On the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the Palestinian Authority headed by Mahmoud Abbas may not qualify as a sovereign government. But it is moderate, U.S.-backed, and behaving of late like one of the region’s brittle and freshly vulnerable autocratic regimes.
Three times in the last two weeks, PA security forces have dispersed young Palestinians gathering to demonstrate solidarity with the crowds in Cairo and Tunis. The last crackdown came Wednesday night, when a small group organized through Facebook assembled near the lion sculptures of Ramallah’s central square, only to be shoved back by police batons. The next day a police spokesman warned that “unlicensed gatherings” could bring chaos. (See how democracy can work in the Middle East.)
“The Palestinian leadership is very nervous and is worried about what will happen to them if the Palestinian people decide they are sick and tired of the situation,” says Rana, 28, who was among the many residents not at the demonstration but troubled by the authorities’ reaction to it.
Like their fellow Arabs, Palestinians are transfixed by television coverage of events in Egypt, looking up from the screen at regular intervals to assess parallels with the situation around them. What many see on the West Bank is a government that grew out of a popular liberation movement and has settled into a political hierarchy notorious for corruption and, lately, quashing dissent. “When the Palestinian National Authority was established we thought that it will be different than the Arab States which are ruled by dictators,” says Najwa, 24, of Birzeit. “The PNA is no different, and I hope things will change here like in Tunisia, hopefully Egypt, Yemen and Jordan.” She adds, “I hope we free ourselves as well as our land.”