On Bread and Democracy

By Samah Jabr

During his meeting with media representatives in Ramallah in October, President Mahmoud Abbas declared, “Bread is yet more important than democracy,” and elaborated on how he can use his “constitutional authorities” to dismiss the current government.

Such a statement is very hazardous to the Palestinian political programme, especially that it comes from a significant person like the President. It is an opening to an ominous era of frank renouncement of Palestinian rights. Today, we give up on democracy for bread, tomorrow we give up on the right to return, Jerusalem and even a State within the borders of 1967. If we want to apply the same logic, why don’t we lose all that remains of our dignity and humanity and be collaborators for the enemy who hold our bread away from us! President Abbas failed to tell us, in the same talk, where our surrender and degradation should stop. Are there still any red lines? The President has been playing a role in Palestinian politics for four decades; what did he do during that time to ensure that Palestinians will make their bread on their own? Is the President proposing any other alternatives for this trade of our democracy for bread?

The fact is that the President’s comment dehumanizes all Palestinians and shrinks their aspirations to life, freedom, creation and recreation to one mere animalistic need to eat, even if they eat each other.

The President’s talk also fails to sooth Palestinian internal divergence and clashes. One cannot describe the sense of pain and shame for the latest Palestinian infighting due to fractional ideological differences. The closure of a political outlet as well as the difficulties of the internal situation, strikes and no salaries have aggravated the Palestinian public congestion and paved the way for incitement and fights in the streets, but understanding this does not make the hurt any less.

In consequence, 11 Palestinians were killed by Palestinian gunmen in three days of fighting, and groups related to the Fatah party threatened to assassinate important leaders of the Hamas party.

During any internal tension, the President’s habit is to leave on diplomatic trips, not to lessen the embargo or to get salaries for employees, but to continue inciting and conspiring against the government.

In such circumstances, the Palestinian public’s optimism about the national approval on the prisoners’ document and the declared advancement in the talks of a national unity government based on that document, in addition to the President’s unmet promise to employees to get their salaries by the beginning of the month of Ramadan, was aborted by the President’s latest trip to the United States. Given such circumstances combined with the President’s statement on democracy, the obvious conclusion is that it is extremely jeopardizing to Palestinian solitude and steadfastness.

Just before leaving on a trip to New York to attend a United Nations meeting, during which the President met with Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state, and Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister, President Abbas froze measures to form a unity government in spite of a declared positive preliminary European reaction to a unity government. President Abbas also postponed his planned trip to Gaza for talks with Prime Minister Ismail Haniyyeh to bridge their differences; no new date has been set. Shortly after his return, he left Gaza again without meeting with Haniyyeh.

The presidential enmity toward the Hamas government is not faint. It is very clear, even to unsophisticated observers who simply watch the photos of Abbas on the news and how sickened and antipathetic he looks when he is with members of the Palestinian government and how unexplainably cheerful and dutiful he looks with American and Israeli politicians and diplomats.

Since his return from that trip, the language of his spokesmen and consultants, many of whom were candidates who lost elections, has changed; they don’t speak of realism and pragmatism anymore to urge the government to accept the Quartet’s conditions. Today they speak of the recognition of Israel and the liberation of the Israeli soldier as “the higher interests of the Palestinian people!” Who could have guessed that the Palestinian official deterioration would reach that point? How can an ordinary Palestinian live with the irony of the fact that the media stars of our politicians are keener on the right of our exploiters to exist more than our mere existence, not to mention our well being!

Most foul is that Israel and the United States claim to side with one party of this Palestinian internal conflict—the party, or the few men, that already dominated Palestinian politics for four decades.

Since September 11, the United States has included the Palestinians in their war on terrorism rather than regarding the resolution of the Palestinian occupation a key issue in calming the region, and hence, they left us totally exposed to the free will of the Israeli might. So, understandably, now, influencing an internal fight fits very well with the American stand towards the Palestinian issue. A Palestinian self-extermination of their political cause will offer the ultimate solution for Israel and the American administration and yet will grant them the chance to reduce the Palestinian issue into a humanitarian one that requires their care and attention.

According to the latest news reports, the U.S. State Department set a $42 million fund to “protect and promote moderation and democratic alternatives to Hamas.” In a flagrant intervention in Palestinian politics, the American administration will give money to NGOs and groups with ties to certain Palestinian political parties “not branded as terrorist groups,” and to train politicians and secular parties opposed to Hamas “to create democratic alternatives to authoritarian or radical Islamist political options.”

Such American intervention happens at the same time that the Palestinian President is considering dismissing the government in a process that could lead to a new parliamentary vote. U.S. money will also be used by journalists to backbite the government and manipulate public opinion. In addition, a budget of $5 million will be used to meddle in the Palestinian school curricula by bribing private Palestinian schools to offer an alternative to the public education system, probably to teach some of our children the new premises of the President on bread and democracy instead of the lessons on patience, sacrifice and Jihad—all of which combined with financing and the training of presidential guards most probably will result in a fight against their Palestinian brothers rather than the forces of occupation.

This American plan and the use of power and money is working under conditions of devastating Palestinian financial deprivation and joblessness and is, unfortunately, expected to work by influencing the internal Palestinian politics.

But what if this internal and external campaign manages to get rid of the present government? I think it will still be unlikely that the old tired faces of Fatah will be elected; but they are capable of cheating in the elections like in Egypt and other Arab countries. If cheating works out to their advantage, a non-representative group will return to monopolizing the political decision-making, and the doors will be open for unprecedented troubles in the region.

In the 1970s, Salah Khalaf, an important Fatah leader wrote in his book, A Palestinian without an Identity: “I fear a day in which treason will be no more than a point of view.” Such fears are so threatening today. But this is not the right time for accusations and rebuke; it is time for closing wounds and getting over differences and aches.

We all realize that a Palestinian internal conflict is so damaging to international solidarity with our cause as much as it is destructive to the Palestinian morale. Those who care less are very few, but a very few destructive people are capable of damaging the hopes and works of a caring majority.

The Palestinian government should be aware of the dreadfulness of a Palestinian power struggle, and, if pushed to that corner, would hopefully choose to dissolute the imaginary authority and return back to the resistance lines, showing our President that freedom is more important than bread, leaving to the United Nations, the Palestinian file and to the Israeli occupation its charge towards an occupied people, in addition to the cost of confrontations with a solid national resistance movement.


Dr. Samah Jabr is a Jerusalemite psychiatrist working in Ramalla. She is also a monthly columnist for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs and for thePalestine Times of London.

Al Awda, January 21, 2007