During the past months, the Palestinian scene witnessed two important developments; first, the disruption of elections and the reconciliation process by the Palestinian leadership, which made it lose what was left of its credibility; and the second was the Sword of Jerusalem battle and the accompanying public interaction, which have put the resistance movement at the forefront of the Palestinian scene.
About five months after the battle, the possible scenarios range between the continuation of schism and the non-change of the political situation; ending the schism, and reaching a reconciliation agreement and a national consensus; rehabilitating the Palestinian Authority (PA), strengthening its position in the Palestinian equation, and weakening the resistance forces through regional and international endeavors; forming an alternative national reference by the resistance forces that would impose itself on the Palestinian scene; and the collapse of the PA popularity, the gradual erosion of its institutional structure, which would make it lose control on the ground and of the political situation.
In the near term, the chances of the continuation of schism and the status quo seem to be the most likely; however, the resistance forces have a reasonable chance, though in the medium term, to build a broad national alignment that would be more able to impose the will of the Palestinian people and end the monopoly of a certain party.
Since 2007, the Palestinian situation has been facing a state of division and political impasse whose repercussions have affected the entire Palestinian scene and inflicted severe damage to the Palestine issue in many fields. All efforts made during the past years have failed to end the state of Palestinian paralysis and reached a dead end.
In recent months, the Palestinian arena has witnessed two important developments:
1. The Palestinian Authority (PA) has indefinitely postponed the legislative, presidential and Palestinian National Council (PNC) elections for fear of their results, which tended to be in favor of the resistance forces, and for fear of their repercussions on the cohesion of the Fatah movement that was having clear divisions and headed to the elections with three competing lists.
2. Israel has increased its harsh measures in Jerusalem, targeting also al-Aqsa Mosque. As a result, the Jerusalemites courageously confronted Israeli forces, followed by the Sword of Jerusalem battle that was considered an important qualitative shift in the course of the conflict. This battle has put the resistance movement at the forefront of the Palestinian scene, while negatively affecting the political status and the popularity of the Fatah movement and the PA, therefore, new elections are unlikely in the foreseeable future.
In parallel, during the past months, the region has witnessed important developments in relations and alliances, while in the US, a new democratic administration took office, bringing considerable changes in international priorities and policies towards many of the region’s files.
In light of this, it becomes important to explore the options the resistance movement might take to get out of the existing Palestinian impasse. This topic was addressed by a group of specialists in a panel discussion, the summary of which is presented below.
First: Possible Scenarios
Among the most prominent possible logical scenarios for the future of the Palestinian situation, in the short and medium terms, are the following:
1. First scenario: Ending the schism, reaching a reconciliation agreement and national consensus, and returning to the electoral track.
2. Second scenario: A stalemate and continuation of schism and political conflict, and the disruption of the electoral process.
3. Third scenario: Regional and international endeavors would rehabilitate the PA, strengthen its position in the Palestinian equation, and weaken Hamas and the resistance forces.
4. Fourth scenario: The resistance forces would form an alternative national reference or a national coordination framework that adopts the resistance.
5. Fifth scenario: The collapse of the PA popularity, the erosion of its institutional structure in a gradual and accelerating manner, and its clash with the public, which makes it lose control on the ground and of the political situation.
6. Sixth scenario: The death of Mahmud ‘Abbas, and the situation in the West Bank (WB) would be open to several possibilities (which all fall into the previous scenarios), the most important of which are:
a. A security figure from the Fatah movement, more submissive to the Israeli and US agenda, assumes power and takes a hard stance towards the resistance and Gaza Strip (GS), under the pretext of perpetuating the PA’s unity and weapons, leading to further escalation, division and internal conflict.
b. The eruption of a strong conflict between the possible successors of ‘Abbas, which would continue without a resolution for a period of time. This could result in a weak security situation in the WB, weakening the PA’s grip over the WB, and allowing wider margins of resistance action.
c. Choosing a political or organizational figure to succeed ‘Abbas, or agreeing to distribute the positions occupied by ‘Abbas among a number of Fatah leaders, and the continuation of the PA’s current management of internal files.
