There appear to be a number of possible explanations why the Palestinian Authority could collapse into anarchy. Some observers argue that the Palestinians have proven themselves essentially ungovernable and uniquely inclined to make all the wrong decisions at the national level. Others that Israel and its occupation, directly and indirectly, are the primary catalyst of chaos. Still others fault the Oslo accords for generating a bad solution for Palestinian needs.
The school of thought informing and justifying the drive to impose the harshest possible economic sanctions on the Hamas-led Palestinian Authority argues, in a Leninist fashion, that the worse things get in Palestine, the better they will eventually become. In other words, economic chaos will breed social, political and security chaos, bring down the Hamas government and produce something better in its place. To its credit the Olmert government, though inheriting the mantle of a policy that certainly contributed to the Palestinians' current plight, does not subscribe to this all-out approach. Together with the Quartet, it is now looking for ways to spend Palestinian monies and donor funds for the benefit of Palestinians, somehow hoping that this will prevent starvation and chaos but also not help Hamas solidify its rule.
The principal external actors, then, don't want a total collapse of the PA: only a partial collapse--enough to either discredit and replace Hamas or oblige it to moderate its attitude toward Israel, violence and a two-state solution. But one way or another, because we are dealing with an unprecedented situation in the annals of the conflict--indeed, in the annals of the modern Middle East--and because the economic and security situation in the West Bank and particularly Gaza is deteriorating rapidly, collapse is possible. Nor can we safely predict what "collapse" would look like: a Somalia-like situation, a Hamas-Fateh civil war, or genuine socio-economic distress in a political void. At a minimum, it would be characterized by a severe setback for Palestinian democracy and large-scale human suffering.
This is bad news for Palestinians. But the potential consequences of collapse for those outside Palestine are also likely to be highly negative. First, the distress inside Palestine would generate unrest and agitation among large Palestinian populations living next door, in Israel and Jordan. This could have political consequences in both countries, particularly the Hashemite kingdom. Inside Palestine the situation would invite extremism, including Islamic extremism led by Hizballah and al-Qaeda, both of whom have already been targeting and infiltrating the Palestinian conflict. This would affect the security situation among Palestine's neighbors.
Second, whatever remains (following the counterproductive elections in Iraq and Palestine) of the American democratic reform drive in the Arab world would be further discredited, having proven itself selective, anti-Islamic and ultimately destructive. The consequences for US Middle East policy would be felt as far afield as Morocco and Iraq. Moderate Arab reformers in those countries and in Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia, a small but important group of embattled secular democrats, would also be disgraced.
Assuming orderly governance was not quickly restored, Israel would come under heavy pressure from some international and domestic circles to, in effect, renew military government in order to stem the chaos and provide sustenance. Alternatively, or in parallel, pressure would increase for an "international solution" involving both foreign military forces and a major donor effort. Egypt and Jordan, which have thus far maintained their distance both politically and militarily, might now be called upon, against their better judgment, to play a major role.
Could something good also emerge from a collapse of governance in Palestine? Theoretically, it is possible that an alliance of Fateh-oriented strongmen (at least two; one for Gaza, one for the West Bank) could, with a little help from Israel, take over and even strike a peace deal that satisfies all of Jerusalem's territorial and national needs. Yet judging by the course of Palestinian history and the mood of the Palestinian street, this is highly unlikely.
Certainly it would be disastrous for all concerned if someone in Israel or elsewhere thought they could engineer such a productive coup in Palestine. If we have learned anything in nearly 40 years of occupation, it is that such schemes never turn out the way they're planned. Better that we devote our energies to preventing collapse--for lack of a constructive alternative.- Published 15/5/2006 © bitterlemons.org
In its early days of conception, the Palestinian Authority was perceived by Palestinians and most members of the international community as the initial stage of a nascent Palestinian state. It was the byproduct of a peace process resulting in bilateral negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis and based on the principle of "land for peace" and the two-state solution. The Palestinian Authority was comprised of the nucleus of a central government and budding state institutions, including some services that the Palestinian people were deprived of under direct Israeli administration.
