Opinion: The Palestinian Political Class has Become a Heavy Burden on the PeopleBreaking News
tags: Palestine, Middle East history, Palestinian Authority
Nidal Betare is a Syrian-Palestinian writer based in Washington. Hazem Youness is a former Palestinian diplomat who served in Syria and Uzbekistan, and is now based in Sweden.
If anything has been made clear by the current developments in Palestine, it is the weakness of the traditional Palestinian political system and its disconnect from the Palestinian people. The historical conditions that produced the traditional Palestinian leadership do not exist anymore, and there is no longer a unified political project. The leadership is now fractured and controlled by different regional and global alliances and loyalties.
For decades, the Palestine Liberation Organization, established in 1964, played the role of representative for all Palestinians. The Palestinian political structure had always been secular, led by Fatah under Yasser Arafat and comprised of a range of leftist factions, mostly founded in the 1950s and 1960s in the context of the Arab Nationalists Movement and the expansion of national liberation movements worldwide. But the influence of these factions decreased after the collapse of the Soviet Union and loss of those funding streams. This shrinking helped Hamas bring into Palestinian politics an Islamist culture that many Palestinians perceived as an extension of the Muslim Brotherhood.
When the PLO signed the Oslo Accords in 1993, the Palestinian National Authority was established as the governing body of the future state of Palestine under the umbrella of the PLO. Yet by the next decade, with the Second Intifada, the Israeli invasion of the West Bank and the death of Arafat, the PLO was significantly weakened.
Mahmoud Abbas was an unpopular figure when he took over the PLO, Palestinian Authority and Fatah leadership after Arafat’s death. In 2005, the United States pressured him to accept U.S. Lt. General Keith Dayton’s plan, a program focused on training Palestinian security forces in coordination with Israeli security authorities. The program was so unpopular among Palestinians that they began to refer to the Palestinian Authority as the Dayton Authority. These events paved the way for Hamas to win the elections in 2006.
When Hamas and the Palestinian Authority failed to form a government, it was clear that they had two different approaches to running the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian Authority encouraged what it called peaceful resistance against settlements and chose to pursue diplomatic battles at the United Nations, gaining worldwide support.
Hamas, on the other hand, built an Islamist movement with support from Iran, Syria and Hezbollah. With their backing, including equipment and training, Hamas took over Gaza with military power in 2007. It has since ruled Gaza with an iron fist, detaining and eliminating political opponents (especially Fatah) and enforcing Islamist rules and restrictions on Gazans.
Through Hamas, Iranian support extended to other Palestinian factions, such as Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine-General Command (PFLP-GC) and Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). At the time, Palestinian Islamic Jihad (Al-Jihad al Islami) was already on Iran’s payroll, and left-leaning organizations started to adopt Iranian revolutionary ideology. As a result, Hamas opened the doors to regional powers and helped turn the Palestinian cause into a regional political fight at the expense of Palestinians, particularly Gazans.