Patrick O. Strickland - The immense demonstrations that swallowed the Israeli-occupied West Bank two weeks ago have temporarily subsided, but the calm is temporary. Rather than aiming all of their frustration at Israel, Palestinians of all stripes called for an end to the Western-backed, entirely undemocratic leadership of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad.
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I sat down with Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, at her Ramallah office. We shared a plate of “healthy stuff,” fresh fruits and vegetables — in contrast to the cigarette smoke-filled rooms of the Palestinian Authority’s headquarters, the Muqata — and discussed the PLO’s strategies for 2012.
1. You were in Cairo three weeks ago for Fatah-Hamas reconciliation talks. How are the unity talks being affected by the Quartet’s January 26 deadline?
Dr. Ashrawi: I don’t even think about it as a deadline, because I would hate to link our own internal domestic issues to what the Quartet says. Frankly speaking, the Quartet hasn’t been doing anything. It’s just all show and no substance; all talk and no action. And I don’t see why we should adopt their deadlines knowing that they’re not doing anything, and all they’re doing is asking us to negotiate. And they should know better because they are seeing what’s happening on the ground…. We don’t have anything against talks. But we have something against talks that are used for a pretext to provide Israel with cover — legal cover, protection, and time to destroy the two-state solution…. Now either they rectify the negotiations, the so-called process, or we look for something else.
So the UNESCO’s general conference has voted to admit Palestine as a member. The U.S. government has made good on its Congressionally-mandated commitment to withhold its dues payments to UNESCO. Israel has come up with a cute PR line (UNESCO is supposed to be about science, not science fiction), Europe is hopelessly split — oh, and the Palestinian territories are still occupied.
Nevertheless, there are a few signposts for what might be coming down the pike worth paying attention to after today’s vote:
While a growing number of influential voices here and in the region insist that the nearly 20-year, U.S.-sponsored “peace process” has reached its terminal phase, the administration of President Barack Obama remains committed to reviving direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).
“…[M]oving forward, we want to see progress on the peace talks,” State Department spokesman Mark Toner has emphasised repeatedly over the last two weeks, which have seen Washington’s special envoy David Hale shuttling between Jerusalem and Ramallah.
“We want to see the two parties, the Palestinians and the Israelis, get back into direct negotiations. And that’s where are our focus remains,” he said.
But there is little reason at this point to believe that Washington’s efforts will bear fruit.
It was announced this week that Fatah suffered heavy losses in the Nablus Chambers of Commerce and Industry elections, with the resounding win going to independents. Independent parties such as Nablus for All, which won 4 seats, and the Independent Party, which won 7 seats, garnered a total of 73 percent of the vote. I usually refrain from making a general conclusion based on a single event, but the recent elections in Nablus give me reason to pause. And it is not just about the elections; rather, my concern (if I may call it that) stems from what has been on the minds and lips of many pundits, Palestinians and commentators for what seems to be a very long time, that is, are we seeing the beginning of the end for Fatah?
I have spent nearly one year traveling back and forth from the West Bank and in my journeys I have engaged in countless discussions regarding various political issues, including the political longevity of Palestinian Prime Dr. Salam Fayyad, President Mahmoud Abbas and Fatah. I have spoken to Palestinians of all ages and socio-economic backgrounds and I must admit that I am no closer in answering whether we are going to see the unraveling of Fatah in the near future than when I was studying Palestinian politics in London.