By ALI JARBAWI
RAMALLAH, West Bank — These days, life appears to be going along as normal for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. Appearances can be deceptive, however. Prior to the 1987 intifada, too, things appeared to be normal — until they exploded, much to everyone’s surprise. But no one should be surprised if a new intifada erupts in the next few months. Many experts, even those within the Israeli security apparatus, like the former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, are predicting it.
We Palestinians are living through the worst situation in years. And, despite surface appearances of normal, mundane, routine everyday life under occupation, four significant factors have begun to interact that may disrupt the seemingly stable status quo.
The first, and most potent, is the collapse of any hope that the occupation will ever end and Palestinians will attain their freedom and independence. This hope had allowed Palestinians to endure the daily injustices of occupation in the expectation of a better future. It is this same hope that led them to support negotiations with Israel and the idea of a two-state solution.
Hope has always been correlated with the realities of the so-called peace process. When the latter seems promising, hope rises, and when the process stalls, so does the sense of hopefulness. The Palestinians’ strategic mistake was to think that conceding 78 percent of the land of historical Palestine in 1993 would be enough. It didn’t occur to them that Israel wanted to split this remaining land with them, leaving them with — in the best of cases — a state of leftovers.
Israel’s current conditions for a Palestinian state would shatter Palestinians’ basic demands for liberty and independence. The promised Palestinian state will be nothing but a shadow entity completely ruled by Israel. And the price that is being demanded for this state is so exorbitant that the Palestinian Authority cannot sell it, nor can the Palestinians accept it.
These pockets of land would be demilitarized, and Israel would have control over the borders, skies and natural resources. To get this, Palestinians must give up the right of return of diaspora Palestinians, and publicly declare that Israel is a Jewish state. This is a toxic cocktail perfectly mixed to produce a Palestinian uprising against the Israeli occupation, and the Authority as well — if the latter accepts these Israeli demands and yields to American pressure.
The second factor is the spike in Israeli violations of Palestinian rights throughout the Occupied Territories. Israel seems to want to pre-empt the results of the current, ongoing negotiations by fortifying its presence and entrenching the facts on the ground in its favor. For this reason, Israel is frantically Judaizing Jerusalem, including daily attempts to impose its presence in the Al Aqsa mosque, increasing settlement inside the city, destroying Palestinian homes, and transforming Palestinians into temporary residents of the city. Meanwhile, the pace of land confiscation and settlement in the West Bank has accelerated rapidly; all of this has been accompanied by an increase in violence, in murders and arrests of Palestinians, in night raids on Palestinian villages and towns by the Israeli Army, in the uprooting of trees and the burning of fields, and in restrictions on transportation and the strangulation of economic life.
In the meantime, Gaza has been transformed into a giant prison lacking the most basic amenities. The supply of electricity is lacking, rainwater mixed with sewage is flooding homes and the living standard is abysmal. To make things worse, President Obama has lately excluded Gazans from the forthcoming solution.
The third factor is the sorry state of the Authority’s economic and financial affairs, which is adding to the misery of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. The Authority is the Territories’ largest employer, and it is currently experiencing a major budget deficit. Authority employees are no longer assured of a regular monthly paycheck, which has led to an increase in anxiety across the society. Without salaries, the economy will grind to a halt.
The situation is made even more bleak because donors, both Arab and international, have decreased their financial support for the Authority; without this support, it cannot exist. In fact, the European Union, the Authority’s biggest source of funding, has begun to hint that it could cut off all of its funding if the political settlement process breaks down. This has added even more pressure on a leadership whose legitimacy is eroding quickly among the population.
The Authority’s financial insolvency is creating more problems for Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, especially the young. Jobs are scarce, and unemployment rates have skyrocketed among Palestinian youth. Even those with jobs are no longer assured of a regular paycheck, which makes it difficult for them to repay bank loans, which many rely on to meet the rising cost of living. This uncertainty has produced a new source of anger among an already frustrated population.
The final factor is the change and ferment that Palestinians see around them. The Arab Spring has sparked the sense of possibility among many young Palestinians. Young Arabs share their hopes and frustrations across social media networks; one of their recurring refrains is that Arab youth rose up against Arab leaders, so why should we not be able to rise up against a foreign occupier?
All of this has put Palestinians on edge. For now, the Authority’s calls to contain the anger seem to be working, but it won’t for much longer.
If nothing is done to quell the growing anxiety and rising hopelessness among Palestinians, it will only be a matter of time until the Occupied Territories explode.
Ali Jarbawi is a political scientist and a former minister of the Palestinian Authority. This article was translated by Ghenwa Hayek from the Arabic.