Skip to main content

PA authoritarianism grows in the face of Palestinian unity

PA authoritarianism grows in the face of Palestinian unity
6 min read

Ramona Wadi

23 July, 2021
Opinion: The PA's authoritarian efforts to quash calls for accountability and justice will only serve to further unite Palestinians against them, writes Ramona Wadi.
Palestinian protesters in Ramallah on 26 June, 2021, demonstrating against human rights activist Nizar Banat's death at the hands of the Palestinian Authority. [Getty]

Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces violently disrupted Palestinian protests against the extrajudicial killing of an activist earlier this month, exhibiting a new level of authoritarianism that can no longer be ignored or excused.

On 24 June, Nizar Banat, human rights defender and political dissident, was beaten to death within two hours of being arrested by the PA's security services. According to recent reports, the PA is attempting to sweep Banat's death under the carpet by settling the matter out of court. 

So far, Banat's family has not received an official document stating the cause of death.

"We have failed to obtain a death certificate. How can you have a citizen who dies without issuing a death certificate?" Ghassan Banat, Nazir's brother, questioned.

PA cracking down on demonstrations

In the absence of much-needed answers, the PA's security services have been abusing and detaining demonstrators calling for justice and for PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to step down. Reports continue to emerge detailing the abuse of protesters at the hands of the PA's security services.

The demonstrations caught the world's attention, and for a brief period, the PA's reputation shifted from being lauded as a pragmatic partner for peace, to a repressive authority wielding violence. Though the link between the PA's violence and international funding is glaringly absent in much commentary.

The PA's response towards the Palestinian people was noticeably devoid of any attempt to act as a responsible state. Besides the contempt shown towards Banat's grieving family, the PA's Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh personally made calls to a detained demonstrator, offering what was seen as an empty apology.

"His apology is not accepted, because he promised accountability and we did not see any accountability," Ubai Aboudi, a Palestinian-American activist asserted

Some days later, with full knowledge that its last vestiges of "authority" may unravel at the hands of the Palestinian people, Fatah called for a rally in support of Abbas and his policies, against a backdrop of purported concern over the Israeli colonisation of Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah.

Unlike the demonstrations calling for Banat's murder, the Fatah rally would have gone unnoticed had it not been for the aggressive public relations spectacle orchestrated by the PA's official news agency, Wafa, in covering an event whose main purpose was to bestow legitimacy upon Abbas. According to PA propaganda, thousands of supporters attended, though the photos testify to the contrary.

Any remaining sliver of doubt regarding how genuine the rally was, was been dispelled by Wafa's statement: "The protesters also voiced support for the Palestinian security forces in their commitment to achieving the rule of law." 

Coming less than a month after Banat was murdered by the PA's security services, the statement is a blatant misrepresentation of the Palestinian people's reality.

Taken at face value, Fatah's rally simply reflects the PA's failed policies - all pursued in line with the two-state compromise and Israel's bid for de-facto colonisation of what remains of Palestinian territory. Yet the latest aggressive displays by the PA at demonstrations for Banat show a cornered leadership, one that is resorting to extreme aggression out of its desperation to cling on to power.

First, the PA cancelled the elections, claiming to protect the rights of Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem who Israel had banned from participating.

Furthermore, when Israel attacked the Palestinian protesters at Sheikh Jarrah, the PA was noticeably silent, in contrast to the rallying cry of Palestinians united across all of colonised Palestine.

Likewise, the PA waited out Israel's latest aerial bombardment of Gaza, only to be brought back into the narrative by international diplomats calling for the Fatah to play a more prominent role in Gaza, in a bid to oust Hamas.

Pro-Palestinian Authority rallies

The pro-Fatah protests in Ramallah praise Abbas, yet Abbas fails to represent the Palestinian people in their political claims. Functioning as an internationally-funded body to extend Israel's colonial violence in the occupied West Bank, the PA inspires no allegiances or unity between its leadership and the Palestinian people.

Unlike the protests against Banat's extrajudicial killing, the Fatah rally was not controlled by PA security services. 

There was, of course, no need for the PA's security services to showcase their brutality at an event orchestrated by their employers. Abbas is creating a double standard among Palestinians, pitting one group in favour of his corrupted authority, against the majority - like Banat - who reject the PA, and who would have welcomed the chance to vote out the existing illegitimate leadership.

In the PA's blinkered approach, there is no room for inclusive policies, rights, and unity. Palestinians are familiar with the exploitation of their cause by the PA, which has for decades sold out Palestine to Israel and the international community, in order to secure donor funding for a non-existent state-building process.

Security coordination has long been criticised by Palestinians as an apparatus of repression. As Abbas faces increasing opposition to his policies, it is likely he will unleash further violence and security coordination with Israel, in a bid to survive popular discontent. 

Calls for Abbas to leave, if heeded, threaten Israeli stability. Indeed, Israel is considering helping the PA regain political stability in light of the economic crisis it is facing, brought on by Israel's withholding of tax funds. With the PA at the helm, Israel is assured that Palestinian anti-colonial resistance will continue being repressed, and any prominent voices will be swiftly silenced, as tragically happened to Banat.

In Abbas's twisted version of unity, the only people spared his wrath are those responding to a call to rally in support of his leadership. Any Palestinians whose allegiances lie elsewhere would not be spared the aggression meted out by security forces. Israel's aggression and the PA's passive approach to colonial violence will continue, but Palestinians are charting a new narrative of unity, one based on a long, historical tradition of protest and anti-colonial struggle.

A leadership that sets its security services against its own population is inscribing its downfall. 

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law.

Have questions or comments? Email us at

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.

More in Opinion