US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, shake hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, in Amman, Jordan, Oct. 13, 2023.

The Palestinian political system needs to be rebuilt on ‘national consensus,’ says political activist

The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank is, which is the larger of the two Palestinian territories, is backed by the international community and the US. But the PA has lost much of its sway in Gaza. To explore where the PA and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fit into the larger picture, The World’s host Marco Werman speaks with Nour Odeh, a Palestinian political activist, researcher and author based in Ramallah.

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US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, on Tuesday, tried to make the case to a Senate committee for more aid to Israel and Ukraine. 

His address was repeatedly interrupted by proteseters calling for an end to Israeli bombing in Gaza. But later in his remarks, Blinken talked about a possible revitalized Palestinian Authority retaking control of the Gaza Strip after Israel topples Hamas.

The West Bank is the larger of the two Palestinian territories. The Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank is backed by the international community and the US. But after Hamas violently took over the Gaza Strip in 2007, the PA is not had much sway there. To explore where the PA and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas fit into the larger picture, The World’s host Marco Werman spoke with Nour Odeh. She’s a Palestinian political activist, researcher and author based in Ramallah in the West Bank.

Marco Werman: What is your initial reaction to Antony Blinken’s suggestion that a revitalized Palestinian Authority could take over in Gaza if Israel succeeds in toppling Hamas?
Nour Odeh: Well, I’ve been generally quite frustrated and dismayed by Antony Blinken’s statements throughout this crisis and by the oversimplistic policy, really, and line that the Biden administration has taken.
Why is getting the authority for the Palestinian people, the Palestinian Authority, to take over in Gaza? Why do you see that as a simplistic solution?
No, I see the rhetoric of finishing off Hamas, of eliminating Hamas oversimplistic. This is a group that was founded in [1987], and it’s a political group as much as it has an armed wing and it doesn’t only exist in Gaza. So, it’s not as simple as, “Okay, let’s completely decimate the Gaza Strip in the name of fighting Hamas. Let’s kill off a few leaders and then we’ll bring in the PA off the back of an Israeli tank and tell them, ‘Here, take over this disaster zone, rebuild it with some foreign money and everything will be okay.'” That’s, again, oversimplistic and it will not achieve the stated desired outcome.
How far apart, in fact, just politically, are these two groups, Hamas in Gaza and the PA under President Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, in terms of what they want for Palestinians?
There are serious political differences and ideological differences. The PA is not one group. The PA represents a Palestinian political spectrum of mostly secular Palestinian factions that have adopted the ultimate goal of realizing sovereignty over a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, including East Jerusalem. Hamas, at one point, also tried to adopt the same line, believe it or not. Then, it was shunned way. Nobody really wanted to give it a chance to normalize or get into the political process. Palestinians, by and large, despite the political divide between their factions, are not divided. They might disagree on their politics, you might have people who are more left leaning, more progressive, more secular and others who are more conservative. But overall, there is a Palestinian consensus about the need to end Israel’s rule over their life, Israel’s control over their territory and to see sovereignty and freedom realized.
Nour Odeh, what role can the Palestinian Authority play now in this conflict, if any?
Well, look, I think when the dust settles, what needs to happen is that the Palestinian Authority needs to have a moment of reflection, domestic reflection. The whole political setup needs to be reconstituted in a way that unites everybody, that is inclusive, that is representative and that is built on national consensus and not on international or American priorities.
But right now, Nour, in this moment, do Palestinians in the West Bank, do they want their government to do something about this war, to take a stand or broker a peace agreement, anything?
Absolutely. They expect the government to do everything it can and more to end this war, to bring about a ceasefire, to provide their fellow Palestinians with all the assistance that they need. Again, this is one family. We are a small nation, and every family that suffers loss in Gaza has relatives here or friends and loved ones here. So, the pain, the sense of grief is not confined to Gaza and the expectation that the Palestinian Authority would be engaged as it is to bring about an end to this war is very high. And they will continue to feel that not enough is done until the bombs stop falling on homes in Gaza.
But so far, the PA government hasn’t really done anything, has it?
Well, the limited space in which it can maneuver, which is the diplomatic space, the PA has worked with other countries at the United Nations, they were the driving force behind the General Assembly resolution adopted by 120 countries to calling for a ceasefire, they’ve been in talks also with the Security Council members, including the US, to come up with an acceptable resolution that can be enforced, you know, there have been other diplomatic efforts. But again, it seems almost like an impossible task when you have countries with such influence, like the US, who have apparently made the decision that this war will go on as long as Israel decides, no matter the cost.
But why does the Palestinian public have such little confidence in PA leadership under Mahmoud Abbas?
Because there haven’t been any elections and because the Palestinian political system, in its attempt to maintain Western support, has been pushed into adopting extremely unpopular policies. Those policies include cooperating with the occupier, when that is seen as something that is very humiliating and very counterproductive. I don’t want to put all the blame on the outside world, but certainly as an observer, as somebody who’s seen this unfold since 2006, I can tell you without hesitation that a big component of the continued rift in Palestinian politics has been international intervention and this drive to, kind of, call the shots. We need to have a unified political system where everybody is included, where all voices are heard and equally respected, and where everybody is accountable to the Palestinian voter and nobody else.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.

Related: A timeline of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

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