As Peace Talks Progress, Palestinian Authority’s Popularity Plummets
Last Thursday, I was sitting on a barstool on stage at Azure in Ramallah telling jokes to a gaggle of my local comrades who had come to enjoy an evening of stand-up comedy. If that show had been scheduled for this week, it never would have happened. On Broadway we say, “The show must go on," but in Palestine when you have four dead—including one at the hands of your own leadership—there is nothing to laugh about and the show most certainly would have been cancelled.
At the crack of dawn on Monday, Israeli operatives entered Qalandia Refugee Camp to arrest an alleged enemy of the state. I don’t know what they were expecting, but they were met with what most Israeli incursions into the camps encounter: a barrage of stones, Molotov cocktails, and anything else that can be thrown, slung, or shot. When all was said and done, three Palestinian lay dead, including a U.N. worker who witnesses swear was caught in the crossfire on his way to work. Those who lost their lives were Yunis Jahjouh, 23; Jihad Aslan, 21; and Robin Zayed, 34.
Robin Zayed, a father of four, was the UNRWA worker who got gunned down. I have never met a Palestinian named Robin, and I am desperate to know the story behind his name, but he is gone now and there are more important questions to ask. Why did the Israelis choose to enter the camps on the same day as talks were scheduled? How many of us would walk through live gunfire to get to work? It seems like a perfectly good reason to call in sick or take a personal day to save your own life. How many are forced to live like this daily? You can't call in sick every day.
The United Nations Relief and Work Agency (UNRWA) released a statement condemning the killing of their staff member, who they insisted did not participate in any violent activity and was shot on his way to work. Israel swiftly condemned the statement, claiming that UNRWA was just guessing and reminded everyone that UNRWA supposedly ran an anti-Semitic summer camp featured in the film “Camp Jihad.” This is really what the Israeli response was. I cannot for the life of me figure out what a summer camp has to do with three people being gunned down by Israel on Monday morning.
After the deaths were reported, Palestinian officials anonymously leaked to the press that the negotiations with Israel, scheduled for Monday in Jericho, would be cancelled to honor the dead. The Palestinian negotiating team then went on to have the meeting anyway. They would have gotten away with it too, if Tzipi Livni had not posted a selfie on Facebook, tongue out like Miley Cyrus, captioned, “Twerking with Saeb under the sea.” To make things worse, John Kerry’s spokeswoman, Mari Harf, clicked “Like," even though U.S. special envoy Martin Indyk wasn't invited. (I'm kidding, of course.) Palestinians are used to being lied to but this public humiliation was tough to swallow and they got angry. The Palestinian Authority added fuel to the fire when they refused to allow the funeral processions of the men from Qalandia to proceed through the main streets of Ramallah, instead forcing them onto the side streets.
Not wanting to be outdone by the Israelis, the PA shot their very own Palestinian in the head the next day. Thirty-seven-year-old Amjad Odeh was killed in Askar Refugee Camp in the Nablus ‘hood. The PA had torn a page out of the IDF's playbook and decided to copycat the Israeli forces’ actions from the day before. The PA security forces entered Askar Camp, guns blazing, to arrest an alleged suspect. The Palestinian police were met with the same resistance the IDF faced in Qalandia. Like their Israeli idols, the PA responded to stones and Molotov cocktails with live fire, leaving one man dead and pounding the last nail in Mahmoud Abbas’s coffin.
Abbas is not a popular leader now and he never has been. He has long outstayed his term and abandoned Gaza, and many Palestinians consider him nothing more than a dictator or wannabe king. His one moment of glory was declaring Palestinian statehood at the United Nations and even then he got his biggest cheers when he hacked a line from Yasser Arafat’s historic U.N. speech. From the beginning of this latest round of negotiations, Palestinians have been disenchanted. They expected more of the same and had little to no hope that an actual peace, or anything resembling a just solution, would be achieved through the U.S.-brokered talks. The little credibility the negotiations had took a huge blow when Israel insisted on announcing 3,000 new settlement units on the land that is meant to house the future Palestinian state. These new settlements were all green-lit between the time the latest round of talks kicked off and the time the IDF shot up Qalandia on Monday morning. They are soon to be facts on the ground, illustrating Israel's lack of good faith in negotiating two states.
