Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)
Wednesday,19 September, 2018
Issue 1279, (21 - 27 January 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Will the Palestinian Authority collapse?

A recent speech by Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem has raised again the fate of the Palestinian Authority, reports Ahmed Al-Sayed in Gaza

Al-Ahram Weekly

Debate has once again erupted about the prospects of the PA remaining in power. In mid-2014, there were threats to hand over the keys to the Palestinian Authority (PA) to the Israeli occupation. More recently, there have been confirmations that the PA will remain until the creation of an independent Palestinian state.

Political prospects are blocked, there is growing public anger in Jerusalem and the West Bank that could evolve into an armed intifada, continued inter-Palestinian divisions, and the national unity government is unable to control the Gaza Strip, which in actuality is under Hamas rule.

Palestinian analysts believe that the recent raising of the issue of the possible collapse of the PA by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government confirms that Tel Aviv wants the PA to serve Israel’s security interests while Israel does the bare minimum for the establishment of a Palestinian national sovereign state.

They add that both Palestinians and Israelis will pay a high price if the PA collapses. As confrontations escalate with the occupation, including armed resistance, this will raise the security and political cost of occupation. It will also intensify political and economic pressure by Israel, the US and EU on the Palestinians, and negatively impact thousands of state employees in the West Bank and Gaza Strip because donor countries will stop paying.

Hebrew-language media recently reported that the Israeli government has been holding security and political consultations since November about the prospects of the PA collapsing. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas responded to these reports by saying that the PA is here to stay and will not fall.

In a recent address to the Palestinian people from his headquarters in Bethlehem, in the south of the West Bank, Abbas said: “There’s much talk recently about dissolving the Palestinian Authority and destroying it. The Palestinian Authority is an accomplishment we will never abandon. They can dream about it collapsing, but we could be under siege or blocked but we will remain.”

He added: “I say that what follows the Palestinian Authority will be the creation of an independent Palestinian state.” He called for “an international conference or broad committee to study the prospects of resolving the Palestinian issue and the creation of a Palestinian state, similar to the international committees that were created to resolve regional and international issues.”

In April 2014, Abbas indicated he was prepared to hand over the PA to Israel if the peace process continued to stall, in reaction to Netanyahu’s government not complying with its obligations for re-launching talks under US auspices. Talks took place for nine months between 30 July 2013 and 29 April 2014, with barely any progress.

At the time, the Palestinian president told Knesset members from Israel’s left during a meeting at his Ramallah presidential headquarters that he was “willing to hand over the keys to the PA to the owner of the five-star hotel, right now,” meaning, the Israeli occupation.

He added: “I don’t need Binyamin Netanyahu or the chief of staff of the armed forces. Just send me a junior officer or even a lieutenant, and I will give them the keys to the PA. Go ahead, take over the administration and I will leave within one hour.”

The PA was created from the 1993 Oslo Accords to administer autonomy in the occupied Palestinian territories. Its dissolution would mean transferring administrative responsibility in the territories to Israel as the occupying power.

On 5 January 2016, Haaretz newspaper reported on two meetings in two weeks of the smaller security and political cabinet to discuss the scenario of the PA collapsing in light of no political prospects, deteriorating security conditions, the economic crisis in the West Bank and crisis in the ranks of the Palestinian leadership.

The newspaper said the two meetings were part of a series of consultations within the cabinet that began at the end of November after the failure of the visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry to Israel and Ramallah aimed at re-launching the peace process.

According to Israeli officials who attended the 3 January meeting, Netanyahu said Israel must prepare for the possibility that the PA will collapse in the coming phase. “We must try our best to prevent the PA from collapsing,” he reportedly said. “At the same time, we must prepare for such an eventuality.”

A senior Israeli official told the newspaper, “These meetings are the outcome of recent recommendations by Israeli security agencies to the political leadership expressing concern that if the PA becomes too paralysed it would no longer be able to control the West Bank. This would have security and civil ramifications for Israel.”

The source added: “We shouldn’t just say we are not concerned with the collapse of the PA, but should take steps to prevent this from happening.”

According to Haaretz, Netanyahu wants to take tangible steps to prevent the collapse of the PA and held several meetings in recent weeks with Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon, coordinator of government activities in the Palestinian territories Yoav Mordechai, Shin Bet director Yoram Cohen and other experts.

