[News] What does increased Palestinian political repression say about the prospects for peace?

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Sep 1 12:31:36 EDT 2010

What does increased Palestinian political 
repression say about the prospects for peace?

Palestine Center Brief No. 207 (1 September 2010)

Policy Brief

By Yousef Munayyer

In the late 1980s, Robert Putnam’s argument about 
multi-level games in international bargaining 
kicked off a rich debate over domestic 
constraints. The thesis, in essence, is that 
interlocutors in bargaining may chose to lend 
extra power to political opponents to argue that 
domestic constraints tie their hands and prevent 
them from making concessions beyond a certain, often minimal, limit.

This is not unlike what Binyamin Netanyahu did 
when he was elected Israeli prime minister in 
2009, shortly after the inauguration of President 
Barack Obama. As President Bush left office, it 
was clear that the field day Israel enjoyed as it 
violently repressed the second Palestinian 
uprising and increased settlements at a pace 
unrivaled since the Menachem Begin era was over. 
Obama was largely suspected to be much more 
critical of Israels expansionist policies. So 
when elections came to pass in Israel and the 
leading Kadima party failed to put together a 
government, Netanyahu joined his Likud party in a 
coalition that staunchly favored expansionism and 
retaining the West Bank and Gaza. Netanyahu would 
argue that even temporarily halting the illegal 
construction of settlements would jeopardize his 
coalition, and that political suicide is an 
unreasonable request, even from the United 
States. Questions about core issues like Jerusalem could not even be muttered.

But if Netanyahu can claim his hands are tied by 
demanding appreciation for his domestic political 
position, how has Mahmoud Abbas played his cards? 
Of course, the inclusion of the main opposition 
party, Hamas, into the Palestinian Authority (PA) 
was a costly proposition for Abbas. The reaction 
of the Western world (which provides the majority 
of the PA budget) and Israel (which collects tax 
dollars on the PAs behalf) after Hamas electoral 
victory in 2006, sent a clear message to Abbas: 
failure to play by the rules established by the 
West and Israel would mean life under siege. 
Abbas had only to look back at his predecessor, 
Arafat, who was besieged in his compound in 
Ramallah, or Hamas today, who are besieged in the 
Gaza Strip, if he chose anything other than the path of least resistance.

So the appearance of tied hands, which was never 
an option for Abbas, gave way to the clenched 
fists of repression. With a right-wing Israeli 
government and an American administration that 
failed to get Netanyahu to fulfill a basic 
obligation, Abbas is now about to enter direct 
negotiations in spite of the adamant objections of the Palestinian public.

Unsurprisingly, every Palestinian party, save 
Abbas’ Fateh party (with a few individuals 
excluded), has rejected the call for direct 
negotiations with the Israeli government under 
the current conditions. In the last few weeks 
there have been noticeable upticks in politically repressive activity.

Scores of Hamas affiliates have been detained or 
arrested, and a significant increase in these 
arrests was evident in the last two months, 
particularly the last two weeks. Yesterday, after 
a directive reminiscent of the famed closing 
scene in "Casablanca", scores, if not hundreds of 
Hamas affiliates - the usual suspects – were 
detained following an attack that left four settlers dead.

Leftist opposition parties like the Popular and 
Democratic Fronts for the Liberation of Palestine 
(PFLP and DFLP), the Peoples party, the National 
Initiative and also prominent independents, 
organized a conference in Ramallah, the 
administrative center of the PA, last week in 
protest of engaging in the new announced direct 
talks with the Israelis. The conference was 
disrupted by hundreds of plain clothes members of 
the security apparatus. The organizers, who were 
alarmed by the repression of dissent, organized a 
press conference at a nearby television station, 
Al-Watan. Amira Hass, covering the happenings in 
Haaretz wrote thugs "grabbed cameras, beat the 
Watan photographer and prevented people from 
being interviewed (for example, by pushing photos 
of Abbas between the interviewee's and the camera)".

Since then, PA leaders have responded by saying 
they had no connection to the crackdown and that 
an investigation would be launched into how it 
happened. Earlier this month, another independent 
news station was raided in Nablus and shut down. 
Likewise, the higher-ups claim to have had no 
knowledge of this and promised to initiate an investigation.

This type of activity is not new. Numerous 
Palestinian protests in the West Bank were broken 
up during the attacks on Gaza in 2008-2009, and 
the same was true after the debacle over failing 
to further the Goldstone Report.

So if lending political opponents limited 
leverage to create the appearance of tied hands 
is allowing Netanyahu to stand firmer to his 
demands, Abbas is in the inverse position. By 
cracking down on political opponents who reject 
further concessions to the Israelis (an effort 
supported and aided by the U.S. and Israel), 
Abbas is only affirming to the Israelis, 
Americans and Palestinians what all have long 
suspected: that his government is in no position 
to sign a binding and lasting agreement on behalf 
of Palestinian stakeholders. As Netanyahu used 
his domestic prerogatives to strengthen his 
position, Abbas enters negotiations in 
devastatingly weak position and the Israelis will 
be able to exploit to extract more concession 
from the Palestinian negotiating partner. The 
most recent evidence of this is Abbas' 
willingness to enter direct negotiations and 
caving to the Israeli whim that they can build 
settlements and talk peace at the same time after 
stating numerous times that he would do no such thing.

Put into the perspective of history, dwindling 
legitimacy is a continuing trend. The Oslo 
Accords divorced the Palestinian leadership from 
much of the Palestinian diaspora, leaving the 
Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) -- which 
turned inward into the PA -- representing only 
four million out of twelve million Palestinians 
(or roughly 25 percent). While some might not 
think it necessary that the Palestinian 
negotiating partner represent Palestinians living 
outside of the West Bank and Gaza, it is clear 
that such representation is vital when issues 
such as the question of refugees is so intimately 
tied to the resolution of this conflict. This 
makes diaspora Palestinians stakeholders in the outcome.

But the PAs representation of even the 25 percent 
of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza 
has been called into question in recent years, 
given the election of Hamas and the 
inter-Palestinian divide. The political 
repression of Hamas is evidence of that, and 
today, with the continued repression of 
independents and other non-Fateh party members, 
Abbas may be able to lay claim to representing 40 
percent of the 25 percent of all Palestinians, or 
about 13 percent of all the stakeholders in the dispute.

Continued episodes of political repression at the 
behest of Israel’s reputation, be it during the 
war in Gaza, the Goldstone debacle or most 
recently in the lead up to direct negotiations, 
only underscores the fundamental disparity in the 
position of the two negotiating partners and 
suggests that Palestinian domestic political 
disarray is likely to continue. When push comes 
to shove, Israel can easily manipulate this 
situation to claim their weak negotiating partner 
is unable to guarantee a lasting agreement and 
Israel would therefore only offer the 
Palestinians a figment of a state, lacking all 
sovereignty, while retaining security control 
over borders and airspace conditions unacceptable to Palestinians.

Only a unified and representative Palestinian 
partner can extract the minimum necessary 
concessions from Israel for a viable end of 
conflict resolution, and currently, as the 
security apparatus continues to crack down on 
domestic Palestinian dissent, Israel watches 
keenly knowing that no such Palestinian partner is on the horizon.

Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of the 
Palestine Center. This policy brief may be used 
without permission but with proper attribution to the Center.

The views in this brief are those of the author 
and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.

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