There are two ways in which the Palestinian Authority could cease to exist: by a voluntary decision of its own institutions or of the PLO, which created it; or by simply collapsing under the weight of its failures, whether imposed or self-induced. Either way, the implicit assumption of those Palestinians who advocate such a course or speculate about it is that we will return to the status quo ante, the situation that preceded the creation of the PA in 1994: Israeli rule.
Some Palestinians have advocated or predicted the collapse of the PA since its inception. Enemies of a two-state solution, like Iran/Hizballah and, even after it ran in and won PA elections, Hamas, have engaged in violence directed toward that end. The idea of the elimination of the PA seems to have gained popularity among Palestinians during periods when that institution has appeared totally incapable of communicating with Israel, due to violence and/or ideological gaps such as Hamas' policy line.
Thus, at the height of the last intifada, when Yasser Arafat was effectively imprisoned in the muqataa in Ramallah, the idea was raised repeatedly. Similarly, under present circumstances, with a Hamas-ruled PA government boycotted by Israel and much of the international community, with violence still raging and much of the PA non-functional, we encounter this proposal yet again, as an alternative to the idea of establishing a coalition or technocrat government. Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh suggested a few weeks ago that parliament members begin considering dismantling the Palestinian Authority.
Under renewed Israeli rule, it is argued by advocates of this course, the entire world would understand the true nature of Israeli occupation, which has merely been camouflaged in the past decade or so by the Oslo process. Palestinian resistance to Israel would be more effective both at the international level and locally, where, presumably, another intifada would erupt. Eventually, Israel might be forced to come up with a more generous peace offer. More likely, it would be forced into a "one-man, one-vote" situation that would generate a bi-national state as a precursor to a demographically Palestinian state stretching from the river to the sea. Meanwhile, it would be much easier to brand Israel and Israelis with the apartheid label.
That Palestinians have nevertheless avoided this course over the years testifies to their leadership's recognition of the dangers involved in throwing away the one concrete institutional achievement "on the ground" registered by the Palestinian national liberation movement since its inception nearly 100 years ago. But there is also a logical fallacy in the assumption as to the course of events that would follow the collapse of the PA: this time around, Israel would go to great lengths to avoid reoccupying in the classic sense and reestablishing a military government or civil administration.
The extreme reticence on the part of the Israeli public to again occupy heavily populated Arab territories was reflected in the May 2000 unilateral withdrawal from Lebanon and the August 2005 withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. The fighting of the past two months in Gaza and Lebanon may have given Israeli unilateralism a bad name, but it has not changed Israelis' negative approach to reoccupation. Indeed, the problematic hesitation on the part of Israeli civilian and military leaders to commit ground forces in Lebanon and the temporary and limited nature of Israeli incursions into Gaza merely illustrate the otherwise healthy rejection by Israelis of occupation situations. Specifically, awareness and fear of the Palestinian demographic threat to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state will mitigate against any resumption by Israel of even a semi-permanent occupier status in Palestine.
In parallel, the appeal to Israel of greater international involvement in managing problematic territories on its borders appears to be growing: witness Egyptian and European Union involvement in Gaza (discussion now focuses on an international presence at the Karni crossing) and the radical enhancement of United Nations involvement in southern Lebanon. The idea that Israel, with its difficult experience with international forces on its borders, would welcome these measures would have sounded outlandish a short while ago.
Thus Israel, confronted with the specter of a collapsed or collapsing PA, might well seek to fall back on some variation of the "international condominium" idea advocated for the Palestinian territories in recent years by a number of seasoned strategic thinkers. It would probably seek to deploy a combination of international administrators and aid donors with its own security forces, at least pending the introduction of a new force under international tutelage. It would advocate an enhanced Jordanian role in the West Bank and Egyptian role in Gaza under the new international umbrella--an idea currently roundly rejected in Amman and Cairo, but that might under these difficult circumstances grudgingly be accepted as a default option.