Minister of Finance Moshe Kahlon said he placed several preconditions to provide financial facilities for Palestinians in several sectors during a meeting with senior Palestinian officials. Most notably, ending what he described as “incitement” by the PA and condemning stabbings and cars hitting Israelis, as carried out by Palestinians.

Kahlon told Israel’s Channel 2 television that he met with Palestinian Minister of Finance Shukri Bishara and Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein Al-Sheikh, who is a close confidante of Abbas, in his office in occupied Jerusalem to talk at length about measures to provide financial facilities to the PA. “The aim is to protect Israel’s security and facilitate the lives of Palestinians in the West Bank,” he claimed.

Kahlon said the two ministers made several requests, including increasing the number of work permits for Palestinians to reduce unemployment in the West Bank, and improving infrastructure in Palestinian towns and villages. In return, Kahlon demanded that the PA and Abbas condemn attacks by Palestinians and said that the PA must stop inciting against Israelis.

Tzipi Livni, Knesset member from the opposition Zionist bloc and former justice minister, entered the fray by sending an urgent message to Tzachi Hanegbi, chairman of the Knesset’s Security and Foreign Affairs Committee, who is a member of the ruling Likud Party. Livni called for an urgent meeting of the committee to discuss the possibility of the PA collapsing.

“There is strong speculation in recent months that the PA will collapse,” she wrote. “According to media reports, this possibility was discussed in the smaller cabinet as a real possibility that could happen, although it is undesired by Israel.

“Meanwhile, Israeli and foreign security agencies are warning against the possibility and risks of the PA collapsing, and are making recommendations about formulating official Israeli policy to prevent this collapse, making goodwill gestures, and takings steps on the ground to prevent this imminent danger.”

Livni urged the committee to look into the “dramatic repercussions” if the PA collapses, and asked for committee members to be briefed about the condition of the PA, the possibility of its collapse, and how this would impact Israel politically, economically and security-wise.

Hany Al-Masry, a Palestinian political analyst, believes that the dissolution or collapse of the PA is not an option for Palestinians, because providing services and administration by a Palestinian authority is a national responsibility. However, the nature, format, functions and duties of the PA should be revised so it can become a tool in the hands of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO).

The PLO also needs to be restructured to include all Palestinian groups and replace the PA if the latter collapses or is dissolved by the occupation. In that case, it would become a resistance authority or work alongside the resistance, namely as an authority that serves the national agenda.

Al-Masry, director of the Palestinian Centre for Policy Research and Strategic Studies, said several developments could cause the PA to collapse. These include dramatic developments, such as an Israeli terrorist massacre or a core change in the status or stature of Al-Aqsa Mosque, or a suicide attack that kills many Israelis, the death or resignation of the president before agreeing on a successor, or changing current Palestinian policy from skirmishes to confrontation with the occupation.

However, the collapse of the PA in the West Bank does not mean it would collapse in the Gaza Strip, because the withdrawal of occupation forces from Gaza and imposing a siege from outside has created different conditions there than in the West Bank. It is likely that the authority in Gaza will remain, even if the one in the West Bank collapses.

Al-Masry believes that what is propping up the PA in power is that Israel prefers not to take on the responsibilities of the occupation and uses policies that keep the PA weak and compliant, but without collapsing.

“As long as the powers and countries supporting the PA believe the risks of its collapse are worse than keeping it in power, they will continue to support it,” he said. “And despite reducing aid to the PA, and US and Israeli sanctions against it, Washington and Tel Aviv will scramble to give reasons why it should remain if the PA appeared on the verge of collapse by retransferring aid and tariff revenues, and convincing donors to restart funding. Also, by providing Israeli financial facilities to ease living conditions, such as work permits in Israel and elsewhere.”

Commenting on Abbas’s address, in which he asserted that the PA was here to stay, Al-Masry said: “In this address, the president moved from threatening to dissolve the PA and handing over the keys to the occupation, to describing it as a national achievement that can only evolve into a state.

“The president did not explain the reasons for this change in position. Is it because his tactic of dissolving the PA failed, or he was not serious to begin with, or that he realised he was mistaken altogether?”

He added that what is needed is not the dissolution or collapse of the PA, but a change in its nature, format and functions. The PA needs to evolves from being a partner with the occupation in the political process to an entity that resists occupation, or at least works alongside the resistance.

“This could lead to the occupation dissolving the PA, but in that case the nationalist alternative will be ready,” he said.

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