Don't expect the PA to defend Sheikh Jarrah

The PA abandoned Palestinians long ago, Sheikh Jarrah is no different
5 min read
13 May, 2021
Comment: This is not the first time that Abbas's blind quest to stay in power is costing Palestinians their sovereignty, writes Dalal Yassine.
'PA President Mahmoud Abbas has abandoned the neighbourhood' writes Yassine [Getty]
While the eyes of the world have been on Israel's forced displacement of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood and attacks on the al-Aqsa mosque, the suppression of solidarity protests by the Palestinian Authority's (PA) security forces has received less attention.

Like the Israelis in Sheikh Jarrah, PA security forces have deployed tear gas, flash grenades, and physical force against Palestinian youth in the cities of Nablus, Jenin, Hebron, and Ramallah over the past few days.

As the hashtags #SaveSheikhJarrah and #SaveAlAqsa have trended globally, PA President Mahmoud Abbas has abandoned the neighbourhood and its residents as he desperately tries to save his political legitimacy. 

Abbas's efforts to stifle expressions of Palestinian sovereignty are nothing new. Less than two weeks ago, he "postponedthe elections for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) that were scheduled to take place later this month.

Although these would have been the first PLC elections in 15 years, Abbas used Israel's refusal to allow East Jerusalem Palestinians to participate as a convenient excuse. The real reason the elections were delayed is that Abbas feared splits within his Fatah movement would allow Hamas to take power. For their part, the US, the European Union, and Israel have done nothing to object to Abbas' decision.

Abbas's security grip ensures that popular protests do not accelerate out of control and his rule is never threatened

While Abbas was distracted by the internal disputes within Fatah, the PA has been surprised by the outpouring of global support for Sheikh Jarrah. Since the 1993 Oslo Accords were signed with Israel, the PA and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) have worked to weaken and undermine popular support movements in Palestine and around the world.

Abbas has discouraged Fatah members from participating in popular protests and challenging Israel's settlement project in a meaningful way. Meanwhile, the PA's security services harass and 
arrest Palestinian activists and deliver them to their Israeli counterparts.

[Click to enlarge]

It's important to note that the demonstrators in Sheikh Jarrah and across the occupied West Bank have condemned the PA and its failure to act. They have demanded an end to the PA's security coordination with Israel and an immediate response to Israeli violations. Instead, to further appease the United States and Israel, Abbas canceled the Eid al-Fitr celebrations and continues security coordination with Israel. 

This is consistent with his rule over the past 16 years. Like his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, Abbas has used the different security services, armed and trained by the United States and coordinating with Israel, to sustain his authority. The services are populated with loyal Fatah members and their salaries, unlike those of other Palestinian civil servants, are paid regularly and in full to ensure their compliance.

The result has been an increased gap between the PA's leaders, the security services, and Palestinians on the ground. Abbas's security grip ensures that popular protests do not accelerate out of control and his rule is never threatened. Nor is the occupation he serves. This leaves young people with little faith in the Palestinian leadership and without hope for a better future.

Palestinians should not expect their sacrifices or protests to be supported by a leadership that cowers in Ramallah

The targeting of Palestinians in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood comes shortly after the release of a landmark Human Rights Watch report on Israel's apartheid policies. It follows reports over the past year by Israeli human rights organisations B'Tselem and Yesh Din.

Yet last July, at the UN's International Conference on the Question of Jerusalem, the PA's Ambassador to the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, refused to acknowledge that 
Israel's policies amounted to apartheid. He dismissed the actions of activists and civil society organisations in favour of expanding negotiations, which have yet to be realised. These failed policies have consequences, and they are on display in Sheikh Jarrah and across occupied Palestine. 

We are also witnessing the consequences of the Arab normalisation agreements with Israel known as the "Abraham Accords". Although the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain claimed that their agreements with Israel prevented annexation, Sheikh Jarrah demonstrates quite the opposite. Indeed, these agreements have emboldened Israel's slow annexation policies, as has the silent approval of the Biden administration. 

On Monday, State Department Spokesman Ned Price refused to condemn the killing of Palestinian children in an Israeli airstrike on Gaza. By Tuesday, Price had offered a very small concession: "We stand by Israel's right to defend itself. We also stand by the principle that Palestinians deserve the right to live in safety and security," he said. Price added that "Any loss of civilian life is deeply lamentable, whether that is a Palestinian life or an Israeli life."

These failed policies have consequences, and they are on display in Sheikh Jarrah and across occupied Palestine

The Biden administration however, is merely insisting on "calm" and is deferring to Israel's Supreme Court on Sheikh Jarrah. Meanwhile, Washington is opposed to the investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) into Israel's policies and has rejected the Human Rights Watch report on Israeli apartheid. 

While Abbas and the Palestinian leadership have rhetorically endorsed peaceful protests and the ICC investigation, in reality, this is a charade to maintain their false legitimacy and perpetuate control.

Palestinians should not expect their sacrifices or protests to be supported by a leadership that cowers in Ramallah while they are beaten and gassed in Jerusalem, or bombed in Gaza. Nor should they expect a leadership that orders its security services to arrest and assault Palestinians, to defend their rights in negotiations or on the world stage.

With the 73rd anniversary of the Nakba only days away, Palestinians must decide between a hopeless leadership that promises more of the same, or demand a new future.

Dalal Yassine is a Non-Resident Fellow with the Jerusalem Fund/Palestine Center in Washington, D.C. 

Follow her on Twitter: @Dalal_yassine

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

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.