Palestinians who incite violence against Israel are called Palestinian leaders. Palestinians who beg to differ with Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas or one of his friends are called criminals and can expect to be interrogated and/or imprisoned.
The PA leadership has always clamped down on its critics, including journalists, editors, academics, human rights activists and parliament members. In this regard, the PA and its president show a distinct similarity to the other dictators that run the Arab world.
Like the legendary Japanese monkeys who see no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil, the international media regularly turns a blind eye to blatant Palestinian Authority abuses. But here's a newsflash for them: Say you don't like Abbas and you face arrest or interrogation on charges of "insulting His Excellency."
Take, for example, the case of Professor Abdul Sattar Qassem, who teaches Political Science at An-Najah University in Nablus.
Qassem, a long-time critic of President Abbas and the Oslo Accords, was arrested earlier this week by Palestinian security forces on charges of "incitement." Qassem was arrested on the heels of a television interview in which he stated that those who collaborate with Israel should receive the death penalty, according to the PLO's "Revolutionary Law." The Palestinian leadership considered this statement "incitement" against President Abbas and Palestinian security personnel.
Professor Abdul Sattar Qassem (left) stated in a TV interview that those who collaborate with Israel should receive the death penalty. The Palestinian Authority leadership considered this "incitement" against President Mahmoud Abbas (right), and arrested Qassem.
Qassem was released on bail after three days in detention, although a Palestinian court had ordered him remanded in custody for 15 days. It is still unclear whether he will be officially charged and put on trial.
No stranger to Palestinian prison, Qassem has been arrested at least three times in the past few years for publicly criticizing President Abbas and other senior Palestinian officials. His outspokenness has also exposed him to violence: his car was torched while parked in front of his home in Nablus, and he escaped an assassination attempt when unidentified gunmen shot several rounds at him outside this home.
The culprits have never been caught. Palestinian sources say the assailants are unlikely to ever be apprehended. Had the perpetrators posted critical comments about President Abbas on Facebook, however, these sources say that they would have been locked up long ago.
A recent report published by the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor documented 1,391 cases where Palestinians were arbitrarily arrested by the two Palestinian parties, Fatah and Hamas, in 2015.
The report noted that the bulk of the arrests (1,274) had taken place in the areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank. Among those arrested were 35 Palestinian journalists and civil rights activists, and 476 students and academics.
Cameras and computers were confiscated from the detained journalists before they were interrogated about their work and activities on social media, the report said.
Now let us go to Gaza. How is Hamas doing on this score? Hamas authorities last year arrested "only" 23 journalists and civil rights workers, 24 university students and five teachers and academics.
Thus, the figures show, we might say, some arresting facts: Hamas has a better record than the Western-funded Palestinian Authority when it comes to assaults on public freedoms and human rights violations. The report also revealed that the Palestinian Authority regularly disobeys court orders by refusing to release detainees. In other words, the Palestinian Authority, which repeatedly boasts that it has managed to build an "independent and credible judiciary system" with the help of Western donors, shows contempt for its courts and judges.
Systematic torture -- scores of cases -- in Palestinian prisons in the West Bank and Gaza Strip was also documented in the report. In 2015, there were at least 179 cases of torture in Palestinian Authority prisons, as opposed to 39 cases in Hamas prisons during the same year.
The Palestinian Authority security forces are trained and funded by several Western countries, including the United States. This establishes a direct line between these Western donors and the arbitrary arrests, torture and human rights violations that have become the norm in Palestinian Authority-controlled prisons and detention centers.
Yet there is silence -- until the word "Israel" pops up. Then Western news outlets, including those based in Israel that are tasked with covering Palestinian affairs, go into high gear.
This criminal indifference -- one is tempted to say negligence -- on the part of the international community permits and even promotes Palestinian Authority and Hamas human rights abuses.
We are witnessing how the two Palestinian parties approach the task of building state institutions. Before our eyes, two police states are being built -- one in the West Bank and a second in the Gaza Strip. This is taking place in the face of talk by the same donors and other international parties (at least in relation to the PA) of establishing an independent Palestinian state. But the last thing the Palestinians need is another police state.
President Abbas, who has just entered the 11th year of his four-year term in office, has no cause to be concerned about the human rights violations committed by his security forces. In fact, he has every reason to continue clamping down on his critics. Why should he worry? The international community absolves him of the abuses perpetrated under his rule.
That is why this week Abbas instructed his security forces to launch an investigation into the behavior of a legislator, Dr. Najat Abu Baker. Dr. Abu Baker, it seems, had the temerity to demand an inquiry into the financial practices of a Palestinian cabinet minister.
Soon after she lodged charges of financial wrongdoing, Dr. Abu Baker, an elected member of the Palestinian Legislative Council, was summoned by the Palestinian prosecutor general for interrogation on charges of "slander" and "incitement." This is quite a way to respect Dr. Abu Baker's parliamentary immunity.
Dr. Abu Baker's case is yet a further example of the disregard that the Palestinian Authority shows not only for the judicial system, but also for the legislative body that is meant to serve as a watchdog over the executive branch. But even watchdogs know their owners. By summoning Dr. Abu Baker for interrogation and threatening to arrest her, Abbas is sending a message of deterrence to his detractors, namely that even a member of parliament cannot escape the long arm of the Palestinian security forces.
For now, the international community has some choices. It could continue to close its eyes to the police states being erected with its monies. Alternatively, it could choose a new path: to hold the Palestinian Authority accountable for its actions, including the torture that takes place within its very core. But the West had better hurry up. The PA repression is far from lost on the Palestinians, who are being driven by it into the waiting arms of Hamas and other such groups.
Proper state institutions for the Palestinians is a laudatory goal; what the Palestinians have today are two banana republics.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award winning journalist, is based in Jerusalem.