By Wednesday morning, the Palestinians had had enough. They’d been lied to, shot at, taxed into debt, and weren’t going to take anymore. Although the killing of Odeh by Palestinian security forces was not the first time Palestinians have shed their own people’s blood, folks are far more sensitive these days. In talking about Syria or Egypt a constant refrain I heard from my fellow Palestinians was, "They are killing their own, at least our enemy isn’t our blood.” That all changed when the PA killed one of their own in classic IDF style. The man who lost his life was from Abbas’s own party. This senseless loss of life combined with the killing of the three men in Qalandia, the shooting in the face of a young boy with a rubber bullet by the IDF in Aida Refugee Camp, and the endless settlement construction pushed the Palestinians to take to the streets to demand the PLO say no to negotiations. Opposing negotiations is not synonymous with opposing peace. Palestinians who object do so because all the parties involved seem not to have their best interests, or basic human rights, in mind. How could there ever be a two-state solution when Israel continues to expand the illegal settlements on the Palestinian side of the tracks?
Protests erupted in Nablus, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Hebron. In Ramallah, hundreds of Palestinians, old and young, of different classes and faiths, took to the streets chanting that “the Palestinian Authority is Zionist” and that Abu Mazen needed to go. He and his posse were considered nothing more than enforcers of Israel's brutal unending occupation and the PA's latest actions solidified this image. Riot police clashed with the marchers as they tried to enter Abbas's headquarters. The security forces channeled their inner NYPD circa Occupy Wall Street and beat back the crowd with batons. Defending their leader, they used excessive force to make sure the angry mob did not reach the man without a mandate. Abbas could not have been reached anyway. While Nablus was in flames, he had hopped over to Jordan to talk Assad, chemical weapons, and U.S. intervention—because a man who can't even persuade Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes in Jerusalem is apparently going to save Syria.
I have said from day one that this round of peace negotiations is a farce and this week is proof that they absolutely are. Israel has no intention of creating two states between the river and the sea. If they did, they would not have announced 3,000 new settlement units in the most controversial areas of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Netanyahu has no intention of dividing Jerusalem, just changing the demographics like they did in Silwan when they demolished the Zir family home, forcing them to move into a cave. Israel did not illustrate its commitment to peace when it sent its forces over the wall and into Qalandia Refugee Camp for a little morning violence. Twenty-six prisoners being sent home does not erase the endless bad behavior Israel has exhibited throughout the return to negotiations or the fact that the Palestinian leadership is acting unilaterally without consulting the Palestinian population. This would be a very good time for Abbas to listen to the people; instead he is still talking.
Abbas, who seems oblivious to the fact he has no popular support, took time out of his busy schedule to sit with Harriet Sherwood of the Guardian. He shared that the Palestinians would be giving up claim to places like Haifa and his hometown Safed, as if anyone was under the delusion that Haifa would be part of Palestine in a two-state solution. The statement still caused fury because it translated to Abu Mazen giving up the refugees’ right of return while Israel continues to build, build, build.
Rami Hamdallah released a statement condemning the killings in Qalandia. The man who resigned as Prime Minister after just two weeks on the job had resurfaced. Like Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator for Palestine who has also called it quits on numerous occasions, the cat came back. Hamdallah is now caretaker prime minister—and “caretaker” seems like an appropriate term for his position. The peace talks may have survived this horrifying week, but the chances of them making it to nine months are less than those of an 8-week-old fetus with no heartbeat. It would take a Christmas miracle—but stranger things have happened in the Holy Land. That is something both Israelis and Palestinians can agree on.