The future of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has increasingly been discussed regarding its dissolution or collapse in light of Israel’s tendency to annex swaths of the West Bank (WB), the US administration’s adoption of the Israeli narrative and its endeavors to implement Trump’s plan, which practically would end the peace process based on the Oslo Agreement. Discussions have become more serious, as the PA leadership decided to end all agreements signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) and Israel.
The PA’s future has three possible scenarios. First, its dissolution, a scenario not seriously discussed by the PA leadership amid fears that the Palestinian side will not be able to stand its repercussions. Second scenario, strongly proposed by many intellectuals and politicians, suggests a change in the role of the PA, where it would be limited to the administrative side while transferring the political one to the PLO. The third scenario is based on waiting and proceeding with the same course, which is apparently pursued by the PA leadership, at least awaiting the results of the US elections.
First: Contexts for looking into the PA’s Future
The PA’s future, including its dissolution, collapse, its replacement with Israeli alternatives, or a change in its role on the basis of a national agreement, is an old new issue, and talking about it did not start recently after the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced his intention to annex swaths of WB. Rather, the issue was linked to the failure of the peace process, especially after the broad hopes of the current PA leadership to seize the Obama/Olmert “moments,” and benefit from the 2007 Annapolis Conference following the Palestinian schism.
After the failure of those bets and the peace process deadlock, the threat to dissolve the PA was renewed, even from its head. There were warnings of its possible collapse, including by the then Secretary of State John Kerry.  Other than dissolution, there were threats to stop security coordination or disavow the agreements signed with Israel. These threats, which at times crystallized as decisions by the PLO institutions and Fatah movement, remained mere rhetorical maneuvers having no credibility, until Netanyahu declared his annexation plans whose implementation was subsequently postponed.
In May 2020, President ‘Abbas announced  the end of agreements signed with Israel in response to the annexation plan declared by Netanyahu. ‘Abbas’s announcement would not have had high credibility, in the beginning, given the failure to implement similar previous decisions. For he failed to confront US measures serving the Israeli settlement plans, such as the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, the decision to relocate the US Embassy, asserting the legality of Israeli settlements in WB, and the declaration of the Deal of the Century, besides other measures taken since Trump’s arrival in the White House. However, the PA tried to demonstrate seriousness this time through a number of steps, including withdrawing its forces from Areas B and C, which usually enter in coordination with Israel, besides its refusal to receive clearance revenues,  severely affecting the economic situation and directly influencing Palestinian citizens. Also, the PA stopped civil coordination, as it refrained from sending civil records—related to births and deaths—to Israel, and issuing documents, such as ID cards, passports and the like,  and it showed a degree of media affinity with Hamas.
During the long history of the peace process, it has repeatedly appeared to be doomed to failure, and the chances for the PA to turn into a state on the 1967 occupied territories, including East Jerusalem has repeatedly deteriorated, nevertheless, the PA continued to maneuver. It escalated its rhetoric against Israel and the US, tried to influence the Israeli elections, made efforts within its diplomatic strategy in international bodies, or escalated the conditions against Hamas. However, the declared annexation plan, when implemented, would hit the essence of the PA existence and its legitimacy as long as the PA has no political horizon.
The decision to stop security coordination regarding acts of resistance that would affect Israeli security,  and whose credibility remained widely questioned, coincided with the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the PA’s need to implement preventive measures. This has led to an economic crisis reinforced by a financial one, due to the PA’s reluctance to receive clearance revenues and the consequent inability to pay its employees’ salaries. The PA’s limited security and logistical capacity was exposed, when it was unable to dominate the entire WB area,  and interact with Jerusalem and the 1948 occupied territories, hence its preventive measures were limited to city centers with limited number of the Palestinians.
This complex crisis has put the PA to the test again, with the erosion of its political legitimacy—already witnessed for years—reaching a peak with the annexation plan. The PA’s remaining de facto legitimacy and organizing role of Palestinian society, on the administrative, economic, security and legal levels, retreated, as its economic and security deficit was exposed, especially after the pandemic. In parallel, Israel has been for years bypassing the PA, and directly dealing with the Palestinians  through the Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT), which is in essence a revival of the civil administration through which the Occupation used to administer the 1967 territories before the PA was established.
