Jenin: Palestinian Authority Crackdown on Anti-Negotiations Activists

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A Palestinian boys rides a bicycle near building materials on the street outside new houses which are part of a project funded by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in the southern Gaza Strip town of Rafah on November 21, 2013. (Photo: AFP - Said Khatib)

By: Ola al-Tamimi

Published Friday, November 29, 2013

In the West Bank’s Jenin refugee camp, the Palestinian Authority is conducting a security campaign. Its objective: apprehend activists and resistance members who oppose the US-brokered Palestinian negotiations with Israel.

Jenin – Since the resumption of negotiations between the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government in July, there have been several achievements: 17 Palestinian martyrs (three of whom died Tuesday at the hands of Israeli troops); 400 Palestinians detained by Israel; and 50 Palestinians detained by the Palestinian Authority.

Meanwhile, settlement activity continues unabated in Jerusalem and other West Bank cities without any regard for the promises made by the broker of the negotiations, the US administration, in order to get the Palestinian Authority to return to the negotiating table.

Expressing any opposition to the negotiations by the public or Palestinian political groups has become taboo. As a result, scores of people have been detained by the Palestinian Authority to ensure negotiations can continue smoothly.

Deferring to the Road Map

As a result of the changes taking place on the ground, the Fatah faction opposed to negotiations has put increasing pressure on Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. The meetings of the movement’s Central Committee saw some stormy discussions about the usefulness of the negotiations, as well as the powers entrusted to the negotiating team, which answers directly to the president alone, rendering it effectively immune to accountability.

This coincides with the radical transformations of resistance factions in the West Bank that have been taking place since 2005: Amnesty for wanted fugitives, assimilation of fighters into security agencies, and high salaries in return for laying down arms, were all sufficient to create a new balance of power tipped in favor of President Abbas within Fatah.

However, this situation did not emerge from a vacuum, and is in fact considered to be the essence of the “road map for peace” plan. In truth, without such measures, none of the plan’s provisions could be implemented.

Between 2002 and 2005, a new faction emerged within the Palestinian Authority that was more enthusiastic about fulfilling the dream of Israel’s generals to end the intifada and abolish armed resistance groups inside the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority. This was required by the “road map for peace” plan, which explicitly required the Palestinians to put an end to what it termed “violence and terrorism,” calling on Palestinian security agencies to combat any act of resistance against the Israelis.

Dismantling the infrastructure of resistance movements was a kind of temptation offered to Abbas to strengthen his authority. As time passed and the Palestinian security services failed to completely eliminate resistance infrastructure, especially in the refugee camps, the resistance became a real burden that had to be eliminated.

In 2009, this burden worsened when Abbas entered into talks with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on the border issue. An agreement was reached over deploying an international peacekeeping force on the border between Palestine and Israel, stipulating that the Palestinian state must be demilitarized, with the exception of arms necessary for a police force.

However, Olmert resigned before a final agreement could be reached over the borders. The government of Benjamin Netanyahu did not recognize the security agreement between Abbas and Olmert, and asked for the negotiations to restart from scratch.

The Refugee Camps: A Security Burden

Negotiations returned to square one, with the first round taking place between the two sides in occupied Jerusalem after a three-year freeze. Nevertheless, officials in Israel soon announced that they would step up construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.

On the Palestinian side, after receiving an aid package worth $4 billion meant to help the Palestinian Authority overcome its financial crisis, the stage had to be set politically for the resumption of the negotiations, with help from the US security team formed in 2005 to assist the Palestinian Authority rehabilitate its security agencies and dismantle the infrastructure of the resistance. Soon after, a security campaign began against anti-negotiations activists.

This was corroborated by the commander of al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades in Jenin, Zakaria al-Zubaidi, in a September 4 interview with the Israeli newspaper Maariv. Zubaidi told the newspaper that the Palestinian Authority was arresting members who openly opposed the negotiations.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Palestinian Legislative Council member Jamal Huwail said, “The Jenin camp will remain pro-resistance, and will defend itself against sustained violations and raids by the occupation.” Huwail also said, “The negotiations accompanied by continued breaches by the occupation cannot continue. The Palestinian Authority must discontinue negotiations.”

In turn, Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ahmad al-Mudallal told Al-Akhbar, “The Palestinian Authority and its security services are supplementing the Israeli occupation’s role in persecuting the resistance, in parallel with intensifying Judaization campaigns against Islamic and Christian holy sites in occupied Jerusalem.”

Mudallal held security services in the West Bank fully responsible for the lives of resistance fighters who are being pursued by the Palestinian Authority in Jenin. He then called on “resistance fighters in the Jenin camp to stand up to the crackdown, and try to prevent the security agencies from entering the homes of the resistance fighters and citizens in any way to arrest or liquidate them.”

Zubaidi, Huwail, and Mudallal’s remarks prove that the camp and the negotiations are moving along two paths that can never converge. But at the same time, one inevitably has to triumph over the other.

Indeed, the presence of anti-negotiations activists is something that will not please the US security team, and will not be conducive to imposing any political solution on the ground. This will no doubt prompt more pressure on the Palestinian Authority to eliminate this burden. In other words, things are on course to erupt and spiral out of control.

The Policy of the Status Quo

With Israel giving the green light to more than 20,000 new settlement units in Jerusalem and the West Bank, the Jewish state’s confiscation of hundreds of acres, and the displacement of dozens of Palestinian families, the crisis between the Palestinian and Israeli sides has reached new levels. At least, this is what the pro-Palestinian Authority media claimed, as the Palestinian negotiations team announced it would be resigning after taking part in 20 rounds of talks since July 2013.

In addition, there is strong opposition to the negotiations, both in Fatah and among the Palestinian public at large, something that the Palestinian security services have not been able to influence decisively. All that remains for Abbas is to maintain the status quo, which means continuing the negotiations even after the resignation of chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat.

The resignation of Palestinian negotiators will not lead to the negotiations’ collapse. To be sure, Abbas could issue a presidential decree appointing a new negotiating team that would continue to hold talks. Meanwhile, the crackdown would against anti-negotiations activists would continue, serving to forestall wider popular opposition that could evolve into a full-scale intifada.

The Palestinian Press Fuels Security Crackdown

When Jenin Governor Maj. Gen. Talal Dweikat announced the launch of the security campaign in the Jenin refugee camp to “eliminate lawlessness,” the Palestinian press quickly touted the crackdown as a “necessary evil.” For days, radio programs joined in the attempt to isolate resistance fighters and anti-negotiations activists, demonizing the latter as subversive elements who must be apprehended.

A poll conducted by the Jerusalem Center for Information and Communication showed that 50.5 percent of Palestinians believe that the Palestinian Authority’s decision to resume talks with Israel was “wrong.” The same poll showed that 68.7 percent of respondents believe that the negotiations would not reach an agreement with Israel, compared to 20.8 percent who believed they would.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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