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New political opportunities?

Amnon Lord

The disintegration of the Palestinian Authority--ultimately, an act by the Palestinian leadership to dismantle the PA--is certainly not in the interest of Israel, for quite a few reasons. It is also not in the interest of the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinian leadership, whether Fateh or Hamas. Here are some thoughts as to the diverse directions such a development might take.

Articles in this edition
Why we are closing - Yossi Alpher
The arc of the pendulum - Ghassan Khatib
For Israel, the possibility of the PA closing down and throwing the keys into the Dead Sea is a nightmare. Not so much because of the international consequences, but rather due to the reality on the ground in terms of Israel's relationship with the Palestinian population. The prospect of returning to the old regime of military and civil government over the entire population of the West Bank is a responsibility Israel would be hard put to cope with.

Beyond the bureaucratic hell of rebuilding government tools to run life in the former PA, there's the full economic burden that would fall on Israel's shoulders alone, given the presumed dissolution of the old economic accords dating from the time of Oslo. This also means cancelling the transfer of huge sums of money that donor states regularly contribute to the PA's coffers. The outcome would be a mess.

This could also spell a strange situation in which the United States becomes the occupying power by proxy. It might be forced to share Israel's financial burden of renewed military occupation while Israeli soldiers, Israeli policemen and Palestinian security personnel--on leave? volunteering after being fired?-- absorb the friction and deal with one another. The media would have a field day.

On the other hand, new political opportunities would arise, should Israel wish to take the initiative. First of all, from the administrative point of view the easiest solution to Israel's new political mess would be complete incorporation of the West Bank Palestinian population into the state of Israel. Since politicians always look for the easiest way out, a right-wing government might slide in that direction. This would of course involve a gradual process of granting full citizenship to West Bank (but not Gaza Strip) Palestinians.

A decision to move in that direction would draw new political reactions, both internationally and at the local Palestinian level. A new Palestinian leadership would inevitably emerge following retirement of the old guard of Mahmoud Abbas and others. This would happen spontaneously, because over the years Palestinians have developed an active civil and political society and it's not likely that they would simply pause and wait for an Israeli bureaucrat from the Ministry of the Interior to knock on the door and present the endless paperwork required to get Israeli citizenship. Since only the PA would disappear, not the Palestinian people, the latter would organize and demand that the incorporation process take place through negotiations with a legitimate leadership. There could be an agreement to hold elections.

Here the Fateh movement would encounter a problem. If things go the way described above, there would almost certainly be a soft political takeover of the West Bank by Hamas. This is hardly what Israel and the current leadership of the PA would want. By dismantling the PA, its leadership would lose a power base. However weak and dependent it may be, that power base is still a mechanism for launching political warfare and propaganda, managing international relations, and disbursing a lot of personal benefits.

Legal claims against Israel would take a different turn. In my view, they would benefit many Palestinian individuals but not the Palestinian national interest. For example, the Israeli legal system would have to entertain land claims by Palestinians on a regular basis rather than--as at present--discussing a few dramatic legal disputes. The Israeli legal system would be the first to grant de facto citizenship to every person from the occupied territories.

Dissolution of the PA would reopen the way for Jordan to play a role. This time around there could be an Israeli demand, shared by the Palestinians themselves, that the Hashemite regime go along with the democratization process in the region and become more Palestinian to reflect the identity of its majority population. Thereafter, Jordanians together with Palestinians might move into the role of negotiating with Israel.

Eventually, it would become clear that the same problems--Jerusalem, borders, refugees--have to be negotiated, only with a new partner. Or perhaps an old one.-Published 26/3/2012 © bitterlemons.org

Amnon Lord is a senior editor with Makor Rishon daily newspaper.
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