Second: The Ruling Determinants
The enhancement or weakening of the scenarios above are influenced by a set of determinants, the most important of which are:
1. The PA’s priorities and options in the relations with Hamas and the rest of the Palestinian forces, and the extent of its need to end division and overcome its public opinion crisis.
2. The internal cohesion of Fatah, its political choices, while still carrying the burden of the PA’s wrongdoings.
3. Hamas’s choices in managing the relationship with the PA and with the national forces, and its political options in escalation and calm as well as building national and regional alliances.
4. The options of the Palestinian factions and the national elites, and the extent of their readiness to deal with non-traditional options in managing the relationship with the PA and getting out of the status quo.
5. The effectiveness of the Palestinian street and its readiness for actual action to express its support of the resistance and rejection of the PA’s orientations.
6. The Israeli position and its political priorities for the next stage.
7. The Arab, regional and international position and priorities concerning the Palestine issue.
Third: Weighting Between Scenarios
The determinants and influencing factors are likely to interact with the scenarios as follows:
1. With regard to the priorities of the PA and the Fatah movement at the present time, indicators appear to be almost limited to the following:
a. Continuing their control of the security situation, containing public’s objection to its policies and performance, and using the Fatah movement to achieve this purpose.
b. Strengthening the PA legitimacy regionally and internationally, and blocking any tendencies to open up to its main competitor, Hamas.
c. Improving the PA image, popularly and internationally, by holding municipal elections that do not pose a threat to its interests and political representation.
Currently, reconciliation and ending the schism are not the priority of the PA and the Fatah movement, who do not want also to hold presidential or legislative elections in light of the current balance of power which is highly skewed in favor of Hamas. Notably, the PA does not shy away from security coordination with the occupation, which is relatively open, to serve its interests and priorities.
In sum, Fatah and the PA’s priorities and options serve to advance the second scenario “stalemate” and they have no interest in the scenario of ending the division and achieving reconciliation.
2. Hamas’s actions indicates that its priorities for the next stage are:
a. Using its victory in the Sword of Jerusalem battle to strengthen the position of the resistance and the movement’s popular and political presence.
b. Ending the siege and rebuilding what was destroyed by the Israeli war on GS.
c. Developing its regional and international relations, taking advantage of its increasing political clout after the recent confrontation, and the international need to maintain the state of calm.
d. Coordinating nationally with the pro-resistance forces.
e. Avoiding escalation and confrontation with the PA.
Although Hamas has adopted the option of reconciliation over the past years, the failure of the movement’s efforts to achieve this despite its political flexibility, enhances the chances for the status quo to continue.
3. Notwithstanding the growing state of objection and discontent among many Palestinian factions affiliated with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) over the performance of the PA on the political, security and human rights levels, they do not seem to be willing to give up on their traditional stance toward the PA, although it has relatively changed over the past few months.
Therefore, their position strengthens the Palestinian status-quo, and the conditions to resolve their position on establishing a new national reference are not yet ripe.
4. There has been a noticeable change in the public’s willingness to object to PA practices and their support of the resistance, which is what recent opinion polls have shown. Yet, popular stance has not reached the degree of pressure affecting the PA’s choices and priorities.
Thus, the stalemate and status quo will continue.
5. The priorities of the Israeli side are almost limited to the following:
a. Maintaining a state of calm, controlling the situation on the border with the GS, and preventing the outbreak of new confrontations.
b. Continuing the normalization process with Arab countries, and making use of the accumulated achievements.
c. Evading any peace negotiations with the Palestinians, focusing on security coordination with the PA, preserving the current condition of the PA and preventing its collapse to the benefit of Hamas and the resistance forces.
d. Confronting the Iranian threat, especially in light of the US intentions to return to Iran’s nuclear deal.
e. Adapting to the new democratic US administration, whose positions on many issues are different from its Republican predecessor, and is influenced by the progressive democrats.
The Israeli priorities are also likely to perpetuate the existing stalemate, for it is not interested in achieving Palestinian reconciliation and holding elections, rather it wants to absorb the repercussions of the Sword of Jerusalem battle, preserve the PA’s position and prevent its collapse.
