Palestinian resistance in the West Bank is currently experiencing great difficulties, and there can be no expectation of an increase in armed resistance against Israeli occupation in the territory. The Palestinian Authority and the government in Ramallah have repeatedly rejected armed resistance, committed themselves to pursuing members of the resistance, and have activated security co-ordination with Israel as an obligation of the Quartet Road map.
While Fatah provides support and political cover for the Authority, the latter has begun dismantling or neutralising Fatah resistance cells. The members of other PLO factions suffer persecution by the Authority, and their limited resources and political conditions diminish their military capacity. Although Hamas and Islamic Jihad retain free political and military decision-making, the security measures applied by the Authority’s security apparatuses through security coordination with the occupation have made it difficult for these two movements to carry out effective resistance activity from within the West Bank.
Given the status Que in the West Bank, and the stalemate in negotiations, the Palestinian scene could witness a new commencement of resistance efforts if President Mahmoud Abbas resigns, frustration increases in the West Bank, the Authority collapses, or a Palestinian reconciliation programme which adopts resistance as an alternative to political settlement is realised.An analysis of the quest for a political resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian issue is a prerequisite for discussing the prospects for resistance in the West Bank. Such an analysis should consider a number of levels.
First: The president of the Authority
President Mahmoud Abbas has declared a strategic position which rejects resistance, and regards the Intifada as having caused intense and significant damage to the Palestinian people and their cause. He is, thus, bent on the option of negotiations, and only negotiations.
Second: The Ramallah government
Prime Minister Salam Fayyad repeatedly stresses his commitment to the Quartet’s Road map and its political and security requirements, including a crackdown on Palestinian armed resistance, and security co-operation with the Israelis. He also stresses his plan to declare a Palestinian state within a period of two years, one year of which has already elapsed. Fayyad’s plan is contingent upon two factors: 1) the rehabilitation of Palestinian ministries and agencies, and 2) the implementation of a development programme focusing on infrastructural projects, paving the way for the declaration of a state.
This rehabilitation plan is being carried out under Israeli occupation, and its imposition of facts on the ground, most notably the more than six hundred security checkpoints, the West Bank settlements, the bypass roads for Israelis, the Separation Wall, the intensive programmes to Judaise Jerusalem, and Israeli administrative and security control of most of the West Bank (what is known as Area C in terms of the Oslo Accords).
For that reason, the preparation for such a Palestinian state is being carried out on the basis of strategic co-operation with Israel. This situation may lead to the acceptance of the risky Economic Peace Plan proposed by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. It goes without saying that this Economic Peace Plan is a political solution which runs counter to the principle of resistance to occupation.
Third: The Fatah movement
It must be clear that the Fatah referred to here is the Fatah of the West Bank. Fatah currently suffers inertia and fragmentation, and adopts, in theory, the slogan that the Palestinian people have the right to exercise all forms of struggle, including armed struggle. In practice, however, Fatah supports only peaceful struggle (demonstrations and protests), but plays no active or leading role even in this form of struggle. Hence, it can be said that Fatah in the West Bank is not part of the movement of armed resistance to occupation, and is unable in its current form to contribute to resistance of this kind.
Fourth: The militant factions
Militant factions based in the West Bank are experiencing a strange situation because they are extensions to Palestinian factions based abroad, specifically in Damascus, either as offshoots or as breakaways. The past several years have witnessed the phenomenon of differing positions within these factions between the branches based in Damascus and the ones based in the West Bank.
Those in Damascus may criticise the Palestinian Authority (PA) and emphasise the idea of resistance, whereas those in the West Bank do not go beyond the general framework imposed by the Authority, and sometimes even provide it with political cover, particularly with regards to the Authority’s position on negotiations.
This discrepancy has its roots in the issue of funding, since the financing of these factions comes from Mahmoud Abbas in his capacity as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) which, since the Arab Summit of 1979 – after the signing of the Camp David Accords, has been responsible for the financing of militant factions, using money which, at the time of the Summit, Arab states had pledged for ten years (an amount of 50 million US dollars annually).
When the Arab pledge expired, the PLO leadership (in the form of PLO President Yasir ‘Arafat) got these countries to maintain their funding commitments. As a result, the branches of these militant organisations based in the West Bank or the Gaza Strip find themselves obliged to follow Abbas’ policies for fear of losing funding, whereas external branches are sometimes inclined to different positions.
This funding was initially Arab, but is now largely dependent on other donor countries. Even President Abbas does not have in his possession money earmarked for the PLO or Fatah, and, when he is in need of money, he requests it from PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad
It is difficult for Palestinian factions, under these circumstances, to break with the political administration of Abbas and with the Fayyad government, especially for fear of a security crackdown against them.
