The Palestinian Authority: Silencing the Opposition

As the Palestinian Authority is about to launch direct talks with Israel in Washington, its Western-trained security forces are preparing to silence the voices of political opponents and critics.

The crackdown is seen as a blow to all those who were hoping that the Palestinian Authority, whose survival is dependent on American and European taxpayers' money, would be different from the rest of the Arab world's repressive and autocratic regimes.

While it's true that the Palestinian Authority has been successful over the past few years in improving the economy in the territories under its control in the West Bank [sic] — largely thanks to generous donations from the West and an easing of Israeli security measures — the Palestinians [sic] are nevertheless far from achieving democracy and a free media.

What happened in Ram'Allah this week should serve as an alarm bell to those who are pouring billions of dollars on this authority without insisting on real political and financial reforms, democracy and transparency.

Dozens of undercover [US-trained] Palestinian policemen and intelligence officers stormed a hall where political activists were preparing to hold a press conference to denounce the Palestinian Authority's decision to negotiate with Israel unconditionally.

Just as the press conference was about to begin, the intruders started shouting slogans in support of Mahmoud Abbas and his Fatah faction. Then they started beating and threatening participants, forcing the organizers to call off the conference.

When the organizers tried to launch an impromptu street march to protest against the assault and the US-sponsored peace talks, they were dispersed by force by another group of policemen under the pretext that they were part of an "illegal gathering."

Two cameramen working for the Ram'Allah-based private Al-Watan TV station were beaten by Palestinian intelligence officers who also confiscated their tapes.

Prominent Palestinian activists have strongly condemned the behavior of their security forces as a "black day for Palestinian freedom of expression" and "one of the worst political scandals."

Political analyst Abdel Majiud Swailem said that the incident showed that the Palestinians were still not prepared for democracy and pluralism. "When will we become mature and learn the ABC's of democratic life? How much time is needed before we feel comfortable that democracy has become a norm in our political life?"

By silencing its political opponents and critics, the Palestinian Authority is trying to create the false impression that it has the backing of a majority of its people to negotiate with Israel.

A government that sends policemen in plain clothes to disrupt a press conference and beat political activists and journalists is displaying signs of weakness, and not strength.

In the West Bank, the Palestinian government has fired thousands of civil servants because of their political affiliations. Local journalists and editors are under daily pressure and threats to "toe the line" and refrain from reporting on matters that might reflect negatively on the leaders in Ram'Allah.

In this regard, the Palestinian Authority is behaving exactly like the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. Both governments spend a lot of their time and energy in silencing the opposition and the "hostile" media.

Many Palestinians who had once been exposed to something of Israel's democracy and free media were hoping that the Palestinian Authority would create a regime similar to the one in Israel. The last thing they were yearning for was that they would end up with two autocratic regimes — one in the West Bank and the other in the Gaza Strip — like the ones in the Arab world.

[ Khaled Abu Toameh | Published: August 27, 2010 ]

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