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Should the Palestinian Authority abdicate?

Jul 14,2020 - Last updated at Jul 14,2020

Many Palestinian Authority (PA) critics blame it for serving the Israeli occupation rather than dedicating itself to Palestinian liberation and the creation of an independent state.

When it was created 27 years ago, the PA was meant to be temporary. The 1993 Oslo accords set a five-year limit to resolve the so-called final status issues and reach a permanent peace agreement.

There were strong critics at the time, but the Palestinian Liberation Organisation (PLO) put its faith in the process. It agreed to an ambiguous and risky interim arrangement with no guarantees and no way to hold Israel accountable.

It agreed to renounce any form of violence, even though resistance against military occupation is a right in international law. This assured the occupier that it could act without paying a price.

Even worse, Yasser Arafat wrote in his September 1993 letter to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that the PLO "renounces the use of terrorism and other acts of violence and will assume responsibility over all PLO elements and personnel in order to assume their compliance, prevent violations and discipline violators".

In other words, not only did the PLO agree to define the Palestinian struggle as "terrorism," it agreed to wage war against Palestinian resistance on Israel's behalf if ever that was required. Naturally, Israel made no reciprocal commitment to renounce violence, nor to end its military occupation.

This was in addition to a premature Palestinian commitment to change the PLO charter to remove any articles that "deny Israel’s right to exist".

The Oslo agreements divided the West Bank into three areas. Area A, about 18 per cent of the West Bank, including heavily populated city centers, would be under PA administrative and "security control".  Area B, about 20 per cent, would be under Israeli "security control" but Palestinian civil administration.

Area C covered the remaining 60 per cent of the West Bank. In it Israel retained full military and administrative control. External security in all the three areas was left for Israel. 

The reality, however, is that Israel kept overall control and could and did enter any area it liked at any time. It is forces kept doing so to raid, chase, murder and arrest “wanted” Palestinians since then.

Jerusalem and the areas around it were excluded from this arrangement, with Israel allowing no Palestinian control whatsoever.

But it was in Area C that Israel moved most aggressively to consolidate its control over the wider West Bank. Palestinians have been banned from building on their own land there and gradually driven out of large areas. 

It is Area C that is now designated for annexation, on top of what has already been annexed in and around Jerusalem.

Israel offered nothing in return. It never once committed itself to ending the occupation or to granting Palestinians independence. The PLO must have assumed that the so-called international community would ensure that Palestinian concessions and surrenders would be rewarded with pressure on Israel to give the Palestinians something. That pressure, however, never came.

Even if PLO negotiators had some faith in their counterparts at the outset, how could such faith survive almost 30 years of Israeli non-compliance? Rather than leading to Palestinian statehood and independence the Oslo accords turned out to be, as Israel intended and designed, the perfect cover for the colonisation of all of Palestine leaving no place for any Palestinian presence, let alone a state.

While PLO leaders may have believed that the five-year interim period was necessary to lay down foundations for their future state, Israel was determined to ensure the exact opposite: Eliminate the existence of any such foundations.

Israel's only use for the PA was as a policing service for the occupation. Israel always acted to ensure that the PA had just enough authority to control Palestinians, but not enough to develop any sort of genuine autonomy, let alone state institutions leading to independence.

Since 1993, the Palestinian situation on the ground has worsened dramatically. Israel is enjoying the cheapest occupation in the world: It is subsidised by the international community in the form of aid to the Palestinians and Palestinians do much of the grimy work.

In fact, Israel makes money from the occupation: It exploits Palestinian land, water and resources and Israeli companies make healthy profits selling fuel and food to dependent Palestinian markets, including besieged Gaza.

Given this reality, many have asked why the PA should continue to exist at all. Why not dissolve it and hand the keys of the prison back to the occupier? PA leader Mahmoud Abbas has threatened this repeatedly, but few take him seriously, least of all the Israelis.

Yet, Israel needs the PA to continue controlling Palestinians on its behalf. So far, Israel has been willing to squeeze and humiliate the PA but never push it to collapse.

If the PA were to end, it would cause major difficulties for Israel. Abbas' current threat to dissolve the PA is linked to the annexation plan. That presumably means that if Israel shelves or postpones annexation, the PA is willing to continue with business as usual.

While dissolving the PA would be a serious problem for Israel, it would also cause enormous problems for occupied Palestinians too. Hundreds of thousands of the families of PA employees could lose their livelihoods.

This dependence helps Israel by giving Palestinians a stake in continuing the status quo just in order to survive.

The Israeli occupiers are required under international law to fulfill the needs of people under their occupation. But would they? Israel's cruelty and neglect towards two million people in Gaza shows clearly that Israel will never do so willingly.

Indeed, there is good reason to fear that Israel would allow Palestinians to sink further into misery in the hope that many would leave, so that Israel could seize more land.

It is not my intention to justify the status quo. But it is important to acknowledge that a sudden collapse of the PA may solve one problem while creating new dangers and pitfalls.

What is clear however is that either way, the PA is not able to do much more for Palestinians except hold onto the status quo. Obviously, that is not enough.

The PA cannot be the problem and the solution at the same time and no one takes its actions, any actions, seriously anymore.

There is an urgent need for something else. It could be a Palestinian national convention held in a neutral capital with participation from all Palestinian factions and communities, including PA organs, to set a new strategy.

The Palestinians as a whole, all 16 million of them, should together make their voice heard by formulating a political programme that insists on all their legitimate and historic rights, exiting the recycled clichés of Oslo and the other "peace" formulas that only served Israel's expansionist schemes.

The Palestinians should reaffirm their rights and put the international community before a clear choice with a time limit: Either the implementation of all relevant UN resolutions that guarantee their rights or they consider themselves unbound by any of them and free to pursue their own ways to fight for their rights.

What is needed is political will demonstrated in a credible, stable and a convincing manner. If South Africans and other peoples subjected to colonial occupation and oppression could do it, Palestinians can too. And they will.

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