The stability of a Palestinian state is something that is long overdue, but is it actually possible with the roles of clans in politics in the country? Palestinian politics is steeped in tradition and worn torn values that make up the country’s struggle for peace, and a place at the table of international politics in the region. Different from many areas in the region, they have a complicated make up of factions in their political system.
In April 2015 the Palestinian Authority (PA) made several arrests at the Balata camp. This Palestinian refugee camp was established at the northern West bank, back in the 1950’s and is next to the city of Nablus. There was reported to be fighting among faction members at the time. Made up of the faction Fatah, which is Mahmoud Abbas’ own ruling party. Its this type of factionalism that exists among palestinians that is very rarely reported about in the news, but plays an important part of the sociopolitical dynamic in the region.
The facade of unity inside the PLO is said to be shallow and extremely fragile. This is also what stops the palestinian project developing into a nation, as they have never managed to overcome the disputes among the clans, factions, and also the local loyalties in the region. The local loyalties are made up of leaders and sheiks who consider the Palestinian Authority and illegitimate experiment. If there is a dispute among clans about anything, the group they would ask to intervene wouldn’t be the PA, undermining its actual existence.
In many of the West Bank refugee camps, villages and in the actual Gaza Strip, where survival is often the first priority, many of the clans have actually become paramilitary groups. They patrol their quarters and regions, and take part in raids against who is thought to be their enemy. The camp populations of Palestinian territory and Lebanon often defer to the local imams, notables and also Mukhtars who are chosen heads of villages. They will also turn to the local security leaders in any quarrels that they have, instead of going directly to the police.
There are 3 modalities where the notables such as sheikhs, wajahaa, and muktars wield power. In Palestinian territory the notables are important for any resolution of conflicts and they are consulted by United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), as well as other authorities who govern the camp. Clan leaderships is often times more crucial to certain aspects of the Palestinian society and the political life rather than the adjacent political parties or the various militias.
The most important issue for voters when it comes to political security of the region, is the relationship of family and clans in the minds of the voters. It might be surprising for people to learn that in Palestine people will vote for their family members even if they don’t see eye to eye with them on political issues. Its this tribalism that plays a critical undercurrent when it comes to discrimination in the Palestinian society. People will gravitate to whoever can play the best role as mediator instead of going to the PA, as they are viewed as the government, and in the Arab world the governments are traditionally viewed as the enemy.
Over time, the government ments become the enemy of the local powerbrokers, basically the clan leaders. Mahmoud Abbas faces legitimacy issues because of his background. He was born outside Judea and Samaria in the Galilee, and then he came back to rest in the area via Tunisia, and now himself and his PLO cohorts are viewed as outsiders. One of the reasons they are viewed with such scepticism is that they recruited people from outside the clan structures.
Clan Loyalties to political parties is not something that remains constant. They can change very easily. Its this behaviour that makes the concept of a democracy in Palestine very difficult. There is fluid changes in clan affiliation, as people make wrong comments regarding issues or stand on each others toes accidently. Sometimes sides are taken in an effort to dissociate with a certain clan. There is a general sway towards voting against, rather than voting for.