RAMALLAH, January 26 (JMCC) - It is a photo that captures popular feeling in Tunisia: a portrait of ousted dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali lies askew on a pile of trash bags in the Tunisian street. Rioters burning effigies and the demand for change brought about the collapse of his political regime.
Immediately afterwards, some analysts warned of a domino effect of popular upsurges against unelected regimes in the region. Democracy, said some, may be about to have its day in the Middle East.
But in the occupied Palestinian territories
, how closely does this analysis apply? What is the impact of the Tunisia revolt on the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and what reactions can be expected from Palestinians?
The past week has been tumultuous for the Palestinian leadership in the West Bank, where elections have been repeatedly delayed. The Qatari television channel al-Jazeera opened the tap on a flood of documents revealing secret concessions made by the Palestinian negotiating camp to Israel
over the last decade of peace talks.
“The PLO is concerned,” says analyst George Giacaman. “Because the PLO
believes that the US is important for [Palestinian president Mahmoud] Abbas
’ agenda, it has allied itself with many of ‘the moderate camp’--countries favored by the United States. But many of these are security states. These alliances curtail the criticism that can be made of the Tunisian leadership.
Official reaction to the events in Tunisia has been mixed. In the West Bank the PLO’s Executive Committee issued a statement praising the Tunisian riots, only to revoke it the following day. Abbas adviser Ahmed Abdel Rahman said on Saturday that the Palestinian leadership had not taken an official stance on the situation in the African country.
In Gaza, “Hamas was very supportive of the Tunisian revolution,
belongs to the Muslim Brotherhood who were hunted by the
regime,” says analyst Muqimar Abu Sada. Hamas utilized the Tunisian revolt to highlight its complaints with the PLO.
Mahmoud Abbas and his sons are among the wealthiest
Palestinians, said the Hamas leadership in a statement. All indications are that the residents of the West Bank, who
live under a tyrannical regime, are close to toppling the regime there.
Demonstrations by Palestinians in solidarity with the Tunisian people took place in Jerusalem
and in Gaza, but a simultaneous protest in Ramallah
was reportedly suppressed by Palestinian officials. No demonstrations targeting the Palestinian Authority
have broken out.
“On Facebook, Twitter, and in online blogs, Palestinians are going crazy criticising Abbas and the Palestinian Authority,” says Palestinian journalist Mohammed Jaradat. “But this is not reflected in the street.”
The only visible protests were at the al-Jazeera offices in Ramallah, where angry Fateh
supporters, some of them plain-clothed security men, stormed the building Monday and Tuesday.
Nevertheless, analyst Giacamen believes the effect of the Tunisia revolt could have a long-term impact. “The most salient factor [of Tunisia’s revolt] is the power of example. It doesn’t guarantee immediate change elsewhere, but it is significant in that it has shown that it can happen.”
Palestinians say that there are extenuating circumstances that make Palestinian protest less likely. Issam Younis, director of the Palestinian human rights organization, lists them: “The fact of occupation, a split political leadership, and the focus of the international community.
The Palestinian leadership has been divided between the West Bank and Gaza since Hamas overran Fateh-dominated security installations in the Gaza Strip in June 2007.
“When it comes to governance, unemployment problems, or corruption allegations, civilian frustration can easily be diverted to other enemies,” says Younis.
Still, authorities are wary, says analyst Muqimar Abu Sada. “There are many voices in the Gaza Strip who are critical of Hamas,” he says, citing a recently created website, Young Gaza breaks out, which serves as a forum for citizens to voice their frustrations with the Hamas
leadership. It has rapidly gained over 20,000 supporters.
“Young Palestinians sick and tired of life in Gaza,” says Abu Sada. “Hamas
is very concerned.”
But there are also differences between conditions in Tunisia and the
occupied territories, says Younis. “Tunisia has long been known for
having one of the worst records in human rights. Here there is a margin
of practicing freedoms. As a human rights organization we are able to
And whatever Palestinians may feel about their leadership, life without the Palestinian Authority or Hamas authorities does not promise great freedom.
“In other states in the region the population considers the inherent power they could gain from a revolt. But this is difficult under occupation,” says Younis.
Giacaman agrees. “If there existed a Palestinian state, without occupation, that was being run in the same way by the Palestinian Authority, then one would find reactions, possibly like that in Tunisia.