The failure of the PA project, its lack of options facing the annexation plan, its curbed effectiveness and linking its existence to the coercions of the occupation have become certain. This scene has exacerbated by further exposure of the PA due to the Emirati normalization with Israel, accompanied by an Arab position ranging mostly between silence and support, besides Arab refusal to provide the PA with a safety net,  amid its current critical economic circumstances. Therefore, it was clear that the Palestinians needed a new vision to advance a different national program that addresses the challenges of liquidating the Palestine issue.
The situation has reinvigorated the talk about the possible dissolution of the PA and the establishment of a new political body, while others talked about the continuity of the PA, its alternatives and the possibilities of its collapse. This makes it important to understand the PA’s perception of itself, especially when discussing the possibilities of its dissolution, for it cannot be dissolved without a decision by its leadership.
Second: The PA Between Perception and Will
To examine the possibility of the PA to dissolve itself according to an inclusive national vision or one specific to the Fatah movement, it is necessary to know its perception of itself. For from this perception stems the will to take such a step or refrain from taking it. Also, this perception explains why the PA has abstained from confronting the Israeli measures throughout the past period, including the activation of popular resistance, although it remains a constant item in the decisions of the PLO institutions and Fatah movement. The same can be said about the stalled reconciliation over the past years.
The PA’s overall performance since the Palestinian division, its refrain from any change of its course, prevention of any serious anti-occupation activity and its cultural, economic, security and political policies that kept the masses away from confronting Israel, indicate that the PA perception of itself has changed. It has shifted from being a body emanating from a national liberation movement that has promised to stay for a temporary period until a state is reached, into a permanent goal in itself.
Since it was established, the PA has failed to extend its influence and impose its law over the entire WB. Its performance has been limited, due to restricting its representation to elite interests and certain social segments, the lack of internal political practice, the dissolution of the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) (and its suspension before that), the domination of the executive authority over the judiciary,  and the division between WB and Gaza Strip (GS), in addition to the failure of the political project as explained before. Consequently, the PA was reduced to a narrow personal goal, which makes its dissolution, from its leadership perspective, a mere rhetorical maneuver. The same applies to the pursuit of any option which would lead to the confrontation with Israel.
This elite, and by virtue of a number of facts, including the structural transformation of the PA in terms of the position and the nature of the cadre, especially after the Palestinian division, is fully aware that the continuation of the PA depends on the coercions of the Israeli occupation. Thus, the tax crisis is just one aspect of the organic connection with the occupation, among a variety of other aspects, the most important of which is the fact that Israel has extended its control over WB, where the PA has no space of its own and lacks the capacity for internal communication outside the Israeli will, let alone communication with the outside world.
This PA self-perception explains the ongoing arrests against the backdrop of political opinion,  the refusal to develop any serious popular resistance, and the restriction of the rapprochement with Hamas to the media level.  It hasn’t resolved any pending files, including those created by the PA, such as cutting the salaries of some Hamas prisoners and MPs and banning of some websites. It also explains the PA’s adherence to the same course and Abbas’s response to the Emirati normalization, where he reiterated his adherence to international legitimacy, the signed agreements and the fight against what he called “terrorism,”  contradicting his own affirmation that the PLO was no more bound by any agreement signed with Israel.
The PA’s self-perception, recent policies and current practices allow better understanding of the possibilities of the PA self-dissolution and other related options.
