Sultans of Swank
John and I were hanging out at Pronto one evening when a friend of John's, a high-powered Palestinian-American lawyer who worked for the PLO Negotiations Affairs Department, called and invited us to a party at Darna. The guests were rich, educated at the best American schools, and mostly interesting and friendly. It had been a while since I'd danced, so when a suave young intern named Sharif told me a group was heading to the club at the Grand Park Hotel, I tagged along.
After we closed the club, we moved to a house party in a top floor apartment with a veranda overlooking the broad valley where Pronto and Sangria's are located. The neighborhood, Al Masyoon, has a dazzling assortment of Palestinian homes—dignified structures of tawny cut stone with flat roofs, buildings in the British colonial style with red tile roofs that reminded me of Stanford, and modern apartment buildings of gleaming white stone with reflective blue-tinted windows. The hills surrounding the valley are blanketed with trees and crowned by church towers and minarets lit up against the night sky.
I chatted with two Yale grads who were doing internships with PA ministries. One of them was Palestinian and one was American. They kept asking me questions about my strange journey from Oklahoma to Palestine. With the incomparable Ramallah cityscape spread out beneath a chalky half moon, and French wine flowing through my veins, I felt on top of the world.
I also felt conflicted. Most of these people had special permits to travel through VIP checkpoints, which made traveling a breeze. With their huge paychecks and regular outings to West Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, they seemed out of touch with ordinary Palestinians. And they were beholden to the PA's donors, which at the highest levels meant they were answerable not to the Palestinian people but to the US and Israel.
Despite Abbas's promises to reform the PA, nothing seemed to be changing. Nepotism and corruption were still rampant. Far too much money was spent on 'security forces' and far too little on education, healthcare, agriculture, job creation, and help for the desperate poor created in droves by the occupation.
I had always wondered how a country could host a collaborationist government, like the Vichy regime in France. Whether the PA qualified as one or not, at least now I understood. People felt ground under the heel of a massively superior power. They could either obey to the extent deemed necessary by the occupier, or pick up guns and face untold death and destruction. Perhaps a third way would eventually be found. But no one could say the Palestinians hadn't given it a try with an Authority-under-occupation. And fewer and fewer could honestly call it a success.
The PA probably thought of themselves not as quislings but as pragmatic revolutionaries or 'moderates.' Only when you stepped back did you begin to see the pattern. But according to the Iron Law of Institutions, people tend to care more about their success within an organization than about the success of the organization itself. Even though the PA continued to fail, very few within it were willing to quit unilaterally and give up their privileges for no immediate gain.
Still, it was nice to see idealistic young people come in from overseas and try to help. Earlier crops of interns had told me how disillusioned they'd become with the PA. But as long as they kept coming and learning and trying, and especially with real democratic elections coming up in the Legislative Council, it was possible, just possible, that the PA could be reformed before it totally outlived its usefulness to the Palestinian cause.
It would certainly help if concrete steps to negotiate an end to the occupation were made very soon after the Disengagement. The Palestinian people had to see their policemen, whose primary job was preventing attacks against Israelis, as liberators rather than collaborators. They had to see them as setting the stage for an independent and viable Palestinian state rather than keeping the Palestinians under control while the occupation continued to expand. They'd had enough of that during the Oslo years.
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