By Dr. Hani Al-Masri
fter being reassured about his health, President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech in Bethlehem last week was a disappointment, not only for what he did say, but also for what he didn’t say about the challenges and dangers threatening the Palestinian cause and the investment of the opportunities available. His speech addressed neither the handing over to his eventual successor nor how to achieve national unity. Nor, indeed, how to provide for the continuation of the intifada and develop it into a comprehensive uprising with a leadership and specific goals, standing alongside the boycott against Israel and its prosecution on every international level and in all forums.
Instead of the speech providing answers to the question of “what to do” against escalated Israeli aggression, racism, settlement activity and extremism, once again a political process by means of an international forum is being pushed. However, this will not lead to anything new unless the balance of power, which led us to this point, is changed.
Abbas has gone from threatening to dissolve the Palestinian Authority by handing over its keys to the occupation, to considering it as a national achievement that will not change until a state is established. The PA president did not explain the reason for this change. Was it because the tactical threat to dissolve the PA has exhausted its usefulness; or because he was not serious from the beginning; or because he realised it was wrong? What we have needed, for a long time, is not to dissolve the PA or hope for its collapse, but rather to change its nature, structure and functions in the context of building a cohesive alternative. This will allow it to go from being an authority acting as a partner to the occupation in a political process to an authority resisting the occupation or, at the very least, aligned with the resistance. Of course, this may lead to the Israelis dissolving the PA, but if that happens then a national alternative would be available.
Has Abbas backed down from his threat because it led to Arab, international, Fatah, and Palestinian protest? What sort of “achievement” is it? You cannot have an “achievement” that is restricted by political, security and economic obligations to the occupier. There must be a radical reconsideration of the relations with the Israelis and their brutal military occupation, which includes ending the PA’s security coordination and economic dependence, and withdrawing formal recognition of Israel if it does not recognise the Palestinian state.
The change in the Palestinian political discourse from “an authority without authority” to an “achievement authority” suggests that the survival of the PA itself has become the goal; it is no longer the means by which to end the occupation and establish a state. This is true, at least for the time being, and until the conditions to resume the stalled political process are met, although it is likely to be stalled for at least a year and possibly indefinitely.
The survival of the PA as a limited autonomous authority cannot be the Palestinians’ goal, because it is Israel’s goal, which allows it to manage rather than resolve the conflict. Israel also uses the PA to cover its efforts to present a fait accompli that would make an Israeli solution the only proposed and feasible solution.
Ending the PA’s security coordination with Israel should have been done long ago; ever since, in fact, it became obvious that there was no true political process looking to end the occupation and create a Palestinian state. The PA security services have been used to provide cover for Israel’s confiscation of ever more Palestinian land, settlement building, Judaisation and otherwise “persuading” the people of Palestine to leave their land “voluntarily” until conditions are right to expel them en masse.
Although the Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu has by its actions pushed the PA to the edge, the prime minister has vowed to make sure that the authority is not dissolved. He understands that without the PA Israel will have to bear the burden of occupation by paying for and providing public services to the Palestinians living under occupation. Even with the PA in place, as the occupying power that remains Israel’s legal obligation. With Israel’s security as its main priority, the PA’s security coordination buys it time; survival is granted in exchange for security.
If the PA is dissolved, then there will always be people willing to take it on board and make it even more subservient to Israel. Fatah, for example, or other groups and individuals who have been moulded by 20 years of Oslo to be stakeholders in a corrupt system. The collapse of the PA would create a vacuum that many will rush to fill, so there needs to be a comprehensive vision to ensure that chaos does not ensue. Such a vision, which would include the succession to Mahmoud Abbas, is absent at the moment.
Thus, those who call for an end to security coordination must launch a process of comprehensive change. The PLO must be revived and restructured so as to heal the national divide and bring about genuine reconciliation. All factions must be invited to participate. Instead of petty internal disputes of the “what’s in it for us” variety, the factions should be competing in terms of national approaches and programmes for the good of all Palestinians.
It is not crucial for one person to replace another, but rather to find a path to national salvation and find out who can lead the Palestinians along it. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. At the moment, though, our requirements suggest that we not only need a new path, but also a new structure. Keeping the PA together just for the sake of it cannot be our goal. Once the real goal of independence and freedom has been re-discovered, then progress can be made.
(This article was originally published in Masarat on Jan 1, 2016, and was translated from Arabic by MEMO)