The assertion that the (PA) days are numbered has been oft repeated recently, especially after last month’s fatal torture of popular Palestinian activist Nizar Banat at the hands of PA security personnel in Hebron.
However, the killing — or “assassination,” as some Palestinian rights groups describe it — of Banat was not unusual. In PA prisons, torture is the modus operandi through which interrogators extract “confessions.” Political prisoners in PA custody are usually divided into two groups: Those who are suspected by Israel of being involved in anti-occupation activities and those who have been detained for voicing criticism of the PA’s corruption.
In a 2018 report, Human Rights Watch described “dozens of arrests” carried out by the PA “for critical posts on social media platforms.” Banat fits into this category perfectly, as he was a persistent and outspoken activist whose many videos and social media posts exposed and embarrassed the PA leadership. Unlike others, Banat named names and called for severe measures against those who squander Palestinian public funds and betray the causes of the Palestinian people.
Banat had been arrested by PA police several times in the past. In May, gunmen attacked his home, using live bullets, stun grenades and tear gas. He blamed the attack on the ruling Fatah. His last social media campaign was concerned with the almost-expired coronavirus disease vaccine doses the PA was offered by Israel last month. Because of public pressure from activists like Banat, the PA was forced to cancel the deal, which had initially been touted as a positive gesture by new Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
When the PA men descended on Banat’s house on June 24, the ferocity of their violence was unprecedented. His cousin, Ammar, has spoken of how about 25 security personnel raided Banat’s house, pepper-sprayed him while in bed and “began beating him with iron bars and wooden batons.” After stripping him naked, they dragged him into a vehicle. An hour and a half later, the family learned the fate of their son through a WhatsApp group.
Despite its initial denial, under pressure from thousands of protesters throughout the West Bank, the PA was forced to admit that Banat’s death was “unnatural.” PA Justice Minister Mohammed Al-Shalaldeh told Palestine TV that an initial medical report indicated that Banat was subjected to physical violence. This supposedly explosive revelation was meant to demonstrate that the PA is willing to examine and take responsibility for its actions. However, this is simply untrue as, firstly, the PA has never taken responsibility for its past violence and, secondly, violence is the cornerstone of the authority’s existence. Arbitrary arrests, torture and suppression of peaceful protests are synonymous with PA security, as numerous reports by rights groups, whether in Palestine or internationally, have indicated.
Arbitrary arrests, torture and suppression of peaceful protests are synonymous with PA security.
So is it true that the PA’s days are numbered? To consider this question, it is important to examine the rationale behind the PA’s existence and also to compare that initial purpose with what has transpired.
The PA was founded in 1994 as a transitional national authority with the purpose of guiding the Palestinian people through the process that would ultimately lead to national liberation, following the “final status negotiations,” which were set to conclude by the end of 1999. Many years have elapsed without a single political achievement to the PA’s name. This does not mean that the PA, from the viewpoint of its leadership and Israel, has been a total failure, as it continues to fulfill the most important role entrusted to it: Security coordination with the Israeli occupation. This means protecting illegal Jewish settlers in the West Bank and doing Israel’s dirty work in PA-run autonomous Palestinian areas. In exchange, the PA has received billions of dollars from US-led “donor countries” and from Palestinian taxes collected on its behalf by Israel.
That same paradigm is still at work, but for how much longer? Following their revolt in May, the Palestinian people have exhibited unprecedented national unity and resolve that have transcended factional lines. They have daringly called for the removal of Mahmoud Abbas from power.
Since the mass protests in May, the PA’s official discourse has been marred by confusion, desperation and panic. Its officials tried to position themselves as revolutionary leaders. They spoke of “resistance,” “martyrs” and even “revolution,” while simultaneously renewing their commitment to the “peace process” and the American agenda in Palestine.
As Washington resumed in April its financial support of Abbas’ authority after it was disrupted by former President Donald Trump, the PA hoped to return to the status quo — that of relative stability, financial abundance and political relevance. The Palestinian people, however, seem to have moved on, as demonstrated by the mass protests — always met with a violent response by PA security throughout the West Bank, including Ramallah, the seat of its power.
Even the slogans have changed. Following Banat’s murder, thousands of protesters in Ramallah, representing all strands of Palestinian society, called on 85-year-old Abbas to leave, referring to his security goons as “baltajieh” and “shabeha” — or thugs — terms borrowed from Arab protesters during the early years of various Middle Eastern revolts.
This change in discourse points to a critical shift in the relationship between ordinary Palestinians, who are emboldened and ready to stage a mass revolt against Israeli occupation and colonialism, and their quisling, corrupt and self-serving so-called leadership. It is important to note that no aspect of this PA enjoys one iota of democratic credentials. Indeed, on April 30, Abbas canceled the general election that was scheduled to be held in Palestine in May, based on flimsy excuses.
The PA has proven to be an obstacle in the face of Palestinian freedom, and it has no credibility among Palestinians. It clings on to power only because of external support. Whether this authority’s days are truly numbered or not depends on whether the Palestinian people prove that their collective will is stronger than the PA and its benefactors. Experience teaches us that the Palestinians will eventually prevail.
• Ramzy Baroud