The Palestinian leadership chooses captivity
On Tuesday evening, the Middle East Institute hosted the first part of a webinar series titled “The Future of Palestinian Politics under a Biden Administration.” Despite the lively debate between the leading Palestinian thinkers, it was clear within minutes what that future would look like.
As the opening remarks began, news broke that the Palestinian Authority had decided to resume civil and security coordination with Israel, which President Mahmoud Abbas had suspended in May in protest of Israel’s plans to annex parts of the occupied West Bank. Claiming they had received assurances that Israel would adhere to their agreements, the PA’s Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh hailed the move as “a victory for our Palestinian people.”
The irony was not lost on the webinar participants, who shook their heads in dismay as the news was shared. In tragic fashion, the Muqata’a had given evidence in real time to back the speakers’ criticisms of the Palestinian leadership. As Crisis Group analyst Tareq Baconi predicted, the PA’s relief over Joe Biden’s election win had “reignite[d] its misplaced faith in the U.S. to deliver statehood,” compelling it to return to the Oslo arrangements in order to curry favor with the new administration. That “outward-facing gesture,” Baconi noted, would likely come at the expense of efforts to unite the divided Palestinian factions — who were meeting in Cairo for further reconciliation talks that very same day.
As expected, Israel and its supporters have lauded the PA’s decision as a sober correction of a misguided policy. Even well-intentioned observers have welcomed it as a necessary tactic for survival and for easing the hardships on Palestinian families. Anyone tempted to echo this approval, however, should hold their applause. To put it crudely, what is being praised in this moment is the slave’s return to their master, believing that they can talk their way to freedom as they labor with a whip over their head. Despite the fanciful claim of “victory,” the only thing for Palestinians to negotiate is the conditions of their captivity.