Thursday, January 27, 2011

"Only Authentic Leaders Can Deliver a Middle East Peace" -- Seumas Milne


The PA was designed in the 1993 Oslo agreement to be a temporary administration for a five-year transition to statehood. Eighteen years later it has become an open-ended authoritarian quasi state, operating as an outsourced security arm of the Israeli occupation it was meant to replace, funded and effectively controlled by the US, Britain and other western governments.

Its leader's electoral mandate ran out two years ago, and the authority has become increasingly repressive, imprisoning and torturing both civilian and military activists from its rival, Hamas, which won the last Palestinian elections.

With the large bulk of its income coming from the US and the European Union, the PA's leaders are now far more accountable to their funders than to their own people. And, as the records of private dealings between US and PA officials show, it is the American government and its allies that now effectively pick the Palestinians' leaders.

The new administration expected to see "the same Palestinian faces" in charge if the cash was to keep flowing, PA officials were told after Obama's election: Mahmoud Abbas and, more importantly, the Americans' point man, Salam Fayyad.

And despite some less strident rhetoric, the US and British governments have continued to promote the division between Fatah and Hamas, in effect blocking reconciliation while pouring resources and training into the PA security machine's campaign against the Palestinian Islamist movement.

As we also now know, British intelligence and government officials have been at the heart of the western effort to turn the PA into an Iraqi-style counter-insurgency operation against Hamas and other groups that continue to maintain the option of armed resistance to occupation. Shielded from political accountability at home, how exactly does British covert support for detention without trial of Palestinians by other Palestinians promote the cause of peace and security in the Middle East, or anywhere else? In reality, it simply makes the chances of a representative Palestinian leadership that could actually deliver peace with justice even less likely.

The message from the revolutionary events in Tunisia and the spread of unrest elsewhere in the Arab world should be clear enough. Western support for dictatorial pro-western regimes across the region for fear of who their people might elect if given the chance isn't just wrong – it's no longer working, and risks provoking the very backlash it's aimed to forestall.

That applies even more strongly to the Palestinian territories, under military occupation for the past 44 years. Unless those governments that bolster Israeli rejectionism and PA clientalism shift ground, the result will be to fuel and spread the conflict.

For Palestinians, the priority has to be to start to change that lopsided balance of power. That will require a more representative and united national leadership, as the story told by the Palestine papers has rammed home – which means at the very least a democratic overhaul of Palestinian institutions, such as the PLO. In the wake of what has now emerged, pressure for change is bound to grow. Anyone who cares for the Palestinian cause must hope it succeeds.

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