By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
In this article, we choose ten issues for the evaluation of the Palestinian track in 2018.
First: The Continuation of the Palestinian National Project Crisis: The Palestinian political situation continues to suffer from a severe political crisis that impedes its ability to function effectively, wastes much of the energy and potentials of the Palestinian people, and weakens its ability to mobilize the Arab, Islamic and international environments to make use of them in serving the Palestinian national project.
This crisis manifests itself in the Palestinian leadership itself, which has not been able to rise to the sacrifices and aspirations of the Palestinian people. It also manifests itself in Palestinian representative and legislative institutions, where the decline and deterioration of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) continue; as well as its failure to include the various components and forces of the Palestinian people, whereas its institutions and departments are absent and lack influence inside Palestine and in the Palestinian Diaspora, as its role has diminished being dominated by the Palestinian Authority (PA). As for this latter, its poor national performance continued, and its role, practically, became more dedicated to serving the interests and objectives of the Israeli occupation, rather than those of the Palestinian people.
Adding insult to injury is the disruption of the democratic electoral process in the PLO and PA, where one faction dominates both. In addition, the conflict of priorities and paths between the resistance and pro-peace movements continues, where each side accuses the other of obstructing and disrupting what it considers a national program. This crisis had an impact on the other institutions and trade unions; and conflicts were even seen on the ground. The confidence crisis between the conflicting parties deepened, while their coordination on the ground and their ability to face risks and challenges weakened.
Second: The Decline of the Palestinian Reconciliation: The status quo of the reconciliation process continued through most of 2018, where Fatah’s leadership (PLO’s and PA’s leadership) insisted on continuing the sanctions on Gaza Strip (GS), and on fully “empowering” the PA government in GS, which would be in charge of everything from soup to nuts, above and below ground. Hamas and the other resistance factions considered these demands in contravention of the reconciliation agreement of 2011, and the Cairo Agreement of October 2017, hence tension and mutual accusations continued.
However, at the end of 2018, there was a great deterioration in the reconciliation process, when the PA used the Constitutional court to issue a decision to dissolve the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC), especially when there are major concerns on the legitimacy of the court and its jurisdiction to consider such matters, and that the decision is in contradiction to the provisions of the Basic Law, which states that the PLC shall terminate only “when the members of the new elected Council take the constitutional oath.”
Third: Fatah and the Peace Process Became More Politically Isolated: The way Mahmud ‘Abbas and the Fatah leadership are managing the PLO, PA, the unified leadership framework, and the reconciliation process…, practically left Fatah, at the end of 2018, almost alone.
For last year, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) boycotted three Palestinian Central Council (PCC) sessions in 2018, and a Palestinian National Council (PNC) meeting held in late April 2018 in Ramallah, in contrast with the Palestinian agreements concluded in Beirut early 2017. The Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP) boycotted the last two PCC sessions, and The Palestinian National Initiative also boycotted the PCC’s last session. There was almost a consensus on refusing the sanctions imposed by Fatah on GS and the PLC dissolution. Hence, what was actually going on, is that Fatah, by the end of 2018, became more politically isolated, whereas there was more political rapprochement with Hamas’s political stance.
Fourth: Escalation in Israeli Targeting Jerusalem and in Settlement Building: As the US administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and decided to move its embassy there, Israeli targeting of Jerusalem escalated in 2018; al-Aqsa Mosque was stormed by 29,900 Jewish settlers, 17% more compared to the previous year. Confiscation of lands, Judaization and settlement building in the West Bank (WB), especially in Jerusalem, continued, where the amount of settlement units in plans advanced came to 5,618 units, and the total of tenders reached 3,808, according to Peace Now data. At the same time, the number of settlers exceeded 800 thousand, and they enjoy high political influence in the Israeli government.
Fifth: Continuation of Resistance: Resistance factions have experienced severe difficulties, especially in the territories of direct friction in WB, where security coordination between the PA and Israel led to uncovering numerous resistance cells and frustrating many planned operations. However, various forms of resistance operations continued; thousands of clashes occurred by using stones, Molotov cocktails…, and also more than 400 attacks whether by weapons, stabbings and car-rammings, etc; in addition to the clashes between the resistance and Israeli forces in GS, especially during what was dubbed “Operation Edge of the Sword,” when an Israeli security force made a ground incursion into GS. During 2018, 16 Israelis were killed and 200 wounded, whereas 312 Palestinians were killed and 31,500 others wounded. Israeli forces arrested 6,489 Palestinians and the total number of prisoners in Israeli prisons reached around 6 thousand.