6. Among the most prominent current priorities of the Arab parties influencing the Palestinian situation, especially Egypt, Jordan and some Gulf countries, are the following:
a. Maintaining a state of calm in the Palestinian arena, and keeping in harmony with the directions of the US administration to achieve a long- or medium-term calm and prevent the outbreak of new confrontations. Thus, maintaining limited political openness with GS, in addition to limited financial support, while continuing the pressure on Hamas to avoid escalation.
b. Strengthening and maintaining the PA legitimacy and preventing its collapse.
c. Depriving the Hamas movement and resistance forces from taking the lead in the Palestinian scene, and using the reconstruction dossier to decrease the value of the achievements of the Sword of Jerusalem battle.
d. Attempting to launch a negotiation process between the Palestinians and the Israelis.
The Arab parties have the priority of deepening the stalemate, but at the same time they would like to preserve Egypt’s sponsorship of unproductive reconciliation talks, in order to pass time and block other regional parties from addressing the Palestinian file.
7. Among the most prominent priorities of the new US administration towards the Palestine issue and the region at the current stage are the following:
a. Stabilizing the lull between the Palestinians and the Israelis, and preventing the outbreak of new confrontations.
b. Preserving the PA legitimacy and status, preventing its collapse, and providing the necessary assistance for its survival and continuity.
c. Containing Hamas indirectly through Egypt and Qatar, and this does not conflict with opening some limited channels of communication with the movement.
d. Encouraging the Arab-Israeli normalization without putting pressure on the Arab parties, as the Trump administration did.
e. Completing a new agreement with Iran regarding its nuclear file.
f. Reducing US military presence in some regions, as in Syria and Iraq, and reaching military and security understandings that would reduce the costs of its military deployment.
American priorities enhance the chances of a stalemate scenario. The US administration’s priority is to maintain calm without achieving reconciliation. It is not interested in the electoral process in the Palestinian arena, and doesn’t want the PA to collapse or a new Palestinian reference to form.
Fourth: Weighting and Probabilities
Based on the above, it is clear that:
1. The chances of the scenario of a stalemate and the (continuation) of the status quo seem to be the strongest and most likely, in light of the current conditions and positions of the Palestinian, Arab, regional and international parties. The Fatah movement is not ready to move forward with reconciliation, and there are no actual steps to restore its position and overcome its internal crisis. Also, Palestinians abroad continue to assume a weak role and lack effective presence in the Palestinian scene, while the resistance forces have not yet acquired strong pressure cards that would change the status quo through reconciliation or other tracks. In parallel, there is no fundamental change in the regional and international conditions that would help change the impasse.
Therefore, current conditions indicate that the status quo would continue in the near to medium term, unless an unexpected turn of events occur, such as the death of ‘Abbas or the eruption of violent Palestinian-Israeli clashes that would stir up the Palestinian, Israeli, Arab and international landscape.
2. The chance of achieving national reconciliation, ending the schism and having consensus on activating the PLO and holding presidential and legislative elections seem weak and unlikely in the foreseeable future, unless fundamental changes occur that would affect the positions of the PA and the regional and international parties supporting it.
3. The chances of launching new PA-Israeli talks seem to be weak. This is due to the hardening of Israel’s position, which is currently not interested in revitalizing talks, despite some Arab efforts supporting negotiations and settlement.
4. The chances of success of the Arab, regional and international parties in rehabilitating the PA and restoring its position in the Palestinian street seem weak in light of the state of flaccidity in which it is living and its poor performance that continues to provoke the Palestinian street.
5. The chances of success of the Arab and international parties in weakening the resistance forces in the Palestinian equation are not likely at the present time. This is due to the facts on the ground and the popular convictions that were formed after the Sword of Jerusalem battle and due to the bad performance of the PA. However, the chances of gradual evanescence of victory of the resistance, weakening its glare and influence, and emptying it of its content are possible.
6. The chances of the resistance forces to succeed in establishing a new national reference, in light of the internal and external conditions, seem weak in the foreseeable short term. It needs time for these conditions to change.
