By ALEX KOLE
On June 24, a leading voice against the corruption and misrule of the Palestinian Authority (PA) was silenced after a raid by its security forces on the home of Nizar Banat resulted in his death.
Banat was well known and respected for his public criticism of corruption rampant among the Palestinian Authority’s leadership. His most recent condemnation of the PA targeted its cancellation of a shipment of COVID-19 vaccines from Israel, which it claimed were about to expire. A particularly acute target of Banat’s criticisms of the PA was the decision Abbas made in November 2020 to resume security arrangements with Israel after withdrawing from them in the wake of Netanyahu’s threat to annex Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
Although formerly a member of Fatah, Banat broke with the ruling party and has openly criticized its security arrangement with Israel. He intended to challenge Mahmoud Abbas as a presidential candidate on the Freedom and Dignity electoral list, but those elections were postponed indefinitely by Abbas in April.
Media accounts described the brutal treatment meted out to Banat after security forces entered his home. Not only did they douse his face with pepper spray as he slept, but they proceeded to beat him severely with iron and wooden batons, according to a report on the Middle East Eye website. He was whisked away in a military vehicle, where he later died.
There have been conflicting reports about Banat’s death issued by PA officials, such as the one by Hebron Governor, Jibreen al-Bakri, who claimed that Banat was taken to a government hospital after his detention, where he received medical treatment before he died. Bakri’s claim is undermined by reports from his family that they attempted to secure his whereabouts immediately after he was taken from his home, only to be told he was never taken to the security forces headquarters. Additionally, when the family reached the hospital where Banat had been pronounced dead, there was no body for them to view.
The Palestinian Authority’s security forces
Under Article VIII of the Oslo agreement, the Palestinian Authority, in order to “guarantee public order and internal security for the Palestinians of the West Band and Gaza Strip,” would establish a “strong police force.” In practice, this has been expressed through using repression to prevent popular resistance to Israeli occupation and also to ensure “terrorists” are not able to operate in the Palestinian territories to wage an armed resistance to occupation. The Palestinian Authority security forces have indeed become strong with generous support of Israel and the U.S., who have provided much of their equipment and training.
The Palestinian Authority has failed to fulfill its role in this regard. Angry Palestinians have taken to the streets to protest the PA’s assassination of Banat and to demand not only justice for his family but also to call for an end to Abbas’ 16-year rule. The PA security forces responded with violent repression. Police abuses were particularly egregious in Ramallah, the PA’s administrative center, where media reports describe severe beatings of demonstrators by plain-clothed security personnel in the employ of the PA.
A Guardian article cites testimony from the Palestinian journalists’ union describing the use of clubs, metal rods, tear gas and the sexual assault of female protesters. There have also been attacks on journalists covering the demonstrations. Journalists were threatened by security personnel from approaching the protests, and some have been beaten or had their equipment damaged, again according to a report in the Middle East Eye.
Popular resistance to Abbas grows
Banat’s death reveals a deep political rift that divides the Palestinian Authority, and its leading party, Fatah, from the Palestinian people and their aspirations for self-determination. At the center of this divide lies the fiction that Fatah maintains, which is that the process begun with the Oslo Accords of 1993 must be adhered to as the only viable road leading to liberation.
Fatah’s dominance of the Palestinian Authority, created in the Oslo Accords, has gone unchallenged since the legislative elections in 2006, from which emerged a resounding victory for Hamas but were later cancelled when Abbas quashed a Fatah-Hamas unity government in June of that year. No elections have been held since for the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC). Fatah has maintained control in the areas of the West Bank under PA control, and Gaza remains governed by Hamas.
Exacerbating matters further, in April of 2020, Abbas indefinitely postponed legislative elections, which have proven to be highly unpopular among the Palestinian people, especially in light of the PA’s corruption and ineffectual response to the latest round of Israeli police and military attacks on Palestinians in Jerusalem, Gaza, and Israel proper.
Both the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and Hamas have made public statements blaming the PA for Banat’s death. Hamas stated directly that the prime minister of the PLC, Mohammad Shatayyeh, is to blame. A recent opinion poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PSR) in early June, reveals that Fatah’s support among the Palestinian people living in the West Bank and Gaza has eroded considerably since its decision to postpone elections was compounded in May by the expulsion of Palestinians from their homes in Shaikh Jarrah and Israeli imposed restrictions on the access of Palestinian Muslims to al Aqsa Mosque during Ramadan.
The PSR poll reveals several indicators that point to not only a decline in support for Fatah and the Palestinian Authority but also a significant erosion in support for a negotiated end to the occupation as dictated by the Oslo process. The changes in Palestinian public opinion are driven by two main factors, according to PSR. Public perception has shifted dramatically over (1) the outcomes of the confrontations in East Jerusalem and the Israel-Hamas War, and (2) the decision of Abbas to postpone the legislative elections.
On the first point, Hamas emerged as the victor in its recent military conflict with Israel (77%), which many Palestinians believe was launched in retaliation to the attacks on Palestinians in Shaikh Jarrah and the al Aqsa Mosque (72%). Strikingly, 60% of those surveyed support a return to “armed confrontations and intifada” against Israel as opposed to resuming negotiations with Israel as the most effective means of ending the occupation.
Palestinians that participated in the poll also show support for their compatriots involved in direct confrontations with Israeli forces in the recent events. They view as “excellent” the performance of those Palestinians in East Jerusalem and Gaza, the Israeli Arabs, and Hamas, and 68% would support launching rockets at Israel should it again attempt to evict Palestinians living in Shaikh Jarrah.
On the latter point, 53% believe that Hamas, not Fatah, is the party most deserving of leading the Palestinian people, while a mere 14% believe that rightful leadership belongs to Fatah. Two-thirds of Palestinians believe that Abbas postponed the elections out of fear of their outcome, and 70% want the elections held soon despite Israel’s objections over East Jerusalem.
While only a snapshot of a moment in time, these polls reveal a crisis of legitimacy for the Palestinian Authority and the process to which it has wedded its political raison d’etre. The polling data also suggests a crisis in Palestinian leadership in the eyes of the people. For one thing, there are several small parties who have candidates running on their ballot lines, few among them—nine of the thirty-six—are projected to reach the threshold of 1.5% required to take seats in the PLC. Furthermore, before the events of May, Hamas was polling largely on par with Fatah on the legislative elections, and the pollsters point out that a surge in support for Hamas is the trend after violent confrontations with Israel, which often is corrected within three to six months.
While Socialist Resurgence does not put conditions on our support for Palestinian self-determination, we also argue that both Fatah and Hamas represent parties with a petty-bourgeois political outlook grounded in narrow nationalism and Islamism respectively. For decades, both parties have largely reacted to, rather than taken the lead of, the spontaneous intifadas waged by Palestinian youth and militants against Israeli occupation.
While Palestinians have lost a courageous voice that opposed the misleadership of Fatah and the PA, vindication for his death will ultimately be won through mass struggles of Palestinians against the occupation. What Palestinians need now is for a true revolutionary leadership to emerge from the ashes of Oslo and the petty conflicts between Fatah and Hamas. Only a revolutionary party, with deep roots among the intrepid masses, can lead the struggle for liberation for which the long-suffering Palestinian people are so desperately yearning.
Photo: Protesters hold photos of Nizar Banat during a march in Hebron on July 2. (Mosab Shawer / AFP / Getty Images)