Last week Abbas annouced that for the first time in years, there would be high level talks between the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, and this would take the form of vice Israeli prime minister Shaul Mofaz visiting the Mukata in Ramallah.
Shaul Mofaz has been to the Mukata before, when he was minister of defence during the 2nd Intifada, when the Israelis came to the Mukata by tanks but were not able to get inside.
Unsurprisingly, there was public opposition to Abbas’ invitation from Palestinian society, even from within his own party Fatah. There were protests planned last week to take place in Ramallah on Friday against the visit. However, by Friday, Abbas had already cancelled the visit. The protests took place anyway, with chants against Mofaz and people saying “how can we allow Mofaz to come here when he came here by tanks and killed 27 people”. But the chants didn’t make sense, since the visit had already been cancelled. This didn’t stop brutal repression by the PA, I saw myself a shirtless man draged on his back along the street into the police station. He was also roughed up, and stomped on by one of the undercover officers. This violence prompted another protest on Saturday that I didn’t see, this time against the police brutality, and which apparently involved more violence. But while the protestors are willing to oppose the PA’s brutality and Mofaz’ visit, it seems they are unwilling to take a harder line against Abbas – to oppose his security co-operation with the Israelis, oppose the statehood, even oppose the giving up of much of the territory East of the green line.
Instead, because Abbas cancelled the visit, he comes off looking like the democratic character in this ordeal – after all, he listened to the people! But what he really did was remove an opportunity for the people to rise up against him. As the statehood project continues, and as it becomes clear who benefits and who does not – and most importantly who is unwilling to abandon the Palestinian Revolution.
As the resentment in the camps increases, and as those Palestinians only provisionally willing to support the statehood bid, that is, on the condition that it improve things in the Westbank, begin to turn against the PA’s leader and political line, the proximity to the third intifada increases. Today, there was some decent coverage in Hareetz on the PA’s fear of the third intifada. Ironically, it relates the recent protests to resentment towards the PA from refugee camps – a logical link, although one which I believe doesn’t exist in practice (those who would have joined the protests from the camps stayed home once they found out that Mofaz’ visit was cancelled).
The current direction of things in the Westbank does point to conflict, even potentially to war – but not a war between the Israelis and the Palestinians, but rather between Palestinians and the Palestinian Authority.
That said, by cancelling Mofaz’s visit, Abbas has shown political skill in de-escalating a situation which could have lit things on fire. This will likely be the road he continues to take – symbolically deferring to his opposition, and trying not to allow a situation to escalate to the point of open conflict between the PA and the camps. But if he makes a mistake, it could be his last.