More articles by
Yacov Ben Efrat
Requiem for the Palestinian Authority
he Israeli government decided in mid-November 2011 to continue delaying the transfer of $100 million in tax revenues to the Palestinian Authority (PA). The pleas of Defense Minister Ehud Barak and senior IDF officers didn’t help, even though they explained that the money was needed to pay the wages of the policemen responsible for security in the West Bank. The resolute positions of Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman held out – no transfers would be made. This delay is the punishment that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to mete out to the PA for daring to request membership in UNESCO – and receiving it too. The UNESCO request was part of the Palestinian bid for recognition as a state at the UN Security Council – a bid seen by Israel as a declaration of war, which led the IDF to carry out a slew of exercises to prepare for a possible third intifada in September.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) certainly delivered an historic speech at the UN General Assembly, and Netanyahu responded with an impressive speech of his own. US President Barack Obama adopted the Zionist version, citing the existential threat to the Jewish state surrounded by hostile Arabs, and since then not much has happened. September came and went, the PA failed to muster the necessary majority in the Security Council, the dream of a state faded, and instead of an intifada, the Palestinians made do with placing a huge empty chair in Ramallah’s central square to symbolize Palestine’s absence at the General Assembly. The Palestinian issue has slipped quietly out of the spotlights. The world is preoccupied with Syria, and Netanyahu is busy reinforcing his coalition by condoning racist and anti-democratic legislation against the Israeli left in the Knesset.
The head of the PA, caught in a dead end, is zigzagging and lashing out in all directions as he seeks a way to restart negotiations with Israel. Among his recent moves was the expected meeting with Hamas leader Khaled Mashal, aimed to advance general elections for the PA. It will be recalled that a reconciliation agreement was signed between Fatah and Hamas in May. But since then little has happened because the two sides have failed to agree on a candidate for the position of temporary prime minister. Abbas insists on current PM Salam Fayyad, while Hamas is adamantly against. The reconciliation was achieved because of public pressure, and was not due to any readiness for real change.
While Hamas is highly critical of Abbas’ attempts to gain UN recognition, it and the Jihad continue to fire rockets onto Israel’s southern region in order to retain the option of armed struggle. Abbas, for his part, is intentionally creating an atmosphere of uncertainty. During the last Fatah leadership convention, he declared he had no intention of running for another term, thus leaving Fatah leaderless as the elections draw near. For the umpteenth time, Abbas hinted to all and sundry, especially the Americans, that if no progress was made in negotiations with Israel, he would step down and they would lose their only partner for an agreement. If Abbas does refrain from running, Hamas will almost certainly win. The immediate result will be the end of any chance of reaching an agreement with Israel for the foreseeable future. Thus Abbas declares – if you don’t want me, you’ll get Hamas.
The Al-Hayat website posted an article entitled “Will Abbas give back the PA keys to Israel?”, in which the author claims that Abbas has set up a committee headed by Nabil Shaath to discuss the future of the PA. Abbas also asked the PA executive committee and the Arab League’s monitoring committee to discuss the issue. The article quotes Azzam al-Ahmad, the PA representative in negotiations with Hamas: “The PA is a temporary body whose validity came to an end in 1999 when it was supposed to become a state. We fulfilled American demands to hold all kinds of negotiations with Israel, which proved fruitless. Meanwhile, the settlement enterprise continued to expand until it became impossible to establish a Palestinian state with territorial continuity…. Are we living under occupation, or are we an authority being managed by the occupation? Are we an authority on the way to becoming a state, or are we in fact a tool in the hands of the occupation, as was the Army of South Lebanon of Antoine Lahad and Saad Haddad? A Palestinian cannot sink a well without Israeli permission, and the security services cannot carry out their job without an Israeli permit. Perhaps we are just lying to ourselves when we call ourselves a national authority?”
The facts speak for themselves. What was once uttered in secret has been openly mooted by a central PA figure. Azzam al-Ahmad expressed a new consensus which maintains that with or without negotiations, with or without acceptance by the UN, the PA is nothing more than limited autonomy operating under Israeli jurisdiction and in Israel’s service. The existence of the PA does not in any way serve the general interests of the residents of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. It merely serves a thin layer of functionaries, businessmen and merchants who benefit from the privileges the regime grants them. Support from Europe and the US directs funds which enable the PA to maintain the security services, bureaucracy and health and education services, but are not sufficient for economic growth and political independence.
The PA is indeed the most efficient tool that Israel could have conceived for continuing the occupation and the settlement enterprise. The PA has no future, because there is no political force in Israel that could or wishes to go head to head with the settlers. A sign of this is Netanyahu’s recent moves to legitimize illegal settlements and postpone the dismantling of illegal outposts which the government committed to dismantling as soon as possible. Clearly anyone who works to expand the settlements and is unwilling to even talk about freezing settlement construction for a limited period is bringing the PA down with his own hands.
But in addition to the voices of Hamas and Fatah, who divided control of the Palestinian people between them, there are voices influenced by the Arab Spring which call for fundamental change. These voices are gaining in strength, coming from the same young people who demonstrated in the public squares and demanded an end to the internal divisions. For them, the PA has become a hurdle in the struggle against the occupation – it created division between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and removed responsibility from Israel’s shoulders for their 4 million residents who have been left without land or livelihood, closed off behind fences, walls and military checkpoints. The Israeli public’s disregard of the occupation and its lack of interest in anything that happens beyond the separation fence do not solve the problem, they merely exacerbate it. Abbas is transmitting distress signals, yet Israel just ties weights to his feet to make him sink even deeper.
The current government declares its desire both for a Palestinian state and for settlements. The result will be the collapse of the PA and a return to the pre-Oslo days of direct occupation. The images streaming in from around the Arab world, of repressive armies and non-violent demonstrations, can suggest what might happen if the PA disappears and Israel controls the territory without its mediation. The mosque-burning “price tag” gangs will become similar to Bashar Assad’s militias, and the IDF will be like the Syrian army, massacring the people. This is not some apocalyptic vision, but a tangible scenario with which the Israeli public will have to contend sooner or later.
- Translated by Yonatan Preminger