At the Fatah Congress this week, Abbas’s followers seem to have affirmed a choice Oslo’s signatories made more than two decades ago: that livelihoods matter more than liberation. Palestinians deserve an alternative to this status quo.
In Hisham Sharabi’s 1988 book, Neopatriarchy, the late Palestinian intellectual posits “a theory of distorted change in the Arab world,” one in which “the paternal will is the absolute will.” When it comes to politics, this paternalism is easy to miss, Sharabi argued, because it uses “external trappings,” like elections, to give the illusion of consensus—all while relying on familiar patterns of “ritual and coercion.”
Such is the impression left so far by this week’s Fatah Congress. The first in seven years, the gathering in Ramallah was billed as an affirmation of unity—both within the party and among Palestinians at large—as well as an opportunity to re-elect Mahmoud Abbas, who has held the party reins since Yasser Arafat’s passing in 2004.
On their first day in plenary, the “relatively younger” delegates unanimously renewed the 81-year-old’s mandate. But the vote itself has already raised more questions than answers about what that mandate actually entails. Part of the problem, to be sure, is that Abbas’s main Fatah rival, Mohammad Dahlan, was absent from the proceedings. But beyond party lines, there are more urgent reasons to doubt the outcome.
First, there is Trump. His election prompted Israeli officials to almost immediately disavow the two-state solution, upon which Abbas’s authority is predicated. Whether the U.S.-brokered Oslo agreement, which created the Palestinian Authority, will survive a Trump administration remains to be seen, but at the very least, the incoming U.S. president has signaled his willingness to let Israel further expand illegal settlements in the West Bank, including Jerusalem—a policy that has arguably done more to undermine Oslo than any other.
And even as the American president-elect sits in the wings, the Israeli prime minister has been stoking his own brand of Trump-like Islamophobia by supporting the so-called “muezzin bill,” which is widely seen as a move to ban the Muslim call to prayer in Israel. The proposed legislation, which technically “would ban religious institutions from using loudspeakers,” would presumably apply to Jerusalem, including its eastern half, where Abbas continues to insist on a Palestinian capital.
His newly re-conferred title will not get him there, though, and no one at the...Read More