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By Prof. Dr. Mohsen Mohammad Saleh

There have been plenty of discussions lately about the usefulness of the Palestinian Authority (PA). Many leaders in the PA and Palestinian Liberalization Organization (PLO) are in deep state of frustration because the PA can’t lead anymore to a Palestinian state, and because Israel emptied the peace process of its contents.

The PA, which was established in 1994, hoped for becoming an independent state in the West Bank (WB) and Gaza Strip (GS) within five years. It hoped for the settlement of the final status issues such as future of the refugees, Jerusalem, the Jewish settlements, borders, and the scope of its sovereignty on its soil… . Yet, no binding timetable for a final resolution has been set for Israel, nor for its withdrawal from the WB and the GS.

There was also no binding international mechanism for forcing Israel to fulfill its obligations. The agreement between the two parties has resulted in a bizarre situation, since it dealt with some details before dealing with the core problem. It was binding to only one party, allowed the consolidation of the occupation rather than ending it, and put the responsibility of dealing with daily matters on the “imprisoned,” with the possibility of being deprived, thwarted, suppressed, destructed and confiscated at any moment.

For 17 years, the PA kept running after the “carrot” of the final solution. It solved nothing of what was expected, and no good news concerning the Oslo Accords or the Road Map could convince the frustrated Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims. 

The Palestinian people feel the deep crisis that the PA faces, but there is discrepancy in dealing with it. However, for almost a year now, there is an increased talk about dissolving the PA, as one of the options, although it doesn’t take precedence over other options.

“Down with the PA”

Supporters of dissolving or toppling the PA believe that it has run its course and that it is no longer the suitable feasible means for establishing the Palestinian state and securing the Israeli withdrawal. They warn about the erosion of the PA’s national role to the benefit of serving Israeli issues, especially security ones… Hence, there is no choice but to dissolve the PA when taking into consideration:

1. The necessity to put an end to the futility of Oslo and the Road Map tracks, after it has become certain that these tracks are inefficient, and incapable of binding the Israeli part with anything.

2. The establishment of the PA has ended the Israeli military rule but didn’t end the occupation itself. It has made the negotiations seem to be between two states or authorities rather between the occupation and the occupied people. It engaged in managing the daily and living matters, while the occupation has turned into a “clean colonization,” or into a “deluxe” colonization according to Israeli writer Meron Benvenisti, and the former head of military intelligence Major General Shlomo Gazit. Besides, while the PA takes the responsibility of all the “dirty work,” and the Palestinians suppress the Resistance forces with their own hands, and while the ugly face of the occupation hides, the occupation enjoys comfortable situation, and continues ruthlessly the colonization, Judaization, confiscation of the territories and imposing new realities on the ground. Hence, there is a necessity to end the PA’s functional role which serves Israeli agendas rather than pursuing national ones.

3. The need to make the Israeli occupation, rather than the Palestinian party, take full legal, political, economic, social and health responsibilities for the occupied Palestinian people. This is the case as as long as the Israeli part doesn’t consider the withdrawal seriously but rather looks only for agents or cover for his occupation.

4. The international community must be aware of their responsibilities. The peace process has failed, the Palestinian people are still under occupation, have the right to resist and gain independence, and have the right to self-determination according to international laws and conventions.

5. The PA is not an arm for PLO anymore, rather it became an arm for the occupation. It has disarmed itself of its strategic means and alternatives through “renouncement of violence,” and through striking and persecuting the resistance, even if that would lead to the erosion of national unity, and rupturing the social texture of the Palestinian people. Whereas the PLO has turned into a dim shadow subordinate to the PA. It is necessary by all means to retrieve the national and efficient role of the PLO, since it embraces the Palestinian national project, which includes all the factions and influential people in the Palestinian society.

6. Clearing the way for imposing new conditions on the political game with Israel, after the current conditions have proved their ineffectiveness.

7. Clearing the way for the establishment of a resistant authority that lives under occupation and lets it bear its responsibilities. This authority would give up external appearances, while focusing on challenging and ending this occupation. Thus, following the steps of the blessed first intifadah 1987–1993.

8. Ending corruption appearances in the Palestinian society; such as the PA’s administrative and financial corruption, collaboration with the occupation, dependence on international aid, and seeking artificial well-being under occupation.

9. Israel and the US will only agree on a Palestinian entity in WB if it is under Oslo conditions, whereas there are large segments of the Palestinian people (Islamists, leftist… etc) whichrefuse such entity. Therefore, having a true national unity and putting the Palestinian political house in order will happen only if the Oslo conditions were overlooked, or the conditions upon which the PA was built were overlooked. This would eventually put an end to the continuing schism or dissolve the PA itself.

“Long live the PA”

According to those who support retaining the PA, it is too early to dissolve this entity. There is still some room to build on accomplishments and to reform flaws if any. Here are their most significant arguments:

1. The Palestinian people have succeeded in establishing many realities on the ground through the establishment of national authority. The PA employs tens of thousands of personnel in various ministries and apparatuses that represent the infrastructure of the hoped for state. The Palestinians gained an Israeli and American recognition of their right to build their own state in WB and GS, regardless of its area and jurisdiction. Moreover, the PA serves Palestinian interests according to a national agenda, and enjoys the recognition and cooperation of the whole world. These gains shouldn’t be wasted.

