The Illusion of Palestinian Sovereignty

The West Bank’s division into 'territorial capsules' makes it hard for Palestinians to mass against Israeli aggression; instead, there are 'lone-wolf stabbers.'

PA President Mahmoud Abbas (5th from left in front) with ministers at the unity government's swearing-in ceremony, Ramallah, West Bank, June 2, 2014.
Reuters

Israeli military incursions into the West Bank’s Area A and even Area B – the districts where only Palestinians live and the Palestinian Authority operates – have one positive aspect. Yes, even when they include the destruction of radio stations or raids on hospitals. Despite all the shock and the denunciations, these raids are a lesson in reality. For a few hours, they destroy the illusion of Palestinian sovereignty. It’s a virtual sovereignty, fragmented and curtailed. Therefore, it’s an illusion – but an illusion that works.

Broadcasters in Hebron think they can tell their listeners where soldiers are located, as if they lived in an independent state. Palestinian Facebook users inhabit a virtual reality twice over: They see the real world in cyberspace and are convinced that it protects them from raids and arrests. Doctors treat people with bullet wounds and forget that the sovereign is the settlement defense forces, which don’t recognize the immunity of medical institutions.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas receives ambassadors with great pomp, but is dependent on exit permits from the army. And professors from abroad are shocked when Israeli security services raid the campus of Al-Quds University in Abu Dis; their political geography classes evidently ended in 1993. That is when Zionism achieved one of its greatest military and diplomatic successes.

Short of expelling every Palestinian or “causing them to flee,” this is the outcome most closely resembling transfer that was possible to achieve. The international political circumstances didn’t allow the territory to be emptied (again) of its Palestinian inhabitants. So reservations were set up (Areas A and B). They were supposed to be temporary, but meanwhile they’ve become permanent.

It’s not important for now whether this is exactly what Zionist leaders intended when they concocted the Oslo Accords’ interim agreements. The result is the same either way: Palestinian pseudo-sovereignty in territorial capsules, which is one of the main reasons why the current uprising hasn’t taken off.

The checkpoints that surround these enclaves block any mass demonstration that might, for instance, seek to march toward another water-sucking, land-swallowing settlement or a shepherds’ village that’s about to be demolished. But what’s most effective of all, from the standpoint of Israeli interests, is that people have gotten used to the illusion. Within these population enclosures, life is lived in a way that closely resembles normalcy.

In Tel Rumeida, the silence is blood-curdling. But beyond the concrete that isolates the neighborhood, one hears the enticing municipal clamor of Hebron. Cars honk, vendors in the market sell their wares, pedestrians chat. A multitude of seminars takes place in the hotels of cozy Jericho and Ramallah, while half an hour’s drive to the north, Israel’s Civil Administration is demolishing the houses of the tiny village of Hadidiyeh and the army is once again expelling 13 families from their tents in Khirbet Khumsa. Studies at An-Najah National University in Nablus take place as normal, but a few kilometers southward, settlers burst into the villages of Madama and Burin and sow fear.

Just how strong the delusion of sovereignty is can be seen in the way East Jerusalem residents, and even Palestinian citizens of Israel, often travel to these West Bank  enclaves and feel a sense of relief. In these enclosures, which are free of any army presence, they get a break from routine Israeli racism and vulgarity. This temporary feeling of rest and relief is only strengthened by the necessary return to Israel via an intimidating path of walls, barbed-wire fences, pointed rifles, threatening policemen and soldiers, and deluxe, verdant suburbs for Jews only.

The foreign ruler and his permanent aggression are divided into fractions and experienced differently in every Palestinian “territorial cell,” as they are called in army jargon. The more numerous, smaller and fragmented these territorial cells are, the harder it is for the Palestinians to develop a uniform response to Israeli aggression and violence.

That is how the phenomenon of the lone-wolf stabbers emerged – for lack of any other choice. This is a privatizing of the natural and general urge to rebel, a response to Israeli violence that breaks up into dozens of supposedly unconnected little incidents.

This privatization of the struggle is the opposite of an intifada, which is a mass uprising. But because it has become such a widespread phenomenon, it constitutes an internal message: that the normalcy of the enclaves isn’t normal.