All in all, this speculative venture into the realm of a post-PA West Bank and Gaza points to a messy existence indeed for both Palestinians and Israelis. Israel could find itself confronting a new intifada and embroiled in constant friction with a host of outside players whose agenda for the Palestinians does not necessarily reflect Israel's security needs. Palestinians would trade the autonomy and independence they have attained, problematic as they have been, for international tutelage or, alternatively, renewed Israeli occupation and an even more uncertain future.
It looks like a true "lose-lose" situation. Rational Israelis and Palestinians and their friends in the international community should exert great effort to avoid it.- Published 28/8/2006 © bitterlemons.org
The goal of establishing a Palestinian national authority on Palestinian soil is one of the most important goals of the Palestinian people's struggle. The establishment of the current Palestinian Authority in 1994 came to translate this goal into reality. Some considered this incomplete authority an attempt to abort the Palestinian national liberation struggle. But with the passage of time, all Palestinians dealt with the PA as, at least, an authority of the Palestinian people inside the occupied Palestinian territories and eventually almost all the political factions in these territories competed to join and control this authority.
It is well understood that the PA is incomplete, restricted and limited. The hope of those heading this authority was that it would gradually develop into an independent state with full sovereignty. But Israel continued to exercise control over the vital aspects of the lives of Palestinians and their authority, such as the borders, the crossings, the land, air and sea space as well as security. The failure of the final status negotiations in Camp David in 2000 brought back violence to Palestinian-Israeli relations.
In the years up to 2006, Israel worked on narrowing the space granted the PA not only geographically, but also at the economic, security and political levels. Israel intermittently halted transferring the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA according to the Oslo Accords and it put into action a systematic destruction of the majority of the security infrastructure of the PA. It destroyed many of the civil authority institutions and severely restricted the movement of goods and persons from, to and within the various parts of the PA territories. Finally, Israel severed any political dealing with the Palestinian leadership and considered it "irrelevant".
Israeli measures impeding the work of the PA escalated even further after Hamas won the majority of the PLC seats in January 2006 and formed the government. Again, Israel halted the transfer of tax revenues and tightened restrictions on movement even further. The basic difference this time was the positions of the international community and the Arab world, which tried to compensate the Palestinian people but also chose to be part of the siege on the Palestinian government.
The Israeli measures have now reached a point where Israel is arresting elected PLC members as well as ministers in the government. This has prompted questions to be raised among Palestinian political circles about Israel's aims and long-term goals regarding the PA and the Palestinians, the position of the international community and, finally, about the best means Palestinians can adopt to confront all of these challenges.
Is Israel really interested in the continued existence of the PA? Are Palestinians? If the PA should be dissolved, will Israel accept its responsibilities as an occupying power vis-a-vis the Palestinian people?
We cannot really analyze the situation and answer these questions without understanding the position of the international community, especially the US and Europe. The international community gave its blessing to the establishment of the PA and for years ensured its sustainability. Lately, however, it almost seems as if the international community has given up its position on the PA and has taken a position subordinate to the position of Israel.
The problem here is Palestinians cannot by themselves unilaterally determine the future of the PA because their choice depends as much on Israel and the international community, led by the US. Palestinians feel Israel is now doing one of two things: it is either bringing about an end to the existence of the PA or, by unilateral action, creating a new situation that will by force redefine the specific nature and character of the PA to something that is completely different from the original intention as envisioned in signed agreements between the two sides. By its measures in the occupied territories, Israel is already resuming some of the functions it fulfilled before the creation of the PA.
This leaves Palestinians with two options. Either we accept this de facto functional division of labor between the PA and the occupation or we let the PA collapse. Both options are extremely problematic. In the first case, the PA will be rendered an arm of the occupation and will have no possibility of developing into a full state. The PA will simply serve to save the occupation certain dirty responsibilities that should be the obligations of the occupying power under international law.
At the same time, a Palestinian authority was always an objective of the Palestinian struggle. To dissolve the PA and give up what authority remains over the little land the PA is still in charge of is not less difficult for the Palestinian side. It makes little sense that Palestinians would give this up voluntarily, especially since, in practice, this will worsen even further our daily lives. To give but one example, education and access to education for Palestinians improved significantly when that function was transferred from the Israeli civil administration of the occupied territories to the PA.
