QUESTION AND ANSWER: "'Why all this backlash? What happened to [Palestinian activist killed in PA detention] Nizar Banat happens in the U.S.' a senior Fatah official argued," recounts Palestinian commentator Hani al-Masri on the independent Palestinian news-portal www.masarat.ps.
In response to this question, we offer the following:
-- Nizar expressed his opinion with courage and daring, and because of it he faced persecution, threats of beating and death, and eight arrests without judges finding cause to try him. All he did was exercise his right to express his opinion, and any sharp tone or exaggeration he may have displayed while exercising that right amounts to a minor misdemeanor that does not warrant punishment. This made him a hero, alongside the [unknown] shooting that targeted his house over two months ago, terrorizing his wife and five children, the oldest of whom is in high school, when he was not at home.
-- Nizar's commentary largely argued that the PA is a failed, impotent, authoritarian, corrupt, lackey institution. Most of the Palestinian people essentially agree with him, to the extent that the one can say the president [Mahmoud Abbas] and PA leaders agree, or have agreed, with some or most of he said. It was his sharp tone, hyperbole, and style that set him apart, especially in generalizing the PA's current mistakes and sins onto the [Palestinian] revolution's mistakes in the [1960s/70s] revival phase, which is inaccurate. The revolution had a positive image tarnished by some mistakes and negative points, while the PA is black interspersed with some light at present. Indeed, the PA, despite all the comments about it during martyr Abu Ammar's [Arafat's] era, was fundamentally different than the PA after him.
Did the president [Abbas] not say that the PA lacks authority, and we live under the occupation's boots, to the extent that he threatened more than once to hand the keys to the PA over to their owner (the occupation state)? The late [PLO negotiator] Saeb Erekat went even further, saying that the Israeli Defense Ministry's Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories unit is actually in charge of the PA. And before he was appointed PM, Mohammed Shtayyeh said that the PA is just a large municipality.
In resolutions issued by all its institutions, especially the Palestinian National Council (PNC), the PLO confirmed that the  Oslo Accords have reached a dead end and that it was necessary to reconsider the PLO's relations and agreements with Israel. In May 2020, the president took a decision to dissolve these agreements and then rescinded it six months later with a proclamation from the civil affairs minister, in a departure from the national consensus established in the meetings between the [Palestinian factions'] secretaries-general. The factions, especially Hamas, swallowed this dangerous decision under the pretext of maintaining understandings until elections take place.
Prior to the Banat crime, the executive branch, especially the president, completed its domination and control of the judicial branch through laws it passed days before issuing the electoral decree. The electoral law was also not amended, despite the Cairo [factional dialogue] sessions unanimously demanding several necessary amendments to avoid detracting from the elections' freedom and fairness. The president then unilaterally postponed the elections indefinitely – essentially canceling them – with the excuse that the occupation refused to allow elections to be held in [East] Jerusalem, although its refusal was predictable and should have been prepared for by developing alternative means of holding them in Jerusalem in spite of the occupation. The elections' cancellation was followed by the infringement on rights and freedoms, going as far as arresting and torturing many people for expressing their views, including electoral candidates such as Nizar, who was persecuted.
The period after the election were cancelled also witnessed the battle of Jerusalem and [the Hamas-initiated May 2020] Operation Sword of Jerusalem and their aftermath. The PA and its leadership were not up to the challenges, and moreover, rather than building on the achievements, most importantly that of [Palestinian] popular unity, it deepened the split by proposing the need for the PA, which has no jurisdiction in Gaza, to supervise the reconstruction process, instead of presenting an initiative to end the [Fatah/Hamas] split, form a unity government, rebuild the PLO, and hold elections at all levels based on a national program that embodies all common factors.
This is in addition to the Pfizer vaccine scandal [Israel's offer of near expired vaccines] and widespread corruption, to the point that 84% of Palestinians believe there is corruption in PA institutions, according to a mid-June Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research poll.
-- Banat's killing took place in the early morning after 3am, in an area under the occupation's full control, which means there was coordination to allow dozens of armed [PA] security personnel to enter, who used incursion, intimidation, and beating – similar methods to the occupation forces. Nizar was killed shortly after his arrest, within two hours at most.
-- The PA's defensive efforts surrounding the crime greatly facilitated the backlash, starting with the [PA] Hebron governor's statement that Nizar died in custody without referring to the torture that caused his death or placing the perpetrators under investigation. To make matters worse, the PM and interior minister formed a government investigation committee without authorizing a criminal investigation, which led it to be boycotted by the Bar Association, [NGOs] al-Haq Foundation, and the Independent Commission for Human Rights, and the latter two deciding to conduct an independent investigation, and the doctor representing the family withdrawing from it is striking that the president, PM, and PA leadership have not yet offered their condolences to the martyr's wife and his family as of this writing.
