Holding Palestinian leaders to account

Interviewing the Palestinian Authority’s chief negotiator, Saeb Erekat, at the Berlin Foreign Policy Forum for the German media outlet Deutsche Welle, Tim Sebastian asked hard questions about the PA dealings with the Trump administration, the [lack of a] peace process, corruption within the PA, and human rights violations recently highlighted by Human Rights Watch also. The interview was a rare example of a Western reporter willing to ignore obfuscations and tired cliches and hold a Palestinian leader to account.

Sebastian brought up the fact that the PA has cut funds to Gaza and other aggressive policies toward Hamas, causing hardship that prompted rare protests among Arab Palestinians. Erekat’s response was only “That’s not true… I have an overloaded wagon of complexities.”

And the response of the PA negotiator to the human rights abuses, including PA security forces arresting and beating those protesters was “Well look, if you want me to be perfect, I’m not perfect”.

Erekat also agreed there was corruption within the Palestinian leadership and suggested there were steps being taken to prevent it, saying “Last year, four Palestinian ministers were in front of the court of corruption. I think it’s the only time in the history of Arab and Islamic countries.” However, Sebastian raised the recent discovery of salaries and raises being paid to employees of “Palestinian Airlines”, which no longer exists. To this charge, Erekat suggested that “Nobody pockets any money” but did not elaborate on where the money went.

Earlier this year we spent a day filming in Ramallah and were stopped on the street by a Palestinian lawyer who wanted to vent his frustration over corruption in the PA. He was pursuing a child abuse case, and the authorities were not interested unless they could blame Israel. He complained, “There is a gang in the Arab world… they are [our] government… they are crushing the people.”

The conversation with the man from Ramallah highlights a certain reality – everyday Palestinians want change. They are frustrated with their leader’s ineptitude. New, reliable polls affirm this fact, showing that in Gaza for example, the majority of its people actually oppose the violent Hamas border protests and at least half would even support a formal ceasefire with Israel. They want direct personal dialogue with Israelis and most would like Israeli companies to provide jobs for them inside their Hamas-ruled territory.

The Palestinian people, much like the Arab world, are making it clear that they will not tolerate the rejectionist policies, corruption, and human rights abuses of the Palestinian leadership in Gaza and the West Bank for much longer.

For too long, Western media and leaders have bought the Palestinian victim narrative without asking the hard questions and without holding them to account. It is concerning that New Zealand continues to support this line in its voting patterns at the United Nations. This does not help the Palestinian people, nor encourage their leaders to work towards changing a system and culture that is corrupt and broken.

It is time to look at this issue with a fresh perspective. Instead of the tired excuse of blaming “the occupation”, leaders and thinkers need to listen to the people and recognise that it takes two parties willing to come together and discuss a future together, in order to find solutions.

It is refreshing to see a Western journalist reflect the sentiment of the Arab Palestinian people. Perhaps others will follow.

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