Palestinian leaders struggle to mobilize street against annexation plans

Protests against prospective Israeli move draw muted crowds, with Palestinians voicing apathy, distrust in PA leadership amid a host of other crises to deal with

Palestinians demonstrate in front of the EU offices in East Jerusalem during a demonstration demanding the EU intervene against Israel's plans to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, on June 22, 2020. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)
Palestinians demonstrate in front of the EU offices in East Jerusalem during a demonstration demanding the EU intervene against Israel's plans to annex West Bank settlements and the Jordan Valley, on June 22, 2020. (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

RAMALLAH, West Bank ( AFP) — With loudspeakers mounted, Palestinian flags unfurled and civil servants allowed off work, everything appeared set for a large protest in Ramallah against Israel’s annexation plans in the West Bank.

But only 200 people turned up for the June 8 demonstration, in a sign of the struggles the Palestinian Authority has faced generating outrage on the street against the prospective Israeli moves.

International condemnation of possible Israeli annexations has mounted ahead of July 1, when the Jewish state could take its first steps toward implementing part of a US-proposed Middle East peace plan.

US President Donald Trump’s proposals, rejected outright by the Palestinians, pave the way for annexing key parts of the West Bank, including settlements long considered illegal by the majority of the international community.

In this file photo taken on June 8, 2020 Palestinian demonstrators take part in a demonstration against police brutality and in support of US protesters over the death George Floyd (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

But on the Palestinian street, mobilization against looming Israeli actions has been muted.

“There is fatigue,” Palestinian analyst Nour Odeh told AFP.

“Fatigue from the usual — to stand in Ramallah and wait for the cameras to show how angry we are,” she added.

“You’re talking to yourself, and then what?”

There was a substantially larger rally in the West Bank city of Jericho on Monday, where crowds sang in unison and hoisted banners declaring “Palestine is not for sale,” in condemnation of the Trump plan.

The crowd of several thousand was brought to the protest site on buses chartered by the event organizers — the Palestine Liberation Organization and PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party — but many left even before the speeches began.

Odeh said the malaise was driven in part by frustration with Palestinian leaders who “promised to deliver peace through negotiation, (but) they failed.”

The 1993 Oslo peace accords were designed to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and establish the scope of Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank.

But nearly three decades on, doubts have grown among some Palestinians about their leaders’ ability to secure a deal with Israel that would be accepted on the Palestinian streets.

In this file photo taken on June 19, 2020 Palestinian demonstrators carry flags during a protest against Israel’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank, near the city of Ramallah. (ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

“The PA is so weak! It has no power,” said a farmer in the Jordan Valley, a strategically crucial West Bank area targeted for annexation in the Trump plan.

For Ghassan Khatib, an academic and former PA official, signs of apathy about the prospect of annexation reveal a widening “gap” between the Palestinian people and their leaders.

Khatib blames this gap in part on “the absence of elections,” last held in 2006 and on a disconnect between an ageing Palestinian leadership and a young population distrustful of the old guard.

The 2006 election came a year before terror group Hamas took power in the Gaza strip. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, whose Fatah party is Hamas’s rival, has previously pledged to hold elections on multiple occasions but without following through.

A poll published this week by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center (JMCC) and the German Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung foundation, found that 83 percent of Palestinians believe it is important to hold an election.

Asked “who do you trust most,” only 13 percent of respondents answered Abbas, who is 85 years old, while 76 percent described the PA he leads as corrupt.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at his headquarters in the West Bank city of Ramallah on May 7, 2020. (Nasser Nasser/Pool/AFP)

Khatib noted that the annexation threat comes as Palestinians face worsening economic conditions brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, along with a new surge in West Bank infections.

“People have too many problems over their heads in this period” to mobilize properly, according to Khatib.

He added that some among the Palestinian public see annexation as a continuation of Israel’s long-running campaign of “consolidating occupation,” including the regular construction of new Jewish settlements.

“They (might) think (annexation) is not a measure that is going to have a dramatic impact on their day-to-day life,” he said.

Palestinians, some wearing protective masks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, wave national flags as they attend a rally against Israel’s West Bank annexation plans, in the Jordan Valley village of Bardala, on June 27, 2020. (JAAFAR ASHTIYEH / AFP)

Odeh however cautioned against using the scale of recent demonstrations as a “barometer” for the Palestinian reaction to concrete annexation moves by Israel.

Israeli officials have expressed fears of an outbreak of violence akin to the waves of popular uprisings known as intifadas. Last week, the head of the Israel Defense Forces said soldiers were preparing for the possibility that fighting could spread to the Gaza Strip as well.

“People are not waiting for instructions (from officials). The street will lead,” Odeh said.

“Nobody predicted the First Intifada,” she added, referring to the violent Palestinian uprising that began in 1987 and left 277 Israelis and nearly 2,000 Palestinians dead.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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