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And Patrick Habis

The palestinian abandoned by their political and cultural elites.

Roger Heacock:
9 janvier 2009
On January 9th, 2009, Mahmud Abbas-Abu Mazen’s legal mandate as president of the Palestinian Authority comes to an end. He and his supporters have found a way to justify his continuation in office for another two years (after which it may be presumed that a new extension can be arranged). The fact of the matter is that, having greatly discredited himself on various occasions, most recently by declaring (through a spokesperson) that Hamas was to blame for the current all-out assault on the Palestinian people in Gaza, he cannot aspire to the type of charismatic legitimacy on which his predecessor, Yasir Arafat, based his decades-long tenure at the head of the PLO and then the PA. Of course he will not move over to make room for elections, there is too much for him and his acolytes to lose, once again. And of course the international community will see to it that he continues to benefit from their munificence and their recognition, for as long as he wishes, or at least, for as long as he appears to be of use to his Israeli, American and other sponsors.

The legality on which his upcoming self-anointment as successor to himself is posited is the same one on which he based his dismissal of the democratically appointed government in June 2007, and his passage of numerous constitution-altering decrees, namely the fact that a plurality of the Hamas legislators are languishing in Israeli prisons. This, rather than being considered unacceptable, and rather than becoming the first item on the negotiating agenda, has been very useful to the Palestinian president in carrying out his program, which consists mainly in remaining in his office, even as his acolytes remain in theirs, and in seeking the favors of the occupying forces and their government, as well as those of the American administration.

In fairness, the blame for this cynical and self-serving violation of the most elementary principles of governance cannot be blamed simply on Abu Mazen. Any number of unaffiliated and previously critical Palestinian intellectuals spent the past three years vilifying the members and supporters of Hamas and insisting, at every stage, that they had lost the right to rule which the voters had delegated to them, for one reason or another. First, because they did not recognize the primacy of the PLO ; then, because they were unable to come up with funds to operate the ministries ; and finally, because they had seized power in Gaza. Never for one minute did this turncoat Palestinian intelligentsia consider the fact that it was the Palestinian political class (by not reforming the PLO and making room in it for the emergent majority), the Israeli occupation (by besieging and imprisoning the Legislative Council) and its American guarantors (by choking off funding) that had caused these problems, and that on that basis, there should be stauncher support, not vehement criticism of Hamas.

This class, attracted by the flow of private and public funds from the world over, abandoned its critical stance at precisely the moment when it should have redoubled it. Its members too share an ominous responsibility for the state of affairs in which an illegitimate authority is unable, or rather unwilling, to fly to the support of that portion of its people and its leaders, who are suffering from the devastating assault launched on Gaza only two weeks before Abu Mazen’s and, not incidentally, George Bush’s presidential mandates come to an end.

More generally, prominent members of the Palestinian intelligentsia have adopted dominant Western-inspired Islamophobic paradigm, ceaselessly stigmatizing and demonizing those who won the municipal and legislative elections in 2005-2006 in the occupied territories and therefore, that marginalized and subaltern majority which elected them. In this way they have contributed to making it impossible to understand what, through these collective choices, the Palestinian people were calling for and where they (and, incidentally, most of the other peoples of the area) stand with regard to essential questions of identity, progress and peace.

As a result, and abandoned by their political and cultural elites, the time has come, once again, for the Palestinian people to navigate on their own, something to which they are accustomed. A vanishing Authority, an illegitimate president, an alienated elite and a disgruntled population constitute an explosive mix, but this is mitigated by the support that the people of the region, and I daresay, the world, continue to offer them. Can it be hoped that with the end of the current onslaught, it will be realized that Hamas cannot be wiped out and that rather starving the Palestinian people and bloodying them, one needs to negotiate with them in the quest for common ground ?