What choice is made depends on what role the various players intend to play. To this end there is an urgent need to discuss the future of the PA not only among the Palestinians, but with the Israelis and the international community, including the US. Palestinians by themselves will neither be able to create the kind of authority they aspire to nor are they in a position to give up whatever level of authority and responsibility is left them. Thus it is important that all the actors clearly determine what exactly they intend for the PA.
In this context, a third option might arise. This option would see a significantly increased international role to replace the role of the occupation. This could range from heavier international financial and development support in combination with international forces for security purposes to the possibility of an international trusteeship whereby a third party mandated by the UN would take over from the Israeli occupation all responsibility over occupied Palestinian territory.- Published 28/8/2006 © 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|
Israel should consider compromise
by Gidi Grinstein and Eran Shayshon
In the midst of the war in Lebanon, the Israeli media and public almost completely disregarded an event that shook up Palestinian politics. In a session of the Palestinian Legislative Council the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, Ismail Haniyeh, called upon all Palestinian factions to evaluate the necessity of the PA.
The PLC session was convened a few days after Israel arrested PLC Chairman Abdul Aziz Dweik. Although it may seem that Haniyeh's call was an attempt to draw international attention to the miseries of the PA, demands for dissolution of the PA have been a recurring theme in Palestinian politics and constitute a clear emerging trend.
After the IDF operation in Jericho to arrest the assassins of Israeli minister Rehavam Zeevi last March, several Fateh activists and intellectuals demanded that Chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) dissolve the PA. This demand was understood in the context of the struggle between Fateh and Hamas for the leadership of the Palestinian national movement following Hamas' electoral victory in January. As Fateh still controlled the PLO--which is officially the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people--the dissolution of the PA would have allowed Fateh to resume power.
Neither the basic law of the PA nor the existing agreements between Israel and the PLO provides a mechanism for dismantling the PA. It seems that the PA can only be disassembled if Abbas resigns and the PLC dissolves itself. However, once Hamas took over the PLC and the government, Fateh could not dismantle the PA without Hamas' cooperation. At the time, Hamas seemed to have no real interest in dismantling the PA, as it wished to establish control over it and was reluctant to strengthen the PLO, in which it has no foothold.
Furthermore, since the rise of Hamas, Israel has conditioned cessation of the economic and political boycott against the PA upon Hamas' adherence to three demands: recognizing Israel, reaffirming existing agreements between Israel and the Palestinians and ceasing terrorism. Although the international coalition that was created to pressure Hamas to accept the three demands has been gradually eroded, the economic and political boycott has severely obstructed Palestinian economic activity.
Israel's arrest of Hamas ministers and PLC members, alongside the IDF invasion of Gaza following the kidnapping of the soldier Gilad Shalit, have intensified calls for the dissolution of the PA within both Hamas and Fateh. This trend reached such severity that Abbas, during a recent conversation with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, declared he was under pressure to resign and dismantle the PA.
Israel's actions aim at either placing pressure on Hamas to accept the three demands or overthrowing the Hamas government. But it is doubtful whether either of these two objectives is achievable. First, because Hamas cannot accept the three demands since they undermine its raison d'etre. And second, because removing Hamas' dominance within the government may be constitutionally impossible due to the majority it enjoys in the PLC. This majority means that any subsequent government must be created with the consent of Hamas.
After the apparent "freeze" of PM Ehud Olmert's convergence plan, Israel has no political agenda vis-a-vis the Palestinians. The policy of the three demands leads to the paralysis of the PA and, given the absence of a political agenda, is liable to bring about the collapse of the PA or a third intifada.
The disassembly of the PA may have significant and strategic ramifications for Israeli-Palestinian relations. Israel may again be considered a "full-fledged occupier" in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with all the responsibilities that derive from this status. Moreover, in the eyes of many Palestinians the dissolution of the PA may be perceived as proof of failure of the diplomatic option. Finally, the dissolution of the PA is a clear setback to the principle of a two-state-solution.