Fifth: The Palestine Liberation Organisation
In reality, the PLO no longer exists as an institution. Historically, it represented the political leadership of the Palestinian people, but it is now an institution devoid of content. Its official legislative body, the Palestinian National Council (PNC), has not met in almost twenty years. Nothing is left of the PLO but an executive committee which has been unable to form a quorum, and thus, in August 2009, had new committees members selected – contrary to its rules of procedure which stipulate that members be selected in a formal session of the PNC. Instead, an emergency rule was adopted which called for meetings and the appointment of members. Since the Oslo conference, the PLO’s executive committee has played only a marginal role, meeting only when the president of the Authority wishes to issue a new decision endorsed by the PLO.
An exception to this trend was a recent position adopted by some PLO factions when they differed with Abbas on the issue of direct negotiations with Israel. The executive committee, nevertheless, did convene and made the decision to participate in the negotiations, with the agreement of five out of nine members who attended the meeting. This, despite the fact that there are eighteen members on the committee. This was further evidence of the weakness of the organisation’s image, prestige and power in relation to that of the Authority and its presidency.
Not only this, but other institutions of the PLO have been dismantled, linking some of them (such as the PNC) to the Palestinian Authority and the Ministry of Finance in particular. Additionally, the PLO’s Political Department plays the role of appointing ambassadors for the Authority, implying that the PLO is not independent from the Authority. As a result, the PLO is no longer an institution that is competent to make Palestinian political decisions, and is, consequently, unable to play a role in developing a new policy of resistance against occupation, even after the negotiations have proven to have been futile, as admitted by the negotiating parties themselves.
Sixth: The Authority’s security apparatuses
The United States of America, which adopted the Road map during the presidency of George W. Bush, appointed an official representative, General Keith Dayton, to design the strategic relationship between Israel and the Palestinians. Dayton, with the consent of both Israel and the PA, developed a plan to build a new Palestinian security apparatus made up of young men – from eighteen to twenty-five years of age – who have not lived the experience of armed resistance to the occupation, and he pledged to train them in line with a new political project in terms of which they would form a pliant security tool that could eliminate Palestinian military activities on the pretext of maintaining security and protecting the Authority. In order to shape a new personality for these security operatives, they were provided with a national motto to relieve their conscience.
They were taught that the Palestinian Intifada had sown chaos and insecurity, and had thwarted the opportunity to build a Palestinian state. Hence, they were told, their mission was to impose order and security, and to eliminate “troublemakers” so as to build the envisaged Palestinian state. Such a mandate explains the aggressiveness of this security apparatus in operations of arrest, interrogation and torture.
This policy was accompanied by a broad process designed to eliminate or marginalise the resistance generation, or anyone who lived through the resistance era. This was to be accomplished either by working with the factions, or, in the field, by getting activists to renounce resistance in exchange for an Israeli guarantee of non-prosecution, and, for those over sixty years of age, by organising for them a transition to retirement by their redeployment in old ministries, departments and security apparatuses without appointing replacements for them except in frameworks restructured according to the Dayton plan. In addition, a retirement plan is applied within broader and more comprehensive regulations which become applicable at age forty-five, when a person might be enticed with offers of a higher rank and a higher salary if they agree to early retirement.
The relegation of the resistance generation to the margins of the struggle, of political and even professional life, and the building of new security and administrative bodies in line with General Dayton’s project have, in effect, imposed a new Palestinian policy concerning the functions of the presidency, the ministries and the Authority in general, and then created a permanent and ordered repression regime challenging all those who reject this new policy.
In terms of this new policy, security co-operation between the Palestinian Authority and Israeli security forces was established. Its main elements included the exchange of information, the joint carrying out of repression, and mutual early notification of anti-occupation activity. The Authority notifies Israel of such activity and requests it to make arrests, and Israel notifies the Authority in the same manner.
Among the first victims of the Dayton security apparatus was the resistance faction within Fatah, which was completely liquidated. Thereafter, work began to exercise control over the Gaza Strip, but this attempt failed. The focus then shifted to the resistance forces operating in the West Bank.
Contrary to the condition of other militant factions, especially those under the PLO umbrella, the Hamas movement has its own financial resources, which renders its political and military decisions more independent from the Authority’s commitments and policies. Hence, and despite the fact that the Fayyad government had arrested thousands of Hamas leaders and cadres, the assassination of resistance fighters belonging to Hamas’ Al-Qassam Brigades, thousands of search operations, and the dismantling of the Hamas military wing’s infrastructure in the West Bank, several of the movement’s leaders and spokespersons still reiterate their rejection of the Authority’s policies and their denunciation of the practices of its security apparatuses, and threaten the occupation army with retaliation.
