Palestinian Authority Blocks Tunisia Rallyhttp://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/20/palestinian-authority-blocks-tunisia-rally/?hp By ROBERT MACKEY
The Palestinian Authority refused to grant permission for a rally to celebrate the overthrow of Tunisia's authoritarian president on Wednesday in Ramallah, the administrative capital of the West Bank.
The French newspaper Le Monde reported that a few dozen Palestinians who defied the ban arrived in the square in Ramallah where the rally was to take place only to find that they were outnumbered by members of the ruling Fatah party, who chose the same time and place to stage a demonstration in support of Palestinians held in Israeli jails.
According to the Palestinian Maan news agency, "It was not clear whose demonstration was planned first."
A correspondent for Le Monde, Benjamin Barthe, observed that a police cordon around the square and "the presence among the demonstrators of many mukhabarat (secret police) officers left little doubt about the Palestinian Authority's intention to prevent any expression of solidarity with the 'jasmine revolution' " in Tunisia, which led the president, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali, to flee into exile.
The reporter added that just as one young Palestinian began to wave a Tunisian flag, an officer grabbed it, on the grounds that it was disturbing the demonstration in honor of the prisoners.
Omar Barghouti, a leading Palestinian human rights activist who was present at the thwarted celebration, told the French newspaper: "It's unbelievable. The police are in the process of confirming the charge that the Palestinian Authority is on the side of Ben Ali and that it also fears the people and the street."
As Roee Ruttenberg, an Israeli journalist, explained this week, "many Palestinians feel a certain kinship with the people of Tunisia." After the Palestine Liberation Organization was banished from Lebanon in the 1980s, Tunisia hosted it until Yasir Arafat's return to Ramallah in the 1990s. After his own return from exile, the current Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, "maintained very close ties to the ousted Tunisian leader, Ben Ali," Mr. Ruttenberg added.
Shawan Jabarin, the director of al-Haq, a Palestinian human rights group, told Le Monde that it was the president's office that had banned the demonstration and "all use of the Tunisian flag." He added that his contacts in the Palestinian government indicated that "they were scared of the slightest spark leading to an uprising against Israel or people demanding accountability from the Palestinian Authority."
In addition to historic ties and sympathy for the trials of a personal friend, the Palestinian president might have good reason to fear the example set on the streets of Tunis. As Hussein Agha and Robert Malley pointed out in The New York Review of Books this week, the Palestinian Authority, which controls local affairs in about 40 percent of the West Bank, is "a government that rules by decree, with little democratic legitimacy Parliament has not met in years and elections are long overdue."
While that hardly makes the West Bank's local government a brutal dictatorship akin to the regime in Tunisia, allegations of corruption by unaccountable, unelected officials and torture by the Palestinian security forces have raised concerns about the kind of embryonic state Mr. Abbas is building, with international support.
Last month, Tobias Buck reported for The Financial Times from Jerusalem, "There is evidence that a significant number of detainees are tortured during interrogation" by Palestinian police officers. Mr. Jabarin, whose human rights group is based in Ramallah, told The Times, "I feel real concern that we are reaching the level of a police state." Mr. Buck added:
Some Western diplomats say the harsh tactics will spark a popular backlash and undermine the P.A. "This is of concern to us," says one European diplomat. Human rights abuses threaten not only to "damage the long-term legitimacy and credibility of the Palestinian Authority" but raise difficult questions for donors: "If we are building a police state what are we actually doing here?"