As both Chairman Abbas of Fateh and Prime Minister Haniyeh of Hamas do not rule out the possibility of dismantling the PA, this possibility seems more feasible than ever. In every possible political scenario--whether negotiations, unilateral moves or even the status quo--a functioning PA is required. Israel should consider compromising on the implementation of its three demands in order to bolster the PA's capability to deliver.
- Published 28/8/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Gidi Grinstein is the founder and president of the Reut Institute for policy planning. He served as secretary of the Israeli negotiating team in the 1999-2001 negotiations with the PLO. Eran Shayshon is an analyst team leader in the Reut Institute.
A PALESTINIAN VIEW
Between bad and worse
an interview with Sayed Abu Msamih
bitterlemons: A few weeks ago PM Ismail Haniyeh suggested that the future of the Palestinian Authority should be reconsidered. Was this a serious statement or was it political maneuvering?
Abu Msamih: The PA was created as a step toward the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. For several years now, it has been unable to take any real steps in that direction. On the contrary, there has been a decline, especially after the Israeli detentions of the officials of the political system, including ministers and PLC members.
All this talk about presidents, prime ministers, ministers, and PLC members is in any case a diversion from the truth and reality. Not one of them has any more authority than that of a mayor in a municipality.
All of this is a consequence of the Israeli occupation and the impotence of the Quartet under American rule. There is a difference between the Russian, European and United Nations positions, but none can escape from American control.
bitterlemons: It is becoming more and more common to hear people suggesting that the PA should be dissolved. Is there any point in the PA now that it cannot pay salaries and is generally paralyzed?
Abu Msamih: The siege imposed upon the Palestinians that left the government unable to pay salaries, in addition to Israeli control over and closure of the crossings, has left the PA powerless. It ought to be clear to everybody that this all has to do with a hostile, foreign occupation. The best solution is to go back to square one, which is the resistance, because there isn't anything to lose by doing so.
bitterlemons: What would be the positive consequences for Palestinians of canceling the PA?
Abu Msamih: It won't be positive but we can say it's a choice between bad and worse. As long as we can't achieve any progress toward reaching independent statehood, logically the occupation regime and the international community must bear the responsibility for Palestinians who live under the Israeli occupation.
The PA was part of a project to end the occupation and Israel and the international community must carry the responsibility for it failing. If we cancel the PA, it will be clear to all that we are still under occupation and the false perception that the existence of the PA creates that we are somehow not under occupation will be exposed. At the moment, our situation is worse than it was before the Oslo Accords. Once the PA goes, there will be local and regional reactions at the public level demanding real freedom and real independence.
bitterlemons: What would be the negative consequences ?
Abu Msamih: Transitional periods are always difficult. The immediate situation will be difficult for people but people have little to lose now, and soon a positive impact, the start of a clear struggle to regain our rights, will be felt. As we have seen, the Israeli aggression and daily killings have not stopped for a second. Without a PA, this killing will be shown in its proper context of a struggle by Palestinians to gain our freedom and independence.
bitterlemons: How likely is it that the PA will be dissolved?
Abu Msamih: In reality, the Palestinian Authority is not a real authority. It is not such a great step to dissolve it. But it shouldn't be a haphazard or random action.
First, there must be serious efforts to form a national resistance leadership that will lead the people in a new period of national liberation. This leadership will strive to exert serious pressure to achieve a peace that brings a minimum of Palestinian rights, as it was agreed in the national principles.
But in any case, the dissolution of the PA will not happen overnight, and before such a step is taken it needs serious study. It remains one of a number of possible scenarios.
bitterlemons: If the PA is dissolved, do you think Israel will agree to take full responsibility for Palestinians as an occupying power?
Abu Msamih: I think they will try not to, but as they kill more and more Palestinians, regional and international pressure will eventually grow.
It would be a very hard time for Palestinians, but it won't be harder than the current situation. We have no work, no freedom and no horizon as it is.- Published 28/8/2006 © bitterlemons.org
Dr Sayed Abu Msamih is a Hamas legislator and holds a PhD in Islamic law. In 1989, he became the temporary leader of Hamas after Israel arrested most of Hamas' leadership including Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.
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