Third: Future Scenarios: The PA’s Dissolution and its Alternatives
The scenarios of the PA’s near future, range between proposals to dissolve it, the possibilities of its collapse and how the PA perceives itself. They can be summarized in three:
1. The Dissolution Scenario: The PA would dissolve itself through a decision by Fatah and its partners, aka “the Palestinian leadership,” or within an inclusive national framework. Such a fundamental decision is supposed to be based on national unity, so that everybody would bear its consequences and accommodate its repercussions. On one hand, this scenario is unlikely due to considerations related to the PA, since its elite and ruling class perceive the PA as a goal in itself, regardless of its political horizon, and on the other hand, it may not be the best scenario, even if it is proposed by figures working in the public sphere and being one of two scenarios favored by Khalid Mish’al, former head of Hamas. 
In addition, this scenario is not seriously discussed within the PA, whose general practices reveal its clinging to power, and its fear that the ongoing economic and political crises will turn into a rebellion. Hence, we notice that the PA is intolerant of criticism coming from independent activists, summoning and arresting those of different political opinion. Besides, it is a dangerous scenario even when the PA, with its current structure, represents an obstacle to the struggle against Israel. For the people’s dissociation from the PA following more than a quarter century, would bring the possibility of chaos and Israeli alternatives, especially since Israel has been working on the possibilities of the PA’s collapse or dissolution for quite some time.  Here, it can be said that a general national interest intersects with a narrow special one. However, the continuation of the PA with its current role and its self-realization as a goal without a political horizon perpetuate the dilemma, curb Palestinian movement and reinforce the capacity of Israel and its allies to liquidate the Palestine issue.
However, should this scenario be nationally discussed, the dissolution of the PA requires a genuine national unity, which would form a framework to manage this solution, containing its repercussions, creating alternatives to organize the Palestinian society and bearing the dissolution cost with a single national position.
In any case, while this scenario is unlikely for the PA leadership and not favored nationally for the possible chaos and Israeli alternatives it might lead to, the PA is not expected to refrain from security coordination, or refuse to receive clearance revenues, which are ultimately Palestinian funds. For the PA cannot proceed without its commitments to Israel, especially after it has lost the needed Arab support. Otherwise, its political ineffectiveness, together with the stifling economic crisis, the absence of a political project and the continuation of the policies of repression, would lead to a gradual collapse, which is a worse scenario than an examined solution. Although not probable, the average Palestinian cannot exclude the collapse scenario, for he/she has been affected for some time by the PA crises and is fully aware of them.
2. Changing the Role Scenario: This scenario is favored by many intellectuals, politicians and those working in the public sphere, and it is a compromise between the dissolution of the PA and maintaining the status quo. This scenario takes into consideration the risks of dissolution which might lead to the prevalence of Israeli arrangements, chaos or conflict between feudal and war lords. It also takes into account that changing the PA’s role could possibly lead to confrontations, since the objective condition of its existence is its commitment to the agreements. In addition, changing its role means greater prospects of confrontation with Israel, besides huge problems in managing the landscape already controlled by it. It would try to impose its alternatives or bypass the PA, dealing directly with the Palestinians.
Changing the function means limiting the PA’s mission to the administrative side and transferring the political side to the PLO. This necessarily requires national unity for several considerations, first for the national whole to be responsible for the role change and face the consequent possible confrontations, or administrative and economic crises; second, in order for the PLO to genuinely represent the Palestinians, after being joined by Hamas and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
This scenario also requires reshaping regional and international relations in a way that serves the Palestine issue and consistent with the PA transformation. In addition, the Palestinian struggle would be strengthened by diplomatic and legal endeavors, based on action in the field, and newly established relationships and alliances. The struggle program included in this scenario can take into account the different conditions of the Palestinians, based on their capabilities, whereabouts, and the various tools of struggle, investing in them, and ultimately serving the struggle integration.
It is difficult to propose detailed plans for the role change and its challenges, because a great deal of information is monopolized by the PA ruling elite while excluding the rest of the Palestinian actors, hence the whole issue is dependent on the will of that class.
This task is by no means an easy one, as there are many complications and challenges; however, the challenge of liquidating the Palestine issue and exposing the Palestinians requires thinking in this direction. However, this scenario seems unlikely at the present time. For the general course of the PA’s movement, its discourse and practices, as well as its self-perception indicate that the PA leadership would not consider such a scenario. Also, the other Palestinian forces do not have sufficient pressure tools to urge the PA to embrace this option.