Sixth: Marches of Return: These marches that were launched on 30/3/2018 are considered a milestone in 2018. Palestinian national unity manifested itself in these marches, where most Palestinian factions joined forces to make them succeed. They let the Gazans vent their anger—due to their suffering from a strangling siege— on the Israeli forces. Despite their great sacrifices over a 40-week span, where 253 were killed and 25,477 wounded, these marches were able to make all American-Israeli hopes to enforce “the deal of the century” and implement it on GS, stumble. They affirmed the Palestinian people’s right of return to the 1948 occupied territories and supported the people’s choice of their right to resist and bear arms. Consequently, Israel was forced to partly ease the siege, let the goods enter. Same to Egyptian authorities who opened border crossings and facilitated the movement of people.
Seventh: Economically speaking, the year 2018 ended miserably for the Palestinians in WB and GS, compared to the Israeli side. The 2018 Israeli Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was $367 billion, while the Palestinian GDP was $13.78 billion, hence the Israeli GDP was 27 times the size of its Palestinian counterpart (2,730%). The Israeli GDP per capita in 2018 reached $41,300, while that of the Palestinian was $3,030, that is the former was 14 times more than the latter (1,363%). These figures reflect the ugliness of the Israeli occupation, its exploitation of Palestinian resources and wealth, the disruption of any Palestinian development process, and also the PA’s inability, weakness and mismanagement of the Palestinian economy. This is not to mention the escalation of poverty and unemployment rates, the increase of suffering due to the siege, and the fact that Israel still severely controls Palestinian imports and exports, etc.
Eighth: More Israeli Religious and Right-Wing Extremism: In 2018, the Israeli landscape became more inclined to the right and religious extremist movements, while the Israeli left experienced fragmentation and decay. As a matter of fact, the left itself is practically no longer “left,” as it took the form of the “right,” in its statements and approaches. Hence, this center-left “Zionist Union,” is expected to win only 10 seats in the coming elections, falling from the current 24 seats. The Likud is expected to stay far ahead of its electoral rivals with 30 seats. The chances for the right-wing parties to have a majority in the Knesset and the government are still strong, which opens the way for Netanyahu to have his fifth chance to form the government, and to become Israel’s longest-serving prime minister.
Ninth: The Arab Strategic Environment still suffers instability, weakness and division, political, economic and scientific backwardness, while their regimes have internal conflicts with their own people and suffer the depletion of their wealth…; all of this has a negative impact on the Palestine issue. In 2018, these matters became more clear, when a number of Arab countries, implicitly, agreed to the “deal of the century,” and overtly normalized their relations with Israel, which seeks to monopolize the Palestine issue and change the “conflict’s compass”—instead of being against it—toward ethnic and sectarian tensions that have escalated and made the Arab region weak, fragmented and underdeveloped. However, some Arab countries still support the Palestine issue; besides there is a growing realization that resistance movements can not be overridden.
Tenth: The US still dominates the international landscape concerned with the Palestine issue. Despite the fact that the Trump administration has proved to be incoherent and has caused crises with several countries, it has made an unprecedented rush to impose the Zionist vision in ending the conflict and settling the “Palestinian dossier”… for the leaks of the deal of the century indicate that it is not more than the vision of Likud and the right-wing. The danger lies in that there are attempts to implement these thoughts on the ground, without waiting for anyone’s consent. In this context, the decision to move the US embassy was made, and there were attempts to liquidate the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) and to condemn Hamas at the UN. In addition some Arab countries were pressured to normalize their relations with Israel.
Finally, if the 2018’s conclusion is that the Palestinians suffer poor leadership and weak institutions, they, on the other hand, have proved to have a strong will to steadfast and resist. This is despite the fact that the Arab environment is weak and disintegrated and the international environment is unfavorable. Furthermore, as much as the local, regional and international circumstances are full of risks, they are also full of opportunities. Thus, the owners of the Palestinian right must deal with these circumstances effectively and efficiently, since these are decisive times in the history of the Palestine issue and the nation.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 23/1/2019