CHECKMATE. Hundreds of Israeli checkpoints carve up the West Bank. Now the Palestinian Authority is taking over many of them along with other tasks of the occupation. PHOTO: MATTHEW CASSEL
RAMALLAH, OCCUPIED WEST BANK —
Before the recent Palestinian elections’ politicians like George Bush, Ariel Sharon and Tony Blair supported Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) saying he was the only candidate they would accept to head the Palestinian Authority (PA). They said he represented the best chance to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians, but few asked just how he would make peace. After months as president of the PA, Abu Mazen’s vision of peace is becoming clear.
OCCUPATION IN DISGUISE
Recently on the way into Ramallah, the taxi I was riding in neared a point on the road where Israeli soldiers often stop cars full of Palestinians on their way to work or school. As we rounded a corner to view the long, winding road, everyone in the taxi looked anxiously ahead and exhaled in relief when they saw no signs of a checkpoint in sight.
We continued a little further, and to our surprise there was an Israeli military jeep parked on the side of the road. Except something was strange – the young Israeli soldiers weren’t shouting at Palestinians and shooting into the air, but instead they were sitting on the hood of the jeep laughing with each other, relaxing as if someone else was doing their job for them. Less than a minute later we realized – someone else was.
It was a picture similar to an Israeli checkpoint: dozens of cars lined up, children’s heads popping out of windows trying to catch a glimpse of the reason they weren’t moving, and a group of soldiers with large guns stopping cars and checking IDs. But the soldiers here were not Israelis. This was a Palestinian Authority checkpoint.
This is Abu Mazen and the Palestinian Authority’s idea of making peace: while they become better friends with Israel and the United States getting more money and power, the PA takes over parts of the occupation. They have already developed special intelligence forces that share information with Israel, arrested many, been in armed clashes with Palestinians, set up checkpoints and assumed a variety of other roles from the Israeli Army.
While all of this is happening Israel can sit back and relax. International pressure against it will subside when the decades-old occupation appears to be ending, but in reality it will have only transformed itself.
HOW WAS ABBAS ELECTED?
It is simple. He wasn’t. Voting for the president of the PA was limited to those over the age of 18 living among the 3.8 million Palestinians in the Occupied Territories. From this number, Abu Mazen received roughly 28 percent of the votes. More importantly, those not eligible to vote included more than 6 million Palestinian refugees living in the Diaspora. Few of these refugees would support a candidate who doesn’t seem to care for securing their fundamental right of return.
But still 28 percent did check the box next to Mahmoud Abbas’s name; it’s important to know why. One Palestinian in the West Bank explained, “The people here in Palestine, we need the peace. We can’t live like this anymore, it’s gone on too long, we need to be able to live and feel some kind of freedom like everyone else, even if we know it’s not perfect. I don’t like Abu Mazen, but I think if there is ever going to be peace, then he is the best chance.”
Since the intifada began in September 2000, thousands of Palestinians have been killed, tens of thousands imprisoned and entire cities destroyed. Now they want to get back to their lives, and find work to support their families. As one man put it, “the people here just need a break.” Because of this – not Abu Mazen and the PA – the streets seem to be calming down.
Even during this relative calm, the Israeli occupation, with assistance from the PA, will still control all aspects of Palestinian life. Checkpoints will remain, restricting movement. Apartheid walls and Israeli-only roads will still divide the West Bank into isolated cantons. Borders and the Palestinian economy will remain controlled by Israel, overseeing all imports and exports. And even with the “pull-out” of 7,500 Israeli settlers from the Gaza Strip, giant cranes and construction crews will continue building in West Bank settlements, confiscating more and more Palestinian land.
Abu Mazen should not be seen as a chance for peace in the Middle East, but rather a puppet in the hands of Israel’s occupation. He is unable to do anything that reflects the will of the Palestinian people. If he tries, his power will be taken away in an instant. This is his predicament: if Israel doesn’t remove him, then the Palestinians will eventually submerge him in an uprising like what happened with Arafat in 2000. Whatever happens, Abu Mazen’s place is already irrelevant on the route to bringing justice to Palestine.