Populism and the Palestinians
Written by Liel Sterling, 11/02/2017
Frequently, when the Palestinian people are represented in the news, it is as a “side” of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, the Palestinian people, just like any other group of people, are a political body who want their needs and interests accurately represented by their government. Just like the Americans and the British, the Palestinians have joined the global trend of utilizing populism for political change.
Throughout the past two years, the whole world has seen the true power of populism. In the United States, the white working class expressed their discontent with the American political establishment by electing the anti-establishment, “political outsider,” Donald Trump. In England, a fear of losing national sovereignty to international control over immigration led the British people to vote to leave the European Union. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority in 1994, the Palestinian people have similarly utilized populism as a political strategy and continue to do so, most recently having pressured Hamas and Fatah to sign a unity agreement regarding the Gaza strip.
Similar to the British with Brexit and the Americans with the 2016 Trump election, in 2006, the Palestinian people expressed their discontent with a government that they believed was not representing their interests. The Palestinian people saw the Fatah-governed Palestinian Authority and its President, Mahmoud Abbas, as corrupt puppets of the Israeli government. Thus, in the 2006 elections, the Palestinians were seeking anything but the norm, which was Fatah. In the same way Americans elected Trump as the “outsider,” the Palestinians elected Hamas, a Palestinian political party, considered a terrorist group by most Western countries and Israel, to control the Gaza Strip. Hamas, unlike the Palestinian Authority, was openly anti-Zionist, and the discontented Palestinian people saw Hamas as more trustworthy to represent their interests, rather than fall beholden to the will of the Israeli government in the same way they believed Fatah had. As a result of the Gaza election of 2006, Israel and Egypt blockaded Gaza, and Israel and the United States imposed economic and political sanctions on the territory. As a result, since 2006, Gaza has been a self-governing territory governed by Hamas alone, not by the Palestinian Authority.
The Palestinian people, like the Americans and like the British, want the voice of the ordinary people to have control over government, and continue to use populism to assert influence over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Two-thirds of Palestinian people want President Mahmoud Abbas, who has illegitimately served 6 terms in office. Half the Palestinian people want the PA itself to dissolve. Through voicing their discontent, the Palestinian people are pressuring Mahmoud Abbas to enact change. Concurrently, reduced electricity supply because of the Israeli blockade as well as pressure from the PA, who cut the salaries of PA employees in Gaza, has placed Hamas-controlled Gaza at a point of desperation. Faced with such discontentment from the Palestinian people, it was necessary on the part of Fatah and Hamas to take action, leading to the recent Fatah-Hamas Unity Agreement. The agreement, signed in Cairo, requires Hamas to give Fatah full civilian control over the Gaza strip in return for easing the economic blockade on Gaza. While Fatah and Hamas have been attempting unity agreements since 2011 that haven’t led to progress, with continually dwindling support from the Palestinian people, Hamas and Fatah might just be desperate enough for something to come of the 2017 agreement. According to the agreement, the Palestinian Authority will return to power in Gaza by December 1st of this year.
While the Palestinian people are living in a drastically different political climate than that of the British and Americans, all three groups have in common utilizing the voice of the common man to enact change.