By: Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh.
The tracks of the Palestinian internal situation during 2020 are all like nailing a Jell-O to a tree!! or beating one’s head against the wall. They are hopeless, unless new unexpected factors emerge.
First of all, it seems that this year the chronic crisis of the Palestinian national project will continue, for the factors causing it are unfortunately still present and in control. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is still suffering inability, deterioration, inefficiency, and institutional failure, in addition to the failure to include large and effective Palestinian forces, such as Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ). Palestinians abroad, who constitute more than half the Palestinian people, are still being ignored. For more than 50 years, one faction (Fatah) is still dominating the Palestinian decision making, the PLO, and Palestinian Authority (PA), and still sticking to a control and exclusivity mentality. At the same time, there are no looming serious signs of agreeing on a Palestinian national program, which transcends division, addresses the conflict between the resistance and settlement movements, and determines national action priorities.
Secondly, positive atmosphere had prevailed in late 2019, when the PA was talking about holding legislative elections, while Hamas and the Palestinian factions agreed to Abbas’s conditions (including agreeing to the proportional representation system) and the desynchronization of the presidential and legislative elections. However, the atmosphere prevailing now makes the chances of holding free and fair elections in 2020 slim. Not only due to the complexities imposed by the occupation (especially when talking about the participation of the Palestinians of East Jerusalem), but also due to the fact that the PA (the Fatah leadership) is not serious about holding elections that Hamas—or pro-resistance groups—could win. Fatah leadership has strived during the past years to circumvent Hamas, and isolate and delegitimize it. It has hindered all reconciliation efforts that could lead to real partnership in Palestinian decision-making (in the PA, Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) or the PLO…). Hence, its efforts are not expected to lead to the return of Hamas to the PA, in which it would impose itself on the national agenda and compete with Fatah over “legitimacy” again.
Simply put, the opinion polls give the lead in the upcoming elections to Hamas and the resistance movements, which practically means that it will be postponed indefinitely, for various reasons. In addition, the Fatah movement has real difficulties in forming its own lists, while enduring the control of Dahlan’s movement over a significant part of Fatah’s popularity, especially in the Gaza Strip (GS). Furthermore, in the current conditions, neither Israel nor the Arab and international parties would accept holding elections that may renew the winning and the “official legitimacy” of Hamas and the “political Islam” movements or the resistance trend.
Thirdly, concerning the anticipated tracks of 2020, the PA and its transformation into a real Palestinian state project will continue to deteriorate, and so will the PA’s regression to becoming a distorted structure that serves the occupation’s aims, more than those of the Palestinian people. At the same time, the PA management mindset will continue in the same manner, without real reviews or critical decisions. As for the complaints from Israeli settlement abuse, withholding the tax funds, and attacks on holy sites, they will be the complaints of the powerless and the impotent. Concerning the threats to stop the implementation of the Oslo Accords and to withdraw recognition of Israel… They are more for media consumption than procedures to be taken seriously.
Most probably Fatah leadership would be more preoccupied with “empowering” itself in the Palestinian arena, using its power tools; whether through clientelist spending, or by providing its supporters with political, security and media support, or by pressuring its opponents and trying to marginalize or tame them. This unilateral Fatah action has been going on for the past two years through the GS sanctions, convening the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and the Palestinian Central Council (PCC)—contrary to the Palestinian agreement—, dissolving the PLC and forming a Fatah government. Consequently, Fatah was isolated, and its policies were repugnant to the Palestinian factions inside and outside the PLO, and it seems that Fatah during 2020 will not change it, at least not during the life of Mahmud ‘Abbas.
Fourthly, and based on the above, security coordination between the PA and Israel is expected to continue, despite the PCC resolution to halt it, and despite the fact that President ‘Abbas, in July 2019, had announced that the agreements signed with Israel would be suspended. Perhaps the Fatah leadership realizes that for Israel PA’s survival and existence is dependent mainly on security coordination, which made ‘Abbas—more than once—state that this coordination is “sacred”!! What asserts such a position is the fact that the US, which had stopped all forms of support to the PA, has excluded the security forces, and approved for it $61 million. Moreover, in May 2019, Israeli reports stated that the PA security forces have thwarted 40% of the resistance operations against the Israeli occupation.
Fifthly, as ‘Abbas’s illness and fatigue symptoms (85 years) are increasing, his succession will be part of the preoccupation of Fatah (including the rest of the Palestine polity) and the Arab and international parties concerned with the Palestine issue. There are concerns that after ‘Abbas’s death there would be difficulties in putting the “Fatah house” in order, for there is no consensus leader that Fatah would agree on, except for Marwan Barghouti held in Israeli prisons. There is Muhammad Dahlan who wants to return to Fatah as a leader. There are candidates trying to rely on the Fatah base, and other candidates who would take advantage of external factors to enhance their positions.
Nevertheless, choosing a new Fatah leader may loosen some of the Palestinian “nodes,” such as reconciliation, elections, PLO reform, and the position on the peace process. However, it may cause an increase in some complexities and further decline in Fatah’s status, particularly if the new leader lacks charisma, and depends on the PA, its security coordination, and the Arab and international environment to consolidate his position.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 8/2/2020