The Al-Qassam Brigades carried out only a few military operations over the past five years (since the cessation of the Al-Aqsa intifada), indicating the difficulty of carrying out resistance in the current circumstances.
It is difficult to predict the Authority’s ability to continue to prevent armed resistance, particularly after negotiations have been suspended, there is a stalemate in the process of reaching a settlement, there is rising popular anger towards violations by the Authority’s security forces, and the enemy’s aggression on sacred sites, land and property intensifies. The demise of the notion of protecting the occupation’s security is a prelude to the establishment of a Palestinian state.
What Hamas suffers of occupation, hardship and security harassment applies to the Islamic Jihad movement as well.
In summary, it might be said that it is inconceivable that resistance against the occupation will emanate from within the security apparatuses or power centres currently existing in the West Bank.
We now face a strange and unique situation which is unprecedented in the history of revolutions: namely, that the current extension of the Palestinian revolution has resulted in the adoption of security policies intended to prevent resistance, on the pretext of a commitment to a peaceful settlement. Furthermore, these policies are largely dependent, financially and politically, on the support of the US and other donor countries which publicly seek to destroy the Palestinian revolution and change its structure and objectives. It is inconceivable that these donor countries will agree to finance bodies and organisations that work against the Israeli occupation.
One of the challenges facing the Palestinian internal situation in the West Bank is the fact that it is infiltrated by a number of influential forces which are located within the Ramallah government, the PLO’s Executive Committee, the Fatah movement, and the security apparatuses, and all of which are prepared to remove Abbas or any other persons if they seek to follow the example of President Arafat, who resorted to supporting the armed intifada after he was frustrated by the negotiating process. These influential forces desire to see negotiations through to the end, and will, most likely, ultimately accept whatever Israel offers.
Probable scenarios for the future
1. President Mahmoud Abbas will reject Israeli and American proposals for a peace settlement, and will express his rejection by tendering his resignation and returning home (as he repeatedly threatens). We must pause and consider the possibility of who might replace him.
2. Abu Mazen will succumb to pressure and sign an American-Israeli formulated agreement, which could be a framework agreement to be implemented over ten years.
3. Abu Mazen will dismantle the Palestinian Authority, which will entail the consideration of several points and taking appropriate action regarding them. These issues include: the Oslo agreement, the Israel-PLO letters of recognition, and the amendment of the Palestinian National Charter.
4. The emergence of a new Arab position which breaks from the so-called peace strategy to begin a new stage of political and economic pressure on the US and the west in the hope of obtaining a new approach from them towards the Israeli occupation. It is worth noting, however, that such an approach could open the door, in the long run, for a possible new Arab-Israeli military confrontation.
5. Increased efforts towards reordering the Palestinian house and creating a new referential political leadership for the Palestinian people. For many years the PLO, in its charter and strategy, represented this leadership. However, this leadership was dissolved as a result of a scheme to marginalise and dismantle it, leading – more recently – to the emergence of a call for the reformation and reconstruction of the PLO. This request could be realised in one of two ways: 1) a consensus understanding on and acceptance for the reconstruction of the PLO, or, if that is not possible, 2) the rebuilding of the PLO with the consent of a few parties only.
6. The evolution of Palestinian resistance from within the West Bank, given the sense of frustration and the stalemate in the negotiations project. The seeds for such a new resistance are being witnessed now, despite the gravity of the scheme whose elements are highlighted above.
1. The rehabilitation of the resistance option on the national level, and a cessation of the Authority’s labelling of the fighters as “terrorists” and the resistance as “violence.”
2. The Ramallah government should repeal measures to ban and pursue the resistance, should refrain from damaging the infrastructure of resistance, and should abandon the security co-ordination programme which harms both the resistance and national unity.
3. The various PLO factions should refuse to comply with the Authority’s political and security conditions, compliance which it demands in exchange for designated financial support, and should strive to reorder the internal Palestinian situation. Among the practical steps which should be taken are:
a. These factions announcing a withdrawal from the PLO’s Executive Committee, or, at least, freezing their membership in it so as to imperil the legitimacy of its leadership and its decisions; and
b. Their engagement in a process to reform the PLO and activate it on the basis of the Cairo Declaration of 2005.
Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Bilal al-Hassan for authoring the original text on which this Strategic Assessment was based.
Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, Beirut 23/11/2010
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