Palestinian nationalism is at its lowest point ever. According to members of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) the dream of an independent Palestinian state appears increasingly distant.
Divided leadership, with Hamas in the Gaza Strip and Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is largely to blame. Recently Palestinians commemorated their 70th “Catastrophe Day” (referencing the anniversary of the United Nations recognition of Israel). However, the real Palestinian catastrophe was the regression of their cause into dictatorship, corruption, violence, and extremism.
Last week Hamas organized masses of protesters-some armed with pipe bombs and grenades-to storm the border fences. To increase the crowd size, Hamas paid school children and released prisoners. Their stated goal was to protest the illegitimacy of Israel’s borders, but the real reason was to cover for their failure to govern Gaza properly. The region is overwhelmed by poverty, water and electricity shortages, and record high unemployment opportunities for its 1.8 million people. The terrorist organization has shown little interest in governance and instead devotes resources to staging these “protests.” It’s clear all blame for Gaza’s suffering should go to Hamas.
Unfortunately, things are not much better in the rest of the region. On April 30th Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a speech to the Palestine National Council (PNC), during which he blamed the “social behavior” of Jewish people for the Holocaust. Abbas is known for his history of making anti-semitic comments, but this most recent speech only reaffirms his administration’s lack of willingness to cooperate with the Israeli government. At this gathering, Abbas skipped any voting procedures and re-elected himself by applause. For all other legislative positions, the election depended purely on loyalty to Abbas. Government positions have grown quite competitive in recent years due to the poor conditions of the private sector and many higher up positions seem to go to the highest bidder. The apparent violation of democracy left many Palestinian observers in despair.
Corruption in the West Bank grows day-by-day. Judicial independence is limited. The leaders of civil liberty organizations face jail time for “challenging national unity.” The best-known public Palestinian research organization is on the verge of financial collapse. In 2015 Abbas closed down an NGO founded by former prime minister Salam Fayyad by seizing its funds and closing its bank accounts. Like Hamas in Gaza, the Palestinian Authority arrests and detains journalists who criticize its leaders. In one surprisingly blatant example of financial corruption, released documents showed that money was spent on non-existent entities such as salaries to employees of an airline company that no longer exists. The suspected recipients of the paychecks are Abbas loyalists.
The tension in the region couldn’t be higher; the vast array of responses from members of The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) on President Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran-nuclear deal reflects the GCC’s disunity. It may well be that the window for a sovereign Palestinian state closed in 2008. Certainly, there is no prospect of an early deal with Israel, and in Arab capitals, enthusiasm for the Palestinian cause is on a rapid decline.