A Palestinian dialogue of the deaf

We are treated to great discourse about democracy, consensus, strategy and necessity but it’s all part of the dialogue of the deaf.
Sunday 10/02/2019
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the Palestinian Peace and Freedom Forum in Ramallah, February 6. (AFP)
A dose of rhetoric. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks at the Palestinian Peace and Freedom Forum in Ramallah, February 6. (AFP)

Listening to discussions in the context of Palestinian affairs is very much like watching a dialogue of the deaf. Neither the language nor the content had any relation to reality, assuming of course that wasn’t the intended purpose.

Such is the nature of the dialogue between the two Palestinian authorities in Ramallah and in Gaza. They neither listen to themselves nor to each other.

We heard two statements, one read by the Palestinian Authority president at a news conference with his Austrian counterpart in Ramallah and the second by the Hamas leadership after meetings in Cairo.

In the first case, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: “Democracy is our way to restore stability and the unity of the land and the people, alleviate the suffering of our people in the Gaza Strip and support our people in Jerusalem.”

Here, Abbas is picturing himself as the champion of unadulterated democracy, fighting a noble and difficult battle. By what he says, democracy is his only means of restoring stability and the unity of the land and the people.

He overlooked the fact that, as he was speaking, measures that he had decided went into effect with dire consequences for social stability in the Palestinian territories.

Abbas decided to stop the salaries paid to more than 5,000 families, with just one decision that hasn’t been reviewed or approved by any political or judicial body. It was, as usual, just a personal decision by this great democratic man, an unjustified decision taken on the background of his many personal conflicts. Unfortunately, the man’s decision affects families that have nothing to do with disagreeing with his opinions and views.

In the other camp, as a high-level Hamas delegation engaged in discussions in Cairo, Hamas issued a statement that had nothing to offer the Palestinian people to alleviate their suffering, not even a glimmer of hope announcing the end of their ordeal.

The Hamas leadership could have started resolving insignificant points that do not require much effort but no. Neither Hamas officials nor their Egyptian counterparts were concerned with clearing the atmosphere between the Palestinian rivals and sweeping away the negative aspects to end the suffering of the Palestinians.

Instead, both sides focused on security relations and neglected to consider their social dimensions. Perhaps the best illustration of this neglect, and the least complicated one, are measures regarding transit to Gaza from the Egyptian territory. For their trip back to Gaza, Palestinian families in Egypt must assemble at 10pm at specific points in eastern Cairo to take buses to the ferry ports on the Suez Canal, which take them to the east side.

There, after a bus ride that requires an hour-and-a-half at the most, people pile up on the banks of the canal for about another 24 hours, waiting in cars and buses, with no services available to them. To avoid having to go to the toilet, because there are none available, women refrain from eating or drinking.

The following evening, Palestinians are allowed to cross to the other side and ride 200km to El Arish where they have to spend the night. The third day is devoted to the procedure of crossing at Rafah.

We are talking about negotiations that could have taken 2 minutes between any Palestinian delegation and the Egyptian side. These negotiations should have been the easiest to complete since there is no justification for making life miserable for Palestinian travellers. There was no justification for closing off the big bridge that travellers used to cross to the other side of the canal.

As far as we know, the terrorists have been defeated and, even if a small number of them remain at large, it doesn’t justify closing major strategic roads.

When you look at the distance covered and the time it takes for Palestinian travellers to cover that distance, it boggles the mind. It is as if the point was to avoid creating favourable conditions for constructive Palestinian-Egyptian relations and tightening the trap around terrorists.

It is possible to look at the non-significant talk from all parties from this angle: There is nothing to indicate any positive progress in the negotiations. They are a kind of dialogue of the deaf.

In the other Palestinian camp, there are those who talk about forming a Palestinian government within their context, as if the whole of the Palestinian people is devoid of any figures or forces, at home and abroad, qualified to be in the government, except those from the inner circle of the PA president.

We are treated to great discourse about democracy, consensus, strategy and necessity but it’s all part of the dialogue of the deaf.

There is repeated talk about the necessity of this thing and the necessity of that thing. It makes one wonder why the speakers do not ask themselves the elementary question of why they do not act on this necessity.

After talking about these necessities, they see no contradiction in saying that the eventual president of the new government must come from Fatah’s central committee because “one of the elements of confronting the current phase and its challenges is the existence of an election-related government.” Where is the logical connection here?

Furthermore, nobody can explain the usefulness of talking about “the need for a strategic vision among the factions of the Palestine Liberation Organisation to end the state of division,” when this need has existed in plain sight for decades and none of the rival parties acted on it.

It’s all useless and meaningless talk, serving only to waste time and obfuscate the real issues while the Palestinian reality deteriorates. Talk is cheap and is not about to cease, while people’s lives are being strangled out of them. In Palestinian affairs, dialogue of the deaf remains the master of the situation.