All the above suggests that the crime was premeditated, which I find unlikely, and that it sought to communicate to the opposition at all levels that Nizar's fate awaits it. The ensuing crackdown by security personnel in civilian clothes on protestors and journalists in front of the police and cameras, while preventing what was happening from being filmed, indicates that there are crimes being committed that it seeks to conceal.
The PA's reaction is marked by depicting what is happening as sedition or a coup in the service of foreign agendas, not a natural angry response. Even if it reached the point of demanding to topple the regime and oust the president, everyone has the right to view comprehensive change as the path to national salvation, provided they do not resort to violence or a coup, and do not call for that. More importantly, no one is capable of doing so, not only due to the PA's political, popular, security and military power, but also due to the presence of the occupation, which wields sovereignty over the West Bank. The PA cannot be overthrown or changed without clashing with it and effecting a fundamental change in the balance of power. The time is not yet right to attempt this, especially after the occupation announced its policy of increased support for the PA in the wake of the battle for Jerusalem, and criticized itself for neglecting this policy.
The most dangerous aspect of what is happening is for Fatah to be implicated in the conflict with the angry people, and failure to distinguish between the institutions and Fatah. The PA is portrayed as at risk of falling into the hands of a plot and conspirators, although Fatah has nothing to do with the PA's repression, corruption and subordination. The PA governs and is only able to do so by appealing to Fatah's name and its history, struggle, and sacrifices, although Fatah does not actually govern. It must be aware of what is being planned for it and stand, as many of its members have, against the crime of Nizar Banat's assassination, demand that the criminals, and not the protestors, be held accountable, along with everyone who has brought us to such dire straits, and address the causes.
Yes, there are actors at home and abroad who exploit what happened to their advantage. The proper response is not to give them more justifications and pretexts, but strip them of any. And there are some who believe the moment of decisive change in the Palestinian situation have arrive and are in a rush to reap the fruits, calling for the PA's dissolution and for the regime to be toppled, while disregarding the nature of this phase as one marked by national liberation and the balance of power. They forget that the enemy targeting us all is the occupation.
This does not prevent, and in fact requires, holding the corrupt, the oppressors, and their supporters accountable, along with anyone who wants to keep the Palestinian situation in stasis because it afforded them influence, wealth, and positions beyond their dreams, the likes of which they would not obtain in the presence of national unity with a fighting spirit and sound governance.
The way to enact change is via peaceful and democratic means, within the framework of unity, national accord, and partnership, and most importantly, on the basis of resistance against occupation and respect for human rights and freedoms in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Any violation of a human – the most precious thing we have – is an unacceptable crime, and its perpetrator must be held accountable, regardless of their identity or whether they represent the establishment of the West Bank or the Gaza Strip. Pluralism, competition, diversity and change are governed by the ballot boxes, unity, and national interest, and not accommodating the interests of factions, individuals, or internal or external agendas.
Will the PA take heed and agree to form an independent investigation committee and open a criminal investigation? Will the president turn his call for national dialogue into a serious one by complementing it with an initiative that lays the groundwork for achieving unity? The answer is pending, and we should not wait for it, but rather work, push, and fight to achieve it.
Perpetuating the split is a recipe for self-destruction, chaos, security unrest, duplicate establishments, and hijacked decision-making, and it will not lead to change, liberation, leadership, and representation. Do we recognize this, and are we aware that there is no room for unilateralism and exclusion, and the path of painting others as traitors, takfirism, and exclusion leads to destruction and not to salvation?
To those who claim it is impossible to overthrow the regime and demanding reform must suffice, we say: What is needed is to change the PA, not topple or dissolve it, while bearing in mind that the current regime has closed all doors to reform and change by blocking the path to elections, reconciliation, ending the split, and restoring unity, and has stripped all of the PA and PLO institutions of their function.
This leaves only one path left to change: To form a broad popular front or current based on patriotism and true partnership that includes all who are committed to the cause, democracy, and human rights from various organizations, factions, and groups, to practice resistance against the occupation as an essential path to change, and exert mounting, cumulative political, public and legal pressure on the political system until the doors to viable peaceful, democratic, and unified change open on the path to comprehensive change .
May God have mercy on Abu Kifah [Banat], for he was a brave and heroic man in life, and has become an icon after his assassination due to the folly and conduct of his opponents. Will this provide an opportunity for salvation?
"That is what he hoped and dreamed, and what we too hope and dream," concludes Masri.