The Israeli government has been growing more extremist and stubborn, to the point of sabotaging all efforts and initiatives aimed at resuming negotiations and reviving the so-called “peace process.” Furthermore, it is waging a continuous campaign — headed by Foreign Minister Lieberman — against President Abbas, demanding that he be replaced because of the diplomatic and legal campaign he has undertaken against Israel and his plan to resort to the United Nations. The Israeli government considers such a move a form of terrorism against Israel. Israel has found itself in a race against time, forced to increase the implementation tempo of its aggressive, racist and expansionist settlement schemes to an unprecedented level. The state is allowing settlers to wreak havoc, cause destruction and carry out never-ending escalating attacks against Palestinian civilians, their property and crops.
At the same exact time, the Israeli-occupation authorities issued Palestinians monthlong Israeli visitation permits throughout the holy month of Ramadan and the Eid el-Fitr holiday, numbering between 130,000 to 200,000. Moreover, those same authorities turned a blind eye to the waves of Palestinians entering Israel with or without permits, whereby their numbers totaled at least 500,000.
Before looking at the reasons behind this move, emphasis must be given to the inalienable and legal right of Palestinians to freely travel inside their own lands for tourism, work or commerce purposes. They have the right to visit their relatives, towns and villages, religious and historical sites; and to form bonds between all factions of the Palestinian people. Preventing them from exercising this right is a clear violation, which can be added to the hundreds of other violations, perpetrated by Israeli-occupation authorities. This includes barring inhabitants of the West Bank, including Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip from communicating and intermingling, despite stipulations to that effect being included in the infamous agreements that were signed between the Palestinian and Israeli sides.
What is the purpose of this unprecedented Israeli move, never before seen since the Palestinian Authority was established? And, what stands behind it? Were these permits issued for some unknown political, security or economic reasons; or did more than one reason play a part in the decision?
The first of these reasons must be security-related, because the calm and stability that the past years have witnessed were never before seen since the Israeli occupation began in 1967. This calm came as a result of the continuous security coordination between the occupation forces and the Palestinian Authority, which persisted despite the cessation of negotiations and the deterioration of relations between the two parties. It can also be attributed in part to the truce that prevails between the Israeli-occupation authorities and the de-facto authorities in the Gaza Strip.
The second reason behind the issuing of these permits is economic, for this move came at a time when Israel was facing economic problems reflected in tax hikes, inflation, economic and social demonstrations, and a decrease in growth, especially exacerbated by talk of war with Iran. The economic factor must not be underestimated under the pretext that the Israeli economy is exponentially better than the Palestinian one, for some estimates point to Palestinians spending close to a billion Shekels [$248 million] in the Israeli market during the month of Ramadan and the Eid el-Fitr holiday.
The impact of the economic factor cannot be overlooked and it is evident in the “thank you” advertisements that the Mamilla Mall published in recognition of the civil administration’s issuance of visitation permits. Furthermore, the famous Grand Canyon Mall paid off two years’ worth of storage space back rent and an additional year’s rent in advance. This is not to mention the mass Palestinian influx and repeated visits, during the aforementioned period, to Jaffa and Tel Aviv’s beaches along with visits to other Israeli cities and markets.
The third reason is political and the most difficult to explain. Israel is keen to present itself to the world as allowing travel and pilgrimage to religious sites and visits to all Israeli cities, because doing so improves its political image abroad. It also wants to alleviate the tension and frustration among the Palestinian populace for fear that these could lead to an uprising against the occupation. This is particularly true in light of the marginalization of the Palestinian cause, as a result of Arab and international preoccupation with regional and Arab changes that are taking place. The cause has been further marginalized given the Euro crisis, the US presidential elections, the eventuality of war with Iran, the failure of the “two state solution” as a result of settler numbers swelling to more than 650,000 in the lands occupied in 1967, the announcement that tens of thousands of settlement units would be built, with no political solution in sight, a worsening economic situation, increased pressure, and Israeli aggression.
By issuing the visitation permits, Israel wanted to restore the direct relationship between the people and the occupation forces. This is necessary in light of the political right’s reemerging dream of a “greater Israel,” which some within its circles had abandoned for fear that it would lead to a “one state solution.” This came at a time when armed resistance was escalating, necessitating the building of separation walls and furthering the segregation of Palestinians away from Israel. It is also in light of the Palestinian Authority’s threat of dissolving itself or the danger that it might crumble on its own.
Here we must caution against reading too much into this matter; for Israel puts pressure on the Palestinian Authority while helping it at the same time. This assistance was evident when Israel authorities last month pushed forward the date by which Palestinian dues had to be paid, as well as by the signing of an Israeli-Palestinian agreement that would increase these revenues. Moreover, Israeli authorities have issued 10,000 new permits allowing work in Israel, in addition to the 100,000 workers already employed in Israel proper or in the settlements. Additionally, 15,000 traders and businessmen hold entry permits into Israel and 30,000 Gazans enter Israel every year to receive medical treatment or conduct trade. These work permits serve two purposes: they boost the Palestinian economy on one end, while tying it to the Israeli economy on the other.
Israel’s goal is not to do away with the Palestinian Authority, which serves Israeli interests and improves the terms under which the occupation exists; but rather to effectuate a continuous Israeli reformulation of the authority. This reformulation would ensure that it remains an authority of limited self-rule and a security agent working for the occupation, while it ceases to strive for sovereignty, independence and the establishment of a Palestinian state along the 1967 borders. As an example, the Israeli-occupation forces reassumed an important part of the authority’s powers after reoccupying lands that previously completely fell under the Authority’s control. These forces transferred control of these lands to the Israeli civil administration apparatus, in preparation for all eventualities, especially if the Palestinian Authority decided to reevaluate its own structure, functions and commitments.
Based on the above, we find that the Palestinian Authority is at a loss to explain current Israeli steps and policies. Some of these policies go against the authority, while others support it (reward and punishment). After all, it is the authority that submitted 90% of the applications for permits, while only 10% were submitted directly to the Israeli civil administration. Some interpreted the Israeli move as having little economic merit, while others overrated its political and security dimensions.
The Israeli government used these permits to entrench the idea of economic peace and to present Israeli alternatives to a political solution, which would mean the end of the occupation and the establishment of a state. Israel gave the young Palestinian — who had never left the West Bank before in his life — the chance to compare between the Palestinian Authority and Israel, between the standards of living, the quality of goods and services and life in general under each of them.
Had the intra-Palestinian situation been better, the permit issue could have been used to further the ties among our people on the inside, strengthen the steadfastness of the people of Jerusalem and develop cooperation in all fields between all factions.
The culture of nationalism could have also been enhanced by expanding the boycott against Israel, politically, economically and academically, in a scientifically effective and not only symbolic fashion as it is has been used until now.
Palestinian citizens could visit Israel carrying with them their own food and drinks, just like Israeli tourists do when visiting Jordan, as is repeatedly attested to by Jordanian media outlets. They could also boycott the Israeli economy by only dealing with Arab businesses, companies and markets, especially in occupied Jerusalem.
Prices could be monitored in the Palestinian territories, so that manipulators can be held accountable, and attention be given to the quality of goods and services. If the aim is to effectively boycott Israeli goods, then one must improve the quality of Palestinian goods while decreasing their cost.
In this regard, what happened to the campaign to boycott investments in Israel and the settlements? What became of the campaign orchestrated by the authority to boycott settlement activities through actions, and the suppression of cooperation and trade? It would seem that it has been withdrawn from circulation without prior notice; for goods originating in the settlements still flood Palestinian markets, and the number of workers and investments in those settlements continue to increase!