Over the last ten years, the Palestinian Authority largely succeeded in completing this mission, and the Palestinian people began to run most of their affairs by themselves--that is, until the peace process was interrupted by Israeli withdrawal from negotiations under Prime Minister Ehud Barak. It appears that Barak saw the 2000 Camp David summit as a chance to tell Palestinians to "take it or leave it," thus shoring up his domestic support. But Barak entered the summit having already lost power to a right-wing Knesset that did not share in the prevalent assumptions of the peace process. That period marked the beginning of Israel's efforts to weaken the Palestinian Authority, most easily witnessed in the aerial bombing of its institutions, withholding of its tax revenues, and restrictions on its officials.
The collapse of the Palestinian Authority, a plausible outcome of the current Israeli and international embargo of aid, is a byproduct of the stated Israeli strategy of ignoring the Palestinian side. This unilateral approach mostly reflects a right-wing Israeli political and ideological background that is antithetical to a peace process based in international legality. Rather than pursue negotiations within the context of the peace process, the Israelis have chosen a unilateral approach based on the balance of power and Israeli interests alone.
This unilateralism and other Israeli practices that the international community has largely turned a blind eye to have been at least in part responsible for another outcome in Israel's favor: the success of Hamas in the recent elections. Having Hamas in charge of the Palestinian government has deflected attention from Israel's failure to comply with international laws and norms, which are Palestinians' only redress as the weaker party in negotiations.
It is ironic that neither Israel nor Hamas is enthusiastic about the two-state solution or sees significance in the 1967 borders. Both disregard international legality, as far as the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is concerned. It is also ironic that both are more comfortable with unilateralism. Hamas is thus able to avoid the embarrassment of negotiating with a party it does not recognize, and Israel has no political resistance from the Palestinians--and consequently, from abroad--in proceeding with its plans. As long as Israel is providing Hamas with enough room to manage internal affairs, Hamas seems willing and able to provide Israel with the necessary security.
In other words, we are currently entering a situation where the Palestinian Authority is either physically collapsing or becoming an apparatus "smaller" than the original vision within the context of the peace process and a state within the 1967 borders. This collapse or transformation may not take place suddenly, but rather have gradual manifestations. One of these is the gradual separation of Gaza, not only from Israel, but also from the West Bank. The second manifestation is what we are currently witnessing--a gradual reduction in the function and importance of the Palestinian Authority, which is receding in the face of a growing Israeli security role and international humanitarian intervention. This may even become an undeclared trusteeship in the Palestinian territories.
To diminish the Palestinian Authority as a viable stepping stone in the creation of an independent Palestinian state is Israel's plan. This strategy has been facilitated by Hamas' rise to power through the short-sighted strategy of a short-sighted Israeli leadership--which unfortunately has not been stymied by a responsible international community. It is a strategy that can only lead to deepening mutual hatred and hostility, a prolongation of the conflict, and its transference to future generations.
We had a brief opportunity to establish a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel and thereby to end this conflict once and for all. But this gust of hope appears to have passed us by, and with it not only an end to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but the chance for normalization of Israeli relations with the Arab world, embodied in the nearly-forgotten Arab initiative for peace. - Published 15/5/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications. He is the former Palestinian Authority minister of planning, and has been a political analyst and media contact for many years.
AN ISRAELI VIEW|
by Moshe Elad
Palestinian society has reached a new crossroads--one of many encountered in recent generations. Indeed, the chronicles of Palestinian society comprise many such crossroads and few periods of routine. The Palestinians of the West Bank and Gaza Strip have never enjoyed a single day of real independence; for years they have been struggling against a steady stream of rulers and enemies.