7. Building a national coordinating pro-resistance body is unlikely at the moment. Yet, this may change, it depends on the efficiency of the resistance and its success in national mobilization.
8. Chances of the PA’s collapse and its loss of political grip and control on the ground do not seem likely in the short term, however, these chances may increase in the medium and long term by the rapid erosion of its popularity in the Palestinian street, for the PA’s cards are almost limited to:
a. Arab, regional and international support of its legitimacy and their prevention of its collapse for fear of possible alternatives.
b. Relying on the Fatah movement’s constituents, who are intrinsically linked to the PA and who don’t show any signs of reconsidering their position.
c. The unwillingness of the competing parties (factions and national figures) to engage in real efforts to launch a national alternative.
9. Although fears remain that the post-‘Abbas phase will be more dangerous, the current approach of the PA is likely to continue, whether a security figure more submissive to the Israeli and American agenda takes over, or the alternative would be a political or organizational figure from Fatah, or his positions are distributed among a number of the leaders of the movement. Remarkably, the subjective factor is not the strongest in determining how the PA would deal with the resistance forces and internal files. Rather, the Israeli, US and, to some extent, the Arab factors are the most important and influential in determining the PA’s positions and its political and security behavior. This is why the PA’s priorities and considerations do not change whether ‘Abbas is present or not.
As for the possibility of a dispute, conflict and chaos leading to a loosening of the PA’s grip over the security and political situation, after ‘Abbas’s death, it is weak and unlikely. For the involved external parties, especially Israel, the US and the Arab countries supporting the peace process, take into account this possibility and will try to avoid it with all their might. If such a situation suddenly occurs, it would likely be temporary and will not last for long.
Fifth: The Political Environment and the Possible Repercussions of the Continuation of the Status Quo
Despite the fact that the status quo is expected to continue, the political landscape will continue to interact with the Palestinian, regional and international actors, within the following considerations:
1. The continuation of Palestinian schism that began 14 years ago, with its dangerous reverberations, foremost of which is the weakening of the Palestinian position, the exhaustion of the Palestinian parties, and the damage to the Palestine issue on the Arab and international levels.
2. Disruption of the electoral process indefinitely, and the continuation of Fatah and the PA’s monopoly over Palestinian official decision and various institutions.
3. Continued external interference in Palestinian affairs.
4. The increasing weakness of the PA and the erosion of its political and popular standing. Also, the increasing levels of image damage, internally and externally, due to the PA’s poor defense of Jerusalem and al-Aqsa mosque, weak stance in the Sword of Jerusalem battle, the continuation of its security role in the WB, and the harsh criticism concerning freedoms and human rights, especially after the assassination of human rights activist Nizar Banat.
5. The continued suffering of GS as a result of the siege, and persistent attempts to subdue the resistance.
6. The popularity increase of Hamas and the rest of the resistance forces, and the popularity decline of the PA and Fatah.
7. The increasing Palestinian, Arab and Islamic support of the resistance, considering it an option that would deter the occupation, confront its crimes and defend the rights of the Palestinian people.
8. The success of the resistance forces in establishing themselves as a fait accompli that is difficult to bypass when dealing with the Palestine issue, and the openness of many regional and international parties to communicate with them directly or indirectly, after they succeeded in dedicating themselves as reference for calm and escalation.
Sixth: Recommendations and Suggestions
1. Building a national alignment, consisting of the resistance forces and those who oppose the peace process, developing a practical plan and a roadmap to form this alignment on the basis of Palestinian fundamentals and supreme interests, and using the current state of harmony to confront the occupation.
2. Elaborating an ambitious, realistic, national and consensual vision to manage the next phase, distributing and integrating the roles and steering the action in WB, GS, the 1948 occupied territories and abroad.
3. Forming a transitional leadership or activating the unified leadership framework, to restore the confidence, credibility and seriousness of the Palestinian reconciliation process and putting the Palestinian political house in order.
4. Expanding the circle of support of the resistance project, at the Arab, Islamic and international levels.
* Al-Zaytouna Centre thanks Mr. ‘Atef al-Joulani for authoring the original text upon which this strategic assessment was based.