Solving Gaza’s problems would reduce tensions in the West Bank

Palestinian national unity can be attained and peace with enemies can be reached but that requires rival factions to acknowledge mistakes.
Sunday 01/07/2018
Indispensable but elusive unity. A Palestinian woman holds a banner reading “Gaza unites us, lift the sanctions” as she takes part in a protest in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, on June 23. (AFP)
Indispensable but elusive unity. A Palestinian woman holds a banner reading “Gaza unites us, lift the sanctions” as she takes part in a protest in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah, on June 23. (AFP)

Scenes of Palestinian security members, many in plain clothes, cracking down on Palestinian protesters are not new but recent mass demonstrations calling for the lifting of sanctions on the Gaza Strip have tapped into a strong yearning for national unity.

Activists, human rights advocates and Fatah affiliates were attacked in the occupied West Bank city of Ramallah by Palestinian Authority (PA) security forces. Journalists’ cameras and protesters’ phones were thrown to the ground or confiscated.

That did not reduce the resolve of protesters who shouted slogans and raised banners in solidarity with Gaza, even as stun grenades and tear gas were used, in one of the most violent incidents in years against freedom of expression in the West Bank.

Activists on social media called for the demonstration under the Arabic language hashtag that translated to #LiftTheSanctions. Prominent figures shared recorded messages on Facebook accounts urging participation in the protests. Campaigners urged Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to lift punitive measures the PA imposed on Gaza.

The protests came after sanctions ordered by Abbas that included cutting the salaries of about 60,000 governmental civil servants more than 30% and the forced early retirement of nearly one-third of PA employees in Gaza. Many of the affected employees in Gaza are members of Fatah, Abbas’s own party.

The PA’s payments for electricity Israel supplies to Gaza have been halted, which exacerbated acute power shortages in the densely populated strip. The measures have worsened the dire humanitarian situation under Israel’s 12-year-old siege.

Approximately 40 activists were arrested and many others were injured. Rights groups and the Palestinian journalists’ syndicate condemned the violence. The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights issued a statement indicating that Palestinian law allows peaceful public gatherings and protests if written notice was presented. No permission is needed from local authorities.

Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organisation said talks about punitive sanctions on Gaza are a lie, suggesting that were merely administrative measures related to salaries. He said Hamas was responsible for not implementing unity deals in 2011 and 2017.

Ahmad said that for unity to be reached, Hamas must relinquish its power. That includes “overground” — border crossings, security apparatuses — and “underground” — the network of tunnels designed for arms smuggling and military purposes against Israel.

As the protest campaign gained momentum outside the Palestinian territories, activists staged sit-ins in front of the Palestinian Embassy in Lebanon and the Palestinian mission in the United Kingdom.

In Gaza, a separate protest by Fatah members and prisoners freed from Israeli jails called for the end to the internal Palestinian split but the protesters were attacked by unidentified assailants. Fatah said the attackers were Hamas supporters who infiltrated the crowds, a charge denied by Hamas.

Palestinians are unhappy with the PA’s security crackdowns and coordination with Israel but they also reject Hamas’s closed-minded approach that does not consider other parties or the national interest. The general feeling among Palestinians is that they have been taken hostage by their own leadership, whether in Gaza or the West Bank.

Every Palestinian agrees that Palestinian unity is a must to face the Israeli occupation and US pressure for the “Deal of the Century” proposed by the Trump administration.

The prolonged Palestinian disunity is an obstacle to any peaceful settlement between the Palestinians and Israelis. Numerous rounds of internal unity talks mediated by Arab and regional countries failed to end the divide. Lack of trust has been the main reason for not achieving reconciliation, observers said.

However, if Palestinians are to face the unilateral US deal that could be imposed, then the two main rival political factions must narrow their differences and end the power struggle that has cost the Palestinian people dearly.

Palestinian national unity can be attained and peace with enemies can be reached but that requires both sides to acknowledge mistakes, learn from them and — most importantly — put the interests of the Palestinian people above factional and personal considerations.

Lifting the punitive measures on Gaza would not only reduce the misery of people living there, it would reduce tensions in the West Bank.

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