In the course of the past two centuries, the Palestinians have been ruled by four or five foreign regimes: they were exploited by the Ottoman Empire and subjugated by the British Mandate. The West Bankers suffered deliberate discrimination under the Hashemites, while the Gazans were under tough Egyptian rule. Then, over the past four decades, Israeli occupation inflicted deep wounds on one of the most "ruled" peoples of the modern era.
By now it is clear that the Oslo agreements, too, did not generate any practical or cognizant change on the road to Palestinian independence. Even the creation of the Palestinian Authority, the realization of a long-held dream for seven million Palestinians worldwide, emerged at a certain point as something distant and foreign. Hence the Palestinian public punished Palestine Liberation Organization/Fateh by removing it from power, and installed in its stead a radical and fundamentalist religious body, the Hamas movement, to lead it in the years ahead.
Yet the choice of Hamas rule by the Palestinian public does reflect a degree of continuity in terms of political behavior. Prior to the emergence of the PA in the mid-1990s, the Palestinian public had focused its struggle on external enemies and foreign rulers. After 1967, Palestinian society sharply opposed Israeli military government and sought to establish a degree of autonomy by choosing an authentic leadership hostile to Israel. For example, in the late 1960s Israel wanted Muhammad Ali Jabri from Hebron to lead, while the public selected the "Palestinian National Front", which was supported mainly by the Syrian Baath party. In the early 1980s, Israel tried to impose the "Village Leagues" on the territories, but the local population responded by bringing the PLO into Nablus, Hebron and Gaza. Now, in the 2006 elections, the Palestinian public produced a more extreme government than its predecessor even without outside involvement. This time the enemy ruler was the PA itself.
PLO/Fateh was not removed from rule of the PA merely because it was perceived as corrupt or due to unacceptable societal behavior. In the eyes of most of the Palestinian public, the outgoing PA government of Arafat and Abu Mazen was too moderate in its approach to Israel and the West. Accordingly, in keeping with the historical pattern, the public replaced them with a more militant and extremist leadership.
Now, after a grace period of several months, the public is beginning to perceive the nature of the impending socio-economic disaster. The Palestinians understand that Hamas will be unable to deliver on its promise of improved quality of life without changing direction politically--meaning abandoning its ideological approach. Hence some Palestinians are already preparing for another change.
Where is Palestinian society headed? It appears once again to have reached a crossroads--a particularly problematic one. There is no political alternative to Hamas; it is unlikely that Fateh and the other moderate movements will be returned to power in new democratic elections. The Palestinian public has never become more moderate--only more extreme. Hence there appear to be three possible scenarios for the near future:
First, a coup d'etat led by the Fateh leaders who command some 50,000 armed men from the various security forces. Jibril Rajoub, the jailed Marwan Barghouti and Muhammad Dahlan have watched helplessly as power slipped through their fingers after years of struggle and personal sacrifice. They are aware of the support they are likely to get from an economically battered public that would draw new hope from a coup. To be sure, Hamas activists would oppose such a move, but Fateh, backed by Israel and the West, would win the day. Israel and the West, incidentally, appreciate that it is easier to alter the PLO's behavior than to replace Hamas' ideology.
A second possibility is that the economic pressure would simply "not wait" for political developments to catch up and the Palestinian street would speak by generating total anarchy, "every man to himself". Under these circumstances street fighting, looting and pillaging could become the order of the day and fitna--the civil war that Palestinians are so concerned about--would rage.
In yet a third possible scenario, the territory of the West Bank and Gaza is divided among "governors", modern Diadochi, who hasten to grab power in those areas where they have strong societal roots. This would create a de facto cantonization, with one ruler, say, for the Mount Hebron region and another declaring his rule in Samaria, one ruler for the northern Gaza Strip and another for the south. Each warlord would maintain military, economic and social independence in his canton.