2. To dissolve the PA means resuming Israeli occupation and its control over all aspects of life. Thus, giving it more freedom to pursue its agenda, and giving it a free hand without restrictions.

3. To dissolve the PA means that Palestinians admit that they have failed to govern themselves. That will assert the Israeli occupation claims that the Palestinians do not deserve an independent state.

4. The PA is a temporary transitional means towards independence and creation of their state. Regardless of Israeli evasiveness, the international community and even the United States is eventually committed to establishing the Palestinian state. The peace settlement process hasn’t exhausted its purposes yet, as long as there is Arabic, Islamic and International communities adopting it. Hence, the door of opportunity must not be closed, for this could prevent building the Palestinian state for years to come.

5. Even if the PA is dissolved, there is no other realistic and actual convincing alternatives for the Palestinians to adopt, and that can be also acceptable to Arabic and international communities.

6. The very idea of dissolving the PA requires Palestinian national agreement, especially within its twin pillars, Fatah and Hamas. It requires also putting the Palestinian political house in order, to be able to bear the consequences of such move, and propose new alternatives. But without such agreement, the dissolution of the PA will not happen.

7. To dissolve the PA means cutting off international aid, that amounts to millions of dollars. It will bring much of the projects and works to a halt, and tens of thousands of employees will lose their means of living.

Fatah Movement: “Long Live the PA, but”

The official Fatah position still supports the PA, although some officials speak with bitterness about the dire situation the matters have reached. The statements which leaders of the Authority and Fatah issued about prospects of the PA’s dissolution are only expressions of discomfort or kind of threats or political pressure. There is no genuine and huge shift in the stances of Fatah ranks.

For sure, there is a state of deep frustration among top circles in Fatah. This was due to the stalemate peace process, the Israeli repealing of many national authority roles, and keeping the PA as a façade operating within frameworks that are acceptable to the occupation. Those who talked about PA’s dissolution option include President ‘Abbas, Sa’ib ‘Uraiqat, Nabil Sha‘th, Ahmad Qurei‘, Muhammad Ishtayeh, Jamal Muheisen, and many others. On the other hand, there are some officials in Fatah and the Authority who stress on excluding PA’s dissolution option, such as Salam Fayyad, Muhammad Dahlan and Jibril al-Rajoub.

Hamas Movement: “Down with the PA, but”

Hamas opposed and still oppose the Oslo agreement. The movement even opposed the establishment of the PA and continued its resistance against the occupation. Hamas dealt realistically with this Authority which is in fact one of Oslo agreement outcomes. Although some leaders in Hamas called for the establishment of an authority that commits itself to resistance and not to Oslo framework, Hamas didn’t adopt a final official stance that calls for toppling or dismantling the Authority in Ramallah. 

Although the PA has become a fact, Hamas chose to participate at the political level. It wanted to alter the functional role of the PA, i.e., to be supportive to the resistance, and it wanted also to fight corruption and serve the Palestinian people.  

Hamas made use of the legislative elections, a means offered by the PA, so as to demonstrate the public legitimacy of the resistance movement, after it had demonstrated the legitimacy of its struggle during al-Aqsa intifadah. Besides, Hamas tried to join and administer PA institutions through the tenth and eleventh government, but refused the terms of the Oslo agreement, the recognition of Israel, as well as ending the resistance. Hamas desire to play the game according to its rules lead to the siege, attempts to topple its government, the detention of its members of parliament, and the closure of its institutions in WB.

Despite the harsh blockade imposed on GS, Hamas used its public legitimacy and its military capability to impose its terms. It exceeded the ceiling of Oslo agreement and the ceiling put for the PA’s performance, benefiting from the Israeli withdrawal from GS. As a result, a regime has formed which doesn’t abide by the military rule or the occupation, doesn’t depend on foreign aid and assistance which are offered on political and security conditions, and doesn’t coordinate with the occupation. The regime settles internal disputes in cooperation with national factions, and adopts the choice of resistance. Thus, Hamas managed to transform the approach adopted by the Authority, and not necessarily staged a coup against it in GS.

Hamas considers that Fatah dominates the PLO and the PA leadership in Ramallah, thus, it is the main player in dissolving the PA. Hamas considers that the Authority can not be dissolved without national agreement, without which there would be an internal strife and further complications for the Palestinian situation.

Questions that Need Answers

All the Palestinian factions (especially Fatah and Hamas) will find themselves, sooner or later, compelled to give clear answers to a number of questions that are related to the future of the Palestinian Authority, notably:

. With respect to Fatah and other factions in favor of a peace settlement: To what extent can they continue supporting such authority that achieves Occupation objectives more than it achieves national project objectives?

. With respect to Hamas and factions supporting resistance: If it turns out that reform and transformation program can not be implemented under occupation, and that leading the PA in WB is unfeasible without halting the resistance program, and that even if they win the elections, the series of events regarding not recognizing Israel, blockade, persecution, thwarting would be resumed; So, is it suitable to repeat the same scenarios presented in the reconciliation papers, especially those related to the elections and administering the PA under occupation? Or should they reconsider the priorities of putting the Palestinian political house in order?

. With respect to all Palestinian factions: How can they transform other alternatives into useful and viable ones, such as resorting to resistance, and forming a resistance authority? Forcing the enemy to withdraw? Establishing full sovereign Palestinian state on its territories? 

Translated by Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations

The original Arabic article appeared on Al Jazeera net on 24/1/2011

Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations, 28/1/2011