel. The Palestinians have descended from invaders and conquerors made up of Fatamids, Mamluks, Egyptians, Syrians, Kurds, Tartars, Arabians, Christian Crusaders, Ayyubids, Turkmen, and Ottomans, people of the Maghreb, Lebanon, Iraq, Sudan, Jordan, and Libya.

      Israel has no intention to rule these Arabs. They can self govern themselves in Gaza and Areas A and B. They can choose to live in peace or in a state of perpetual war. Perpetual war has been the Palestinian Arabs’ choice since the 1930s.

      The attitude of the Palestinians has always been a zero sum game. In their view, if Zionism succeeds, as it has done, the Arabs lose. Arab leader Musi Alami’s response to Ben Gurion who tried to tell him of the benefits Zionism would bring to the Arabs, was

      “I would prefer that the country remain impoverished and barren for another hundred years, until we ourselves are able to develop it on our own.”

      This is exactly what Palestinian and Arab leaders have done to its own people while seeking to destroy the state of the Jewish people.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Plainly a ruse. It’s 2014. You just can’t share 22% of a pie. Ya just gotta have it all. We understand. Let’s see how your “game” turns out. Time is not on your side however much false bravado you spout about that.

        Reply to Comment
        • Pedro X

          78% of Mandate Palestine was sliced off for the Arab state of Jordan. What remains is 22% of the original mandated territories. Israel has made offers for Palestinians to share with them a portion of these remaining lands for another Arab state between Israel and Jordan. Arabs have refused all offers desiring to end Israel as we know it. Hamas proudly proclaims it wants to destroy Israel and commit a genocide of all Jews. Fatah leasders like Abbas Zaki take a different strategy, he wants to establish a Palestinian state first based on the 1967 armistice lines and then take Israel for another Arab state.


          “it’s not acceptable to say we want to wipe Israel out … It’s not [acceptable] policy to say so. Don’t say these things to the world. Keep it to yourself.”

          Zaki only repeats what Faisal Hussieni, the prominent PLO leader,said when he infamously compared the Oslo process to a Trojan horse that would bring about Israel’s demise.

          As far as time not being on Israel’s side, I would remind you that the Jews are not like the 1200 Crusader knights who took Jerusalem and were only able to hold it for 100 years. Israel has the might and motivation to defend their home against any comers.

          Historian Martin Van Creveld sums up that Israel will not gently go into the night:

          “Let me quote General Moshe Dayan: “Israel must be like a mad dog, too dangerous to bother.” I consider it all hopeless at this point. We shall have to try to prevent things from coming to that, if at all possible. Our armed forces, however, are not the thirtieth strongest in the world, but rather the second or third. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen, before Israel goes under.”

          Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            I’m talking about the mere 22% of the river to the sea you won’t share. You have to have it all. Just get out of non-Israeli land, just get out of the occupied territories. It’s that simple. Almost all your ex-Shabak chiefs have admitted on film in public that getting out would only enhance Israel’s security, but leave it to Pedro X to appoint himself “smarter than Avraham Shalom, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, Yuval Diskin and Yaakov Peri.”

            Reply to Comment
          • Pedro X

            Israel has already shared the remaining 22% of Mandate Palestine. It gave Gaza to the Palestinians. It offered Palestinians more than 90% of Judea, Samaria and the West Bank for their state. Yet the Palestinians will not end the conflict and recognize Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. Palestinians insist on the wrong of return to flood Israel with Arabs thereby destroying the Jewish character of the state and then destroying the Jewish people who live there.

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            That’s it. Keep those manufactured talking points fixed in your head; chanting them out loud helps.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Mikesailor

      Of all the writings of the late John Steinbeck is a tome called “The Moon Is Down”. In it, he writes about an indigenous uprising and hostility toward Nazi occupation. May I suggest the lessons are the same for the Israeli occupation which will, one day, come to the same or similar sorry fate if trends continue.

      Reply to Comment
    6. Jan

      Where did the Palestinian leadership go? Any Palestinian who could have brought an end to occupation and oppression is either rotting in an Israeli prison, has been deported or is dead thanks to an IDF bomb or bullet.

      The same answer can be given to anyone who asks where is the Palestinian Ghandi.

      Any Palestinian “leader” who stays in power is corrupt and likely on the Israeli payroll. Otherwise he would be long gone.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Bruce Gould

      Nelson Ma…er, I mean, Marwan Barghouti is in an Israeli jail.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Kiwi

      “Nelson Ma…er, I mean, Marwan Barghouti is in an Israeli jail.”

      Which is where murderers belong.

      Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        So said the Afrikaner Nationalists. It did not turn out too well for them.

        Reply to Comment
      • Jan

        If murderers belong in jail why weren’t Menachem Begin and Yitzak Shamir and all the members of the murderous terrorist groups of the Irgun and Stern Gang sent to jail? That’s right. They were Jews.

        Rather than being in jail for lengthy terms, the two terrorist leaders later became prime ministers of Israel.

        Also remember that Nelson Mandela was considered a terrorist and his group was responsible for attacks on the white apartheid system. He was put away for many years and ended up becoming the President of South Africa.

        Israel is afraid of releasing Marwan Barghouti because they know that he would be a true leader of the Palestinians and that is the last thing the apartheid state of Israel wants. I use the word “apartheid” because that is exactly what Israel has in the West Bank.

        Israel wants to keep the Palestinians divided with ineffectual “leaders” who will do Israel’s bidding and protect the occupiers. Abbas serves that function so very well. If he hadn’t he would likely have met the same fate as Arafat or have met with a deadly “accident.”

        Reply to Comment
    9. Ray

      The Zionist outrage over these attacks reminds me of a scene from A World Apart: a woman, who is involved with fighting Apartheid with her husband, is kept in prison by the political police. One of her interrogators shows her a picture of a dead white kid, and flies into an indignant rage. She calmly responds by asking him about all the blacks killed at Sharpeville, and his only response is to hit her.

      Reply to Comment
    10. Average American

      Israel is the most fascinating and disgusting thing in our world today. Disgusting because the last time a single etnicity thought themselves superior and went about taking land based on race (The Aryans), it was considered “bad”. Fascinating because the very same thing is happening now (The Jews) but it’s considered “good”. Why?

      Reply to Comment
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