Such a development would give the term "roadmap" a more ironic connotation.- Published 15/5/2006 ©bitterlemons.org
Colonel (res.) Moshe Elad served for years in senior IDF positions in the West Bank and Gaza. He currently conducts research at the Samuel Neaman Institute for Advanced Studies in Science and Technology at the Technion in Haifa.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Make Israel take responsibility
an interview with Shawqi Issa
bitterlemons: You wrote an article in Arabic just after the January elections suggesting that Palestinians themselves dismantle the Palestinian Authority. Why this, and why now?
Issa: I first began to call for this after the Camp David summit [in 2000]. When the Palestinian Authority was created, it was intended to be a transitional government for a maximum of five years until the final status of the Palestinian state was negotiated. It may have been good for that and for building trust between the two sides. But the Palestinian Authority was not designed as a long-term or permanent solution, and this has been proven over time.
bitterlemons: In what way?
Issa: The powers that the Palestinian Authority has under the Oslo accords have been slowly decreasing. Israel uses the fact that there is a Palestinian Authority, forcing it to prevent Palestinian resistance and using it in the international arena to monopolize Palestinians. At the same time, Israel has a free hand to do what it wants. The US and some European countries are very comfortable with this situation.
There is also clearly a lack of equality in the current international position against Hamas, in its leadership of the Palestinian Authority. When an Israeli killed [former Israeli prime minister Yizhak] Rabin, and the Israeli public subsequently elected right-wing politician Benjamin Netanyahu who ran in these elections against the peace process, the US and Europe did not sanction Israel.
Palestinians currently have no power to face [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert's plan [to set Israel's borders] and the wall [being built in the West Bank] because of the US position. The only option for Palestinians now is to dismantle the Palestinian Authority and to force Israel to reoccupy the West Bank and Gaza. That way, the wall will be meaningless and Olmert's plan will be put to an end. We will return to the clear reality that we are a people under a foreign occupation, and Israel will be a direct occupier instead of being able to hide behind a screen.
bitterlemons: Your proposal comes at a time when some are sounding the alarm that the Palestinian Authority must be protected from collapse, other Fateh members are calling for the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas is also saying that, if forced from power, it will never return to the political arena. How does your thinking fit into this context?
Issa: Hamas, by participating in the elections and being in the parliament and government, has accepted participation in Oslo because the elections were regulated by the Oslo agreement. Hamas and Fateh and the other factions who have joined the Palestinian Authority are part of Oslo and are acting under the ceiling of Oslo, whether they like it or not. As such, Fateh and Hamas are now powerless to face Olmert's plan or the wall. There is nothing to be done according to Oslo to stop the wall or to stop Olmert's plans, especially with the position of the US government being one where [US President George] Bush has said he will accept Israel's facts on the ground. Europe is powerless to force Israel to follow international law or even Oslo.
As long as we are still operating within the Oslo process and still have the Palestinian Authority, we are not able to face Israeli aggression. We will only be able to do so as a nation under occupation resisting the occupation, without a national authority in the middle. In the new situation, Europe and the US will have new responsibilities to force Israel to follow international humanitarian law. We will have a clear mission, a clear purpose, and a clear struggle; under Oslo and the Palestinian Authority we have only lost. In every respect, our lives are worse: the restrictions on movement, the killings, the assassinations, the economy and so on.
bitterlemons: Describe, then, a landscape without the Palestinian Authority.
Issa: If we take this step, the Americans and Israelis will beg us not to do it. If we do dismantle the Palestinian Authority, then Israel will have no choice but to come back as direct occupiers. It will not take them long--they are right here already. And I believe that Palestinians without the Palestinian Authority will be more disciplined. The crime rate before the Palestinian Authority was much lower. People will no longer be pessimistic, blaming the Palestinian Authority for their problems or saying, "look what we got for our struggle." Already there are Israeli troops in our streets, in our homes, in our restaurants--let's make them take responsibility for their actions.- Published 15/5/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Shawqi Issa is a human rights lawyer and director of Ensan Center for Democracy and Human Rights in Bethlehem.
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