Amira Hass
Haaretz (Opinion)
January 18, 2012 - 1:00am

Two people signed the entry permit into Israel that Mahmoud Abbas received from Israel's Civil Administration on January 1 (and which will be in force until March 1 ): 1st Lt. Noy Mitzrafi, commander of the permits office, and Lt. Col. Wissam Hamed, a department head in the Israel Defense Forces' operations directorate. It is this limited permit that Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president and PLO chairman, complained of receiving instead of his normal VIP permit during a closed meeting of his Fatah faction.

The permit also states that Abbas lives in the Gaza Strip (where, as is well known, he has not set foot since 2007 ); that he is "allowed to go into Israel, except for Eilat, and into the Judea and Samaria region [i.e. the West Bank]," but not to drive a car in Israel. It states that his reason for entry is that he is "a senior PA official"; that he may stay overnight only in the West Bank or Gaza, even though the permit is in force from 00:00 to 00:00 (midnight to midnight ). Also, it says he is allowed to move about without a magnetic ID card, but the permit is "valid despite the [security] prevention" - meaning the Shin Bet security service registers him as a security menace, but the permit is given as a gesture of kindness.

The PA says a few dozen other senior officials have also been stripped of their VIP permits since mid-2011 as punishment for the PA's application for admission to the United Nations as a member state. But regarding Abbas' permit, a spokesman for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories insisted that this was purely a technical error.

Contrary to the interpretation that this was an intentional humiliation of Abbas, for once it's actually believable that this was a mere technical error. Humiliation is part of the system's DNA, and the clerks who implement the system imbibe the techniques of humiliation from the day they enter the army - until they view them as immutable laws of nature.

So what's surprising is neither the error nor the humiliation. What's surprising is that the PA hasn't long since, of its own initiative, renounced this dubious privileged status that the Civil Administration gives its senior officials.

After 17 years of experience, it's not hard to conclude that these ludicrous privileges are an inseparable part of the mechanism of oppression. To be astonished, it's enough to imagine the senior Palestinian official begging the Israeli clerk from COGAT to restore his own and his colleagues' VIP status. Or to be awed by how successful the wizards of the occupation have been at taming the leaders of the colonized with tempting scraps.

On the other hand, there's nothing to be astonished at. Collaborating with the humiliation inherent in VIP status conferred by the occupier is part of the PA's whole concept. Its senior officials lavish praise in their speeches on "popular resistance" (as the preferred alternative to taking up arms ). But in the very sphere where they could easily engage in civil disobedience of their own, they don't do it.

One damning example of this appears in the European Union's report on Area C, the part of the West Bank that is under full Israeli control. The report states explicitly that the PA has neglected Area C (62 percent of the West Bank ) in its national plans and paid very little attention to the population that inhabits it. As one European diplomat undiplomatically told Haaretz: "The PA is asking us for donations to build another luxury building in Ramallah, not for initiatives in Area C." The symbols of power and the comforts of luxury in Ramallah come a priori at the expense of a possible tactic for altering the balance of power with Israel.

Every senior PA official knows that his superiors' acquiescence in resuming negotiations with Israel, preserving the occupation's order in Area C and continuing security coordination with Israel grant him some respite from the foreign rule's routine harassments, a respite denied to rank-and-file Palestinians. The VIP's permit is the hush money he receives for his accomodation with the status quo.

This is by definition a poor opening position to be in vis-a-vis Israel. Even worse, it's a poor opening position to be in vis-a-vis the Palestinian public. It's no coincidence that a group of young Palestinians now organizing protests in the West Bank against a return to negotiations is called "Palestinians for Dignity."


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