By Caelum Moffatt
Emotions are running high and tempers are flaring amongst Palestinians – a populace becoming increasingly beset by exhaustion and frustration. The end of March marks four months since the Annapolis Summit took place and four months since President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, under the eyes of the international community, agreed to meet regularly, implement stage one of the roadmap and strive towards a peace agreement by January 2009.
Has any progress been made? It seems as if Palestinians gave up on the definition of “progress” and all its implications long before Annapolis. Some analysts and academics trace the problems of the present back to the Oslo Accords of 1993 and their subsequent failure. Why is the Palestinian Authority, an interim governing body established under the Oslo Accords that was to be bolstered by a state after five years, still representing the Palestinian people in the occupied territories? Is it truly representative? Does the term “PA” merely mask the reality that Israel, as the occupying power, essentially controls everything? Although possessing the “Authority” by name, it certainly isn’t always treated or respected as one.
This confusion is accentuated by the lack of significant advances towards peace since the inception of the PA 15 years ago. The rapidly disintegrating humanitarian situation, movement and access restrictions, escalations in violence, internal Palestinian divisions and the ubiquitous intrusiveness of the Israeli occupation have never been more visible or damaging. Simply speaking, never have the conditions on the ground placed the possibility of a two-state solution so near the realms of impossibility.
The actions by Israel following the Annapolis Summit are just a continuation of their general modus operandi towards the occupied Palestinian territories which has gradually been applied and implemented for years. Israel is consistently undermining the PA and, in turn, the peace process as a whole.
Under the stipulations of the roadmap, which was supposedly reactivated at Annapolis, Israel is obliged to cease settlement expansion. However, in the last four months Israel has expropriated thousands of dunums of Palestinian land and granted permission for over 1,500 housing units in the settlements of Pisgat Zeev, Givat Zeev and Har Homa, some 7,000 in Ein Yayul near Walaja and a proposed 3,500 between east Jerusalem and the Ma’aleh Adumim settlement. Although Israel claims that these settlements [illegal under international law] lie in the district of Jerusalem and therefore should not be included in their roadmap commitments, east Jerusalem is where Palestinians want to establish their capital. Furthermore, Israel persists on approving construction plans on settlement blocs in the West Bank and this does not include the outposts erected at the whim of Israeli settlers.
Meanwhile, the PA is charged by the roadmap with dismantling “terrorist” infrastructure in the West Bank. They have responded by establishing a security force, which is not able to function independently as Israeli forces are still active in the area. This presence is dangerous as it may convey the message to the locals that Israeli raids are deployed in conjunction with the PA. Just last week, Israeli soldiers drove into Bethlehem killing four Palestinian activists. One of the dead was Islamic Jihad commander, Muhammed Shehadeh, whom the Israelis have wanted for eight years. As Palestinians questioned the advantages of such an operation amidst Egypt’s discussions with Hamas over a ceasefire with Israel, Muhammed Shehadeh’s son declared that Israel was simply making a “mockery of the PA”, proving them to be powerless and incapable of maintaining control, therefore pushing the people into the arms of groups like Hamas and Hizbollah.
In the last few weeks the PA has been even further undermined. After a five day Israeli bombardment of the Gaza Strip, which killed approximately 130 Palestinians, President Abbas announced he would suspend peace talks with Israel in solidarity with the coastal strip. Apparently, under international pressure, namely from US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the presidency was forced to soften this statement a day later with Abbas saying that peace talks must continue. In