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Julie Pronier

Abu Ein's killing: "The leadership has to do something"

Thousands attended Abu Ein's funeral. The PA's response will now be closely scrutinised [AFP]

Date of publication: 12 December, 2014

See the album, Ziad Abu Ein funeral
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After the killing of a Palestinian Authority minister and widespread popular discontent with Palestinian leadership, there is enormous pressure to act decisively.
A three-day mourning period is almost over and the Palestinian Authority has - again - threatened to end security cooperation with Israel.

But a meeting of Palestine Liberation Organisation leaders planned for Friday over suspending security coordination has itself been postponed until Sunday.

And even before that, the announcement had already met widespread popular scepticism.

Whatever happens, Mahmoud Abbas, the PA president, will know that what he does next in response to the killing of
     How can you protect your people, if you can't protect your leadership?

- Hazem Sweity
one of his own ministers in a confrontation with Israeli soldiers is going to be closely scrutinised.

And, this time, it won't only be the usual critics of the Fatah supremo and PLO chairman, but by his own rank-and-file. 

Thousands of people attended the 11 December funeral of Ziad Abu Ein, recently given charge of the PA's anti-wall and settlement portfolio after several years as a minister of prisoner affairs. He was a popular figure, not least among Fatah activists, as someone who had a long history in the movement and the Palestinian struggle more widely.

The manner of Abu Ein's death was not itself shocking. Palestinians are long used to the vicissitudes of life under an Israeli military occupation that, though condemned as illegal by the international community, is now in its fifth decade. During this time, Israeli troops have rarely - if ever - been held accountable for acts of violence against civilians under their control.

But the killing of Abu Ein showed an unusual level of arrogance, even for Israel. Here, after all, was a senior PA official, the very people with whom Israel is supposed to conclude a peace treaty, engaged in a peaceful act of defiance - he was planting an olive tree on land earmarked for settlement construction in Turmusayya, a village close to Ramallah - to mark the UN's Human Rights Day.

By no account heard so far did he or anyone else in his party pose any threat to the teargas-shooting, heavily armoured Israeli soldiers who came charging to disperse the tree-planting activists. Yet still he was pushed, punched and reportedly head-butted until he collapsed to the ground.

Most of this was caught on video. Clutching his chest, he was rushed to hospital where he died not long after.

Running out of patience

The ball is now firmly in Abbas' court. At Abu Ein's funeral on Wednesday, Dima, a 17-year-old friend of Abu Ein's own teenage daughter, said she wanted the government to do something, but "I don't think they will".
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Her scepticism was echoed by another of the mourners, Anas, a member of the Fatah youth movement.

"The existence of our government is connected to Israel, so it can't cut security cooperation," he said.

Theirs is a widespread sentiment among Palestinians who are leery of their own leadership, say analysts. The last threat to end security coordination, "won't change anything", said Rula Abu Duhou, a lecturer at Birzeit University in Ramallah.

"What is changing is the people," she said. They are "fed up" with years of a peace process that has led nowhere.

The PA has threatened to end security coordination before, but never carried out the threat.

It has repeatedly suggested it would join the International Criminal Court and charge Israel with war crimes, most recently after Israel's assault on Gaza in the summer, but, again, nothing has happened.

Now, said Hazem Sweity, a professor of political science at Hebron University and a Fatah member, "the leadership has to do something".

"How can you protect your people, if you can't protect your leadership?"

Despite popular sentiment, however, the Palestine Liberation Organisation is not rushing to a decision. Though the PLO has asserted that an autopsy carried out on Abu Ein bore out the accusation that his death was a direct result of the assault by Israeli soldiers, spokesman Ashraf Khatib conceded no final decision had been reached on suspending security coordination.

"Even after the death of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, [the Palestinian teenager burnt alive this summer by Israeli settlers] and the bombing of Gaza, Israel is still in a comfortable position," Khatib said, pointing to continued international support for a country he said is never held accountable by the world.

And the decision to postpone a leadership meeting to decide on the suspension suggests the Palestinian leadership is waiting for popular anger to die down before taking the next step.

"We don't want any decisions that cost us more losses," said Abbas Zaki, a member of Fatah's ruling Central Committee, who nevertheless said there would be "no backtracking".
 
Abu Ein spent 13 years in Israeli and US jails (Julie Couzinet)

Still, a European Union source suggested to al-Araby al-Jadeed that rather than suspend security coordination, the PA would simply stop security coordination meetings.

But symbolic steps are becoming harder to sell to Palestinians. The perception among many is simple: negotiations or no negotiations, peaceful resistance or none, Israel continues to appropriate more land and nothing is holding it back.

Abu Ein died during an act of non-violent resistance. But to Birzeit's Abu Duhou and many more, questions of tactics are no longer relevant.

"What is peaceful resistance, when they kill, take land and arrest?" asked the academic. "Even armed struggle is a totally peaceful act against this occupation, compared to what they are doing on the ground."

- With additional reporting by Naela Khalil

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