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December 5, 2014 2:24 pm

Crushing Labor Unions, and Other Harbingers of a Palestinian Dictatorship

avatar by Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn

Members of the Palestinian delegation at the United Nations General Assembly celebrate Nov. 29 upon the vote to upgrade Palestinian status to a non-member observer state Nov. 29. Photo: UN Photo/Rick Bajornas.

Amidst all the current debate over how Israel should define its national character, an equally important topic has attracted almost no attention: what would be the character of a Palestinian state?

The question has gained urgency in view of the latest — and little-noticed — authoritarian actions by Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas. Annoyed by some recent strikes, Abbas on November 9 responded by suddenly outlawing the 40,000-member Union of Public Employees, which is the largest Palestinian Arab trade union.

Let us leave aside the rich irony of the progressives’ cause celebre — the Palestinian Authority — banning “Palestine’s” largest public sector union.

Abbas also jailed the president and vice president of the union, Bassam Zakarneh and Moin Ansawi, who were released only a week later. When the head of the Federation of Health and Nursing Unions, Osama al-Najjar, convened an urgent meeting to discuss the outlawing of the union, he too was briefly arrested.

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Imagine the president of the United States responding to a wave of strikes by outlawing AFSCME — the American Federation of States, County and Municipal Employees — and jailing its leaders. Such actions would give us a pretty good idea as to the president’s governing philosophy, and the direction in which he intends to take the country.

The PA’s outlawing of the Union of Public Employees is, in fact, just the tip of the iceberg. The State Department’s latest annual report on human rights around the world provides much additional evidence of Palestinian authoritarianism:

*  “PA security forces in the West Bank…continued to restrict freedom of speech and press.” For example, “PA authorities arrested some journalists and bloggers who criticized the PA and PA officials.” One activist was jailed for the crime of “extending his tongue against PA leadership.” PA security forces “harassed, detained (occasionally with violence), prosecuted, and fined journalists several times during the year.” In addition, “the PA blocked access to websites critical of President Abbas.”

*  The PA security services carried out “arbitrary or unlawful killings” of civilians. In one instance, the PA announced there would be an “investigation” of such a killing, but “no further information” about the alleged investigation was ever released.

*  Even though the PA’s “Basic Law” officially prohibits torture of prisoners, there is evidence “that torture and abuse remained a problem” in the year under review (2013). Interrogators’ tactics included “sitting in a painful position for long periods; beating; punching; flogging; intimidation; and psychological pressure.”

*  “Arrests [by the PA] on political grounds occurred in the West Bank and Gaza,” although no numbers were provided. “Palestinian security services often…entered homes without judicial authorization.”

*  The PA’s Basic Law stipulates the right of citizens “to elect their government through democratic means,” but “the PA has not held elections in the West Bank and East Jerusalem since 2006.”

The mistreatment of women and children under the PA regime is especially egregious, according to the State Department. PA law “does not explicitly prohibit domestic violence.” The report cited an internal PA study that found 37% of Palestinian women are victims of violence (and those are only the ones who reported it). The PA does not have any law against sexual harassment, “and it was a significant and widespread problem.” Child abuse was likewise “a widespread problem” and “PA authorities rarely punished perpetrators of family violence.”

PA law bans rape, but spousal rape is exempt. Palestinian rapists who marry their victims are immune from prosecution. The police often “treated rape as a social and not a criminal matter and released some accused rapists after they apologized to their victims.” So-called “honor killings” — in which a woman suspected of violating Islamic morality is murdered by relatives — increased by 100% in the PA territories between 2011 and 2012, and the PA’s laws ensure leniency for the killers.

Those who advocate the creation of a Palestinian state – especially self-styled progressives ­- ought to take these developments seriously. First, because a policy of bringing another totalitarian regime into the world is morally unacceptable. There are already too many dictatorships, and too many oppressed people. Second, because history has demonstrated again and again that dictatorships are far more likely to start wars than democracies, a “Palestine” that outlaws trade unions, tortures dissidents, indefinitely postpones elections and oppresses women gives little prospect of being a stable, friendly, or peaceful neighbor.

Moshe Phillips is president and  Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia.

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