Throw the Palestinian Beggars a Bone

Eran Wolkowski

Anyone who has been following the reports from the Palestinian arena over the past few weeks can identify one common element: Both the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, in the form of the Palestinian Authority, and the Hamas government in the Gaza Strip have turned into needy beggars who expect the entire world to come to their aid.

The factions may still be using the same rhetoric – citing the “commitment of the international community, Arab nations and the United Nations to the Palestinians" and emphasizing the lack of "a diplomatic solution and effective pressure on Israel to end the occupation" – but in practice, they've become paupers.

Since its founding, the Palestinian national movement has been dependent on economic and logistical aid. As the umbrella organization of the Palestinians, the Palestine Liberation Organization has known how to apply the necessary pressure on countries to get that aid. The PLO has also been forced to show strategic and ideological flexibility to overcome economic pressures.

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A Palestinian man displays a 100 dollar bill, part of $480 million in Qatari aid, Gaza City, May 13, 2019.

The best example is the economic blockade imposed on the organization after the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. This pressure brought Yasser Arafat and the Palestinians to the Madrid Conference in 1991, and some say to the Oslo Accords as well.

But in the past, the Palestinian leadership conducted their direct and indirect negotiations with Israel, the United States and the European Union on a single principle: A two-state solution along the 1967 lines, and even set clear, strategic policy demands.

Today, too, such statements can be heard in almost every response from the office of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and other senior PA officials, while Hamas speaks high and mighty about liberation of Palestinian lands from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. But in practice, the two leaderships have accepted the fact that the only thing left to do is bargain over money in return for quiet. After all, the goal of those paying is not to strengthen the Palestinian national institutions or to allow it to build new ones. At most, they want to keep the PA from disintegrating – something that would damage the security coordination with Israel – and prevent a violent outbreak in Gaza by handing out money in the form of $100 bills.

Palestinians line up outside the post office to receive Qatari cash aid, Gaza City, May 13, 2019.

It is clear to both sides that these grants cannot change the reality. They can only preserve the status quo, where the Palestinian people live on charity and handouts of rice and potatoes – with a piece of meat thrown in once in a while for some variety. They can only continue to dream of a state and self-determination.

This understanding is the inspiration for the economic peace plan formulated by U.S. President Donald Trump, which is set to be released next month. The plan’s broker, Jared Kushner, talks about generous economic aid to the Palestinians, not about building national institutions. The White House announcement on the economic workshop to be held in Bahrain next month only strengthens this view. The Palestinian leadership may have come out against the conference, calling it a stab in the back, but its actions promote the view that the Palestinians need bread and not a state.

There is no argument that the international community, headed by the United States, shares the blame. It chose a strategy of managing the conflict instead of ending the occupation. But the two Palestinian leaderships, in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, cannot avoid their responsibility. They had best pull themselves together and return to a sensible path that leads to reconciling the rifts between them and formulating a unified strategy to meet the challenges facing them.

The time has come to act as a true leadership, not as beggars, and affirm Yasser Arafat's famous statement that the Palestinian people are a "people of heroes" – and not a people of paupers.