A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to return a tear gas canister thrown by Israeli forces during clashes following a demonstration near the fence along the border with Israel, east of Gaza City, on March 8, 2019. Image Credit: AFP

One thing is plain: The Palestinian National Authority (PNA), in tenure as leader of the Palestinian people under occupation — and by proxy, leader of those in exile — for close to three decades, has failed to achieve the goal it had been tasked with since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993: Statehood, freedom and independence for the long suffering people of Palestine.

On its watch, as PNA officials stood helplessly by, Palestinians were shorn of their rights like flocks of sheep. Yet, the group continues, as we speak, to act like the rightful representative of these people and the arbiter of their political destiny, oblivious of the fact that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, both under occupation and in exile, have long since wondered why on earth these folks are still leading their nation.

Looking beyond the confines of Palestinian circles, the entire matter may seem trivial alongside the geopolitical turmoil ravaging the Arab world today — from Algeria to Iraq, Syria to Yemen and Libya to Lebanon. But it hurts Palestinians to the core to have an immobilised leadership that knows not whether it’s coming or going.

Consider this: How much authority does the PNA wield when it is denied by occupation overlords — to whom it has committed itself to be answerable at every turn — not only the right to collect its own taxes, from its own citizens, but the right to determine how these taxes should and should not be disbursed?

The news story may have passed largely unnoticed amid that turmoil, but it is emblematic of the unimaginable low that PNA has reached.

The story? Earlier last month, Israel — which, as stipulated in the Protocol of Economic Relations in the Oslo Agreement, officially collects Palestinian taxes on behalf of the PNA — decided to cut 6 per cent of the tax revenue owed to the group, roughly equivalent to the amount handed out in welfare cheques to the families of Palestinian political prisoners languishing in Israeli jails, cheques without which these families would be destitute. The reason for the cuts by the occupying power? These Palestinian patriots are “terrorists” who should not be rewarded by allowing their families to have food on their tables and a roof over their heads.

Vindictive reasons

That was not the first time the Zionist entity in Palestine left the PNA vulnerable to these unilateral suspensions — suspensions the entity has clearly used in the past for political, punitive or just vindictive reasons, including the time Hamas and Fatah attempted to reconcile, and the time in 2008 when the then Palestinian prime minister Salem Fayyad lobbied the European Union (EU) not to upgrade the Israel-EU relationship.

Last week, a closed United Nations Security Council meeting was called jointly by Kuwait and Indonesia to discuss the issue of the latest cuts. The US had sent Jason Greenblatt, one of its big guns, to the council to explain why Washington objected to “the abhorrent practise of paying money to terrorists and their families”.

That this issue is even being debated is an outrage. That Israel collects Palestinians taxes and tells Palestinians where and how that should be spent is a degradation.

Beast of prey

But that a Palestinian could read that news story without cringing would be beyond belief. Not only would Palestinians, in this case, have been shorn of their rights like a flock of sheep, but stripped of their dignity. And one does not blame Israel here for its stance anymore than one blames the beast of prey for being a beast of prey. A colonial entity will surely behave like a colonial entity. One rather blames one’s own failed leadership for putting its people there — a leadership whose response to the challenge was to resort to overweening inanities, such as the one by a spokesman for the PNA, who declared that the “decision by Israel will have dangerous consequences”.

Sadly, what we have here in the Occupied Territories are leaders who have been unable to provide their people with a muscular leadership and strategic vision, as we equally have a crushed polity that is divided and dysfunctional, plagued by institutional decline, a crippled economy, factional feud, growing authoritarianism and, yes, lest we forget — corruption.

There is a limit to how much the people of Palestine can take from their leadership. These folks’ own fellow-Arabs, meanwhile, have already reached that stage. Strange times we live in!

Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.