3. Waiting and Maintaining the Same Course Scenario: This is the scenario the PA leadership is expected to resort to, not only because of its self-perception and its practices, but because waiting for transformations in the White House or in the Israeli government is one of its most important strategies. This is likely in light of its former betting on the Obama administration and Ehud Olmert’s government, influencing the Israeli elections, and Netanyahu’s loss in favor of Benny Gantz and his “Blue and White” party.  Currently it’s betting on Trump’s loss in the US elections in favor of Joe Biden, even when the PA leadership is aware that the mere victory of Biden would not bring along a major shift in favor of the Palestine issue. However, a relative retreat of Trump’s policies espousing the Israeli right may help the PA return to its previous position, far from the risks of confrontation or collapse.
This scenario is the most likely. In the meantime and until the US elections, the PA has three options:
First: Proceeding with the declared halt of security coordination, including refraining from receiving clearance revenues, although it is not unlikely for the PA to seek a solution which allows it to receive these funds through a third party.
Second: Receiving clearance revenues without announcing the return of security coordination. The PA has precedents in this direction, as it abstained from receiving clearance revenues after Israel had deducted allocations to prisoners and families of martyrs from them, but soon reversed its decision.
Third: Announcing the return to security coordination and receiving clearance revenues. This option is difficult to pursue due to the Emirati-Israeli normalization and the PA’s strong rhetoric towards it, which makes its return problematic as it mars its credibility. However, as it needs clearance revenues to enhance its management ability and defuse growing tension in the Palestinian street, it might use the postponement of annexation as a pretext to accept them.
Until the US elections are held, the PA is expected to maintain its escalatory rhetoric against Israel and US policies, and keep warm media relations with Hamas without developing them into a national unity, popular resistance or a joint struggle program. This expectation is reinforced by the escalation of arrests based on political opinion, the limited development of the Hamas-PA relations, absence of any effective field activities, and ‘Abbas’s statements.
To have the desired scenario, which calls for changing the PA role, the following are recommended:
1. Speeding up the development of national relations to reach unity that would decide the most suitable for the PA’s future. Then agreeing on a plan and national program that would advance such a decision, including developing the PLO structure and program in order for Hamas and the PIJ to join.
2. National unity can be reached gradually, by solving gradually pending issues to evade any internal friction and avoid stimulating Israel against national unity.
3. The same applies with respect to popular resistance and the launch of field activities, where graduality would avoid a rushed and disproportionate confrontation with Israel, and prevent chaos and Israeli potential alternatives.
4. The PA would stop all practices targeting freedom of expression and withdraw all laws restricting this freedom, in addition to seriously halting security coordination with Israel.
5. Rearranging regional relations in light of the new suggested Palestinian position, while seeking economic resources to free the PA from Israeli coercions.
6. Changing the economic, cultural, social and security policies which, since Palestinian schism, have sought to distance the masses from the struggle. Reviving the public sphere, where free partisan, student and union activities would be permitted, and returning to national mobilization discourse.
7. Managing effective media, diplomatic and legal campaigns in various international forums.
8. Developing discourse directed at Arab masses, by reminding them of the fundamentals of the Palestine issue, which makes it necessary to reconsider the role of Palestinians abroad.
9. Holding on to the resistance situation in GS, as part of the common struggle program, which invests in the Palestinians wherever they live.
