Burned tires and dumpsters, barricades along the streets of Ramallah, bottles blackened by flames and stones scattered everywhere on the asphalt. Everything is closed for the general strike and the three days of national mourning. This scene, typical of the days of the Intifada against Israel, is more than just the result of the anger and dismay of thousands of Palestinians about the 500 dead at the Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza City.
This is the outcome of a protest such as we’ve seen before in the West Bank, against the Palestinian National Authority and its president Mahmoud Abbas. The protests are continuing; on Wednesday, in Ramallah, two Palestinian teenagers were killed at the hands of the Israeli army (adding up to 64 killed in the West Bank and Jerusalem since Saturday, October 7). But the most serious incident occurred in Jenin: during a crackdown on the protests, PNA police allegedly killed a 12-year-old girl, Razan Otba Hamdi Turkman. We spoke about these events with political analyst Hamada Jaber in Ramallah.
How should we read Tuesday night’s mass protests against the PNA? As a reaction to the Gaza tragedy or a sign of an uprising in the making against Mahmoud Abbas?
As a confirmation of what we’ve been observing for some time. The level of support for the PNA and its president has hit a low point. On Tuesday night, I saw scenes and heard words from ordinary people that showed the great distance that exists between the PNA leadership and the people. Protesters everywhere chanted slogans against Mahmoud Abbas and called for his immediate removal. In one video, a member of the PNA security forces announced that they’re leaving their post to join the resistance.
I’m not surprised; it was inevitable. Mahmoud Abbas has been silent for days in the face of the Israeli offensive against Gaza. In the past, in other politically sensitive situations, he would at least announce the interruption of security coordination with Israel. No Palestinian ever believed that such words would be followed by concrete actions; but they were a signal to the population. This time, there’s not even that, despite the killing of thousands of civilians in Gaza in air raids. And a few days ago, in a statement, Mahmoud Abbas put the blame on Hamas, defying the views of the majority of Palestinians on the Islamist movement, which is now at the height of its popularity. His words were first reported by the official Wafa news agency, but now they’ve been scrubbed.
Are we close to an open revolt against the PNA? Mahmoud Abbas seems to have feared such an eventuality on Tuesday when he was in Amman. He canceled his participation in the summit with Joe Biden organized by King Abdullah, returning immediately to Ramallah.
This is not easy to say. No organized party or movement has called for an uprising against the PNA so far. Neither has Hamas, which, as I said, has a large part of the Palestinians on its side right now. It could do so, but it risks facing a response from the PNA security forces, and perhaps Israel as well. In recent days, some 500 people believed to be close to the Islamic movement and other opposition forces have been arrested. At the moment, the people of the West Bank don’t have a unified organization to support an actual revolution. But the situation is very fluid.
Many different parties are convinced that the security forces remain the foundation of the PNA’s strength. Do you see fractures among those apparatuses?
On Wednesday night, the police and riot units took to the streets to contain and then suppress the protests, showing a unified front. However, if a call to insurrection comes from this or that political formation, no one can rule out that it might reverberate among the ranks of the security apparatuses. Especially if new massacres take place in Gaza, and the Israeli military occupies that territory. I think the PNA is faltering, but not about to fall.
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