With Nizar Banat's killing, the PA sinks even deeper into authoritarian rule

With Nizar Banat's killing, the PA sinks even deeper into authoritarian rule
Opinion: In addition to dealing with the Israeli occupation, Palestinians must contend with a PA that has cancelled elections, muzzled dissent and is now killing critics in police custody, writes Dalal Yassine.
6 min read
29 Jun, 2021
Banat, known for his criticism of corruption in the PA, was killed after PA security forces stormed his house arrested him [Twitter]

In the early hours of last Thursday, Palestinian security services arrested Nizar Banat.

Two hours after his arrest, Banat was dead.

Banat was an outspoken political activist and critic of the Palestinian Authority (PA). He was also a candidate on the Freedom and Dignity List for the Palestinian Legislative Council elections that were cancelled by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in May. His body bore the signs of torture and beating. Banat is survived by his wife and four children. 

The PA ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2014. Seven years later, and as the past week has demonstrated, the PA has not committed to ending torture and ill-treatment.

"Two hours after his arrest, Banat was dead"

Banat's murder is just the latest and most brutal action by the Palestinian security services that have attempted to silence political criticism after the cancelled elections and Israel's attack on Gaza in May. At recent West Bank protests in solidarity with Banat, Palestinian security services harassed and dispersed demonstrators in a show of force the UN described as 'worrying'.

After Israel agreed to a ceasefire with Hamas on May 21, the Israeli military launched sweeping arrests across the occupied West Bank, including dozens of Hamas members. The Palestinian security services did not intervene, and likely coordinated with their Israeli counterparts in the arrests.

In Jerusalem's Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan neighbourhoods, Israeli settlers have continued to harass the Palestinian families facing eviction. In addition, outspoken activists in both neighbourhoods, Mohammed and Muna al-Kurd, Zuheir al-Rajabi, and Iyad Abu Snineh, as well as Al Jazeera correspondents were arrested. Although they were released, these were obvious cases of police harassment and intimidation. Inside Israel, the police arrested over 1,500 Palestinian citizens of Israel.

The PA and the Fatah movement, both led by Mahmoud Abbas, have attempted to counter Hamas's growing popularity after the ceasefire was reached. Palestinian security services conducted their own arrests of Palestinians criticising the PA's inaction over Gaza, Sheikh Jarrah and Silwan, as well as the cancelled elections. 

These arrests are based on a state of emergency declared by Abbas in a presidential decree on 5 March, 2020 related to the Covid-19 pandemic. Even though human rights organisations have requested that Abbas stop extending the state of emergency, the practice continues.

Among those arrested and released by the PA was activist Issa Amro. A few weeks ago, Amro was one of several Palestinian civil society leaders who met with the US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken in the West Bank. Amro has been an outspoken activist against the Israeli occupation and a critic of the PA's corruption and collaboration with Israel. He has been harassed by Israel and the PA for his activism.

Like Amro, Banat was previously a target of PA harassment. Before he was killed, Banat disparaged a deal between the PA and Israel to distribute one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine to Palestinians in the West Bank. The deal was aborted after it was determined that the doses Israel was providing would expire at the end of June. 

One of the key figures in the vaccine deal was Hussein al-Sheikh. In his role as head of the PA's General Authority of Civil Affairs, al-Sheikh is responsible for coordinating with Israel. Banat criticised al-Sheikh on social media and it likely contributed to his arrest. 

"Since the 1993 Oslo Accords and the creation of the PA and its security services, there have been consistent reports of abuse, torture, murder, human rights violations, and corruption"

Banat is the most recent and prominent Palestinian subjected to arrest and torture by the Palestinian security services, but he is by no means not the first. Since the 1993 Oslo Accords and the creation of the PA and its security services, there have been consistent reports of abuse, torture, murder, human rights violations, and corruption. 

A report issued by Lawyers for Justice, a Palestinian non-governmental organisation, a few days before Banat's death detailed the PA's manipulation of the March 2020 state of emergency edict for the Covid-19 pandemic to violate the rule of law.

The security services account for nearly 20 percent of the PA's budget which amounts to its second-highest expenditure. Unlike other PA employees, security salaries are paid in full. 

In 2018, President Trump cut funding to the PA in order to pressure Abbas into accepting his "Deal of the Century." But the lack of funding did not prevent continued abuses by the security services. With US funding restored by President Joe Biden and Abbas desperate to remain in power, the security services have been unleashed to preserve the status quo.

"With Abbas desperate to remain in power, the security services have been unleashed to preserve the status quo"

The US State Department has said it was "deeply disturbed" by Banat's death. Similarly, the EU mission in Palestine has expressed its shock. Both the State Department and the EU have called for an investigation into the matter. But as with their empty criticisms of Israel, it is unlikely these statements will lead to any substantive change. After all, they all but supported Abbas's cancelling of elections in order to prevent a Hamas victory. As they fund the PA's security services and endorse Abbas's authoritarian policies, they share the blame for Banat's murder as they do for the persistence of Israel's occupation.

Another likely successor to Abbas, and competitor to al-Sheikh, is Majed Faraj, the Palestinian intelligence chief. 

Faraj maintains ties to the intelligence services of the US, Egypt, the Arab Gulf states, and Israel. Even after Abbas publicly claimed he was no longer speaking to the Trump administration, Faraj was involved with direct talks with US and Israeli intelligence.

Last week, he was in Washington for discussions on keeping the West Bank calm after the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel. This will likely mean the use of more force against protesters and critics, not less.

For over 27 years, the PA's security services have relied on the same tools as the Israelis to maintain power. Like Israel, they deny the basic rights of the Palestinian people. From muzzling opposition, to cancelling and manipulating elections, to torture and assassination, it is becoming difficult to distinguish one oppressor from another.

Dalal Yassine is a Non-Resident Fellow with the Jerusalem Fund/Palestine Center in Washington, DC.

Follow her on Twitter: @Dalal_yassine

The views in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center.

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.