 Kerry Warns of Collapse of Palestinian Authority, Aljazeera.net, 6/12/2015. https://aja.me/jpqee; and U.S. Secretary of State Warns of Collapse of Palestinian Authority and Its Consequences, Reuters, 5/12/2015. http://reut.rs/1IM8AGQ
 President ‘Abbas Announces Halt of Agreements Signed with Israel and the US, Aljazeera.net, 19/5/2020. https://aja.me/wsjvr; and ‘Abbas Says Security Cooperation Will End, Raising Stakes for Israeli Annexation, The New York Times, 19/5/2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/19/world/middleeast/abbas-palestinians-israel-west-bank.html
 Al-Sheikh: Palestine Rejects Clearence Revenue From Israel, WAFA, 3/6/2020. http://www.wafa.ps/ar_page.aspx?id=S5zR0Za877180297191aS5zR0Z; and Palestine Rejects Tax Revenue Dues From Israel: official, Xinhua, 4/6/2020, http://www.xinhuanet.com/english/2020-06/04/c_139112022.htm
 Manifestations of Halting Security and Civil Coordination: Was the PA Able to Find Alternatives? Al-Hadath newspaper, 23/6/2020. https://www.alhadath.ps/article/122937/
 Cessation of Security Coordination with Israel: Between Skepticism and Implementation mechanisms, Palestinian Affairs Program, Alaraby TV channel, site of YouTube, 4/6/2020. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rc1f1MGSjvo
 Area C: The PA’s Soft Spot Facing Coronavirus, Aljazeera.net, 12/4/2020, https://aja.me/q9cd5
 ‘Awad Mashal, Dimensions and Implications of Expanding the Israeli Civil Administration, The Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies (MASARAT), 20/2/2019, https://www.masarat.ps/article/5092/أبعاد-ومدلولات-توسعة-الإدارة-المدنية-الإسرائيلية
 Palestinian Calls for Activating Financial Safety Network Fall on Arab Deaf Ears: No Genuine Response to Face the Annexation Plan, Al-Quds al-Arabi newspaper, 25/6/2020. https://www.alquds.co.uk/?p=2444153
 ‘Abbas dissolves the supreme council … what is left of the political system? Arabi 21, 19/7/2019. https://arb.im/1195487; and PA Lowers Judges’ Retirement Age, Dissolves Judicial Council, site of Middle East Monitor (MEMO), 18/7/2019. https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20190718-pa-lowers-judges-retirement-age-dissolves-judicial-council/
 The Crackdown on Activists: Green Light for More Oppression in the West Bank, Palestinian Information Centre (PIC), 25/8/2020, https://www.palinfo.com/279849
 Rajoub and ‘Arouri in a Joint Press Conference: We will Freeze the Differences to Confront the Annexation Plan, site of Sama News, 2/7/2020, https://samanews.ps/ar/post/423059/الرجوب-والعاروري-خلال-مؤتمر-صحفي-مشترك-سنجمد-الخلافات-لمواجهة-الضم-موحدين ; and Israel Annexation Plans: Fatah and Hamas Show United Front in Rare Joint Conference, site of Middle East Eye, 2/7/2020, https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-annexation-palestine-fatah-hamas-joint-conference
 ‘Abbas Heads a Leadership Meeting: The Palestinian People Stand United Against the Conspiracy and Everyone who Wants to Attack Our Cause, WAFA, 18/8/2020, http://www.wafa.ps/Pages/Details/7879 (in Arabic); and At the Leadership Meeting, President ‘Abbas Says Palestinian Issue is not Only About Annexation, WAFA, 18/8/2020, http://english.wafa.ps/Pages/Details/118918
 Facing the Deal of the Century: Mish’al Calls for Changing the PA’s role, Aljazeera.net, 2/7/2020, https://aja.me/lfcf6; and Mish’al Proposes Plan to Confront Israeli Annexation, MEMO, 28/7/2020, https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20200728-meshaal-proposes-plan-to-confront-israeli-annexation/
 Cabinet Discusses the Possibility of PA’s Collapse, site of Arab48, 27/11/2015, http://goo.gl/irRvpB; and Israeli Ministers Hold Marathon Meetings on Possibility of PA’s Collapse, Haaretz, 27/11/2015, https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-ministers-hold-talks-on-chance-of-pa-collapse-1.5427537
 Nidal Watad, Betting on Gantz, The New Arab, 26/10/2019, https://www.alaraby.co.uk/الرهان-على-غانتس (in Arabic)
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. Sari Orabi for authoring the original text upon which this strategic assessment was based.