25 February 2013
By Pinhas Inbari
Over the past few days the West Bank has witnessed growing unrest and violence related to the hunger strike staged by four terrorist prisoners held in Israel. Two of the prisoners were previously released in the deal to free Gilad Shalit on condition of never returning to terrorist activities, a condition they had breached and therefore landed in prison again.
The unrest over the prisoners strike has been emboldened by the economic plight of the bankrupt Palestinian Authority (PA). The Arab states have lost interest in the PA. The Persian Gulf States and Saudi Arabia have not shown any signs of care for the Palestinians, while Qatar is actively supporting rival Hamas in Gaza. Egypt has been taken over by the Muslim Brotherhood and is embroiled in its own internal crisis that has overshadowed any rivalry between Hamas and Fatah.
The current cycle of violence may lead to another confrontation with Israel or result in the toppling of the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.
The organizing force behind the unrest in the West Bank are the Tanzim, who have, over the years, felt marginalized by the PLO leadership that originated in the Diaspora in contrast to the Tanzim’s local roots. The general unrest can be the perfect opportunity to challenge the leadership of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and the PLO old guard that came from Tunisia during the Oslo Accords.
Recently, Tanzim leader Marwan Barghouti gave interviews from his Israeli jail cell to the international media and strongly challenged Abbas’ leadership, stressing the fact that his term as president had expired along ago. "General elections took place more than 8 years ago and no new elections had taken place since. They are more than 4 years late now. The temporary constitution permits the president to stay in office for eight years only. As for the Palestinian Legislative Council, their election was supposed to be held two years ago. Hence, all the leadership institutions’ terms have expired and are not legal."
It is no coincidence that Abbas is not featured in the current struggle’s posters. The Tanzim no longer recognize him as Fatah’s leader. Barghouti stated that “Abu Mazen [Abbas] – his term as president is over according to the law. His program has failed and reached a dead end because of Israeli policies.”
Barghouti ignored President Abbas’ main achievement – the recognition of Palestine as non-member observer state at the UN, and instead described the Palestinian Authority as the platform to launch "the struggle" against Israel. In other words, while the demonstrations will officially be held as a sign of resistance against Israel, their real aim will be toppling Abbas and the entire generation of PLO founders from the Diaspora.
One can expect growing unrest on the eve of President Obama’s visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah. One of the goodwill gestures that Abbas is demanding of Israel is the release of prisoners. However, should Israel comply with his demand, the problem between the Tanzim and the Muqata'a could worsen.
Barghouti has expressed disappointment in the fact that the criteria set by Abbas for the prisoners' release skipped his own case. "I do not feel that President Abu Mazen is making enough required effort to free me. The proof is that I have been in the occupation’s prison for nearly 11 years now. It is his duty and responsibility that he try to free me and all the 5000 prisoners – men and women. More than half of them belong to the Fatah movement lead by Abu Mazen."
The 'Arab Spring' coined the popular slogan "The people want the collapse of the regime". Thus far, the Palestinian Authority had been able to avoid such a challenge to its legitimacy. With the intensifying prisoners’ struggle, it may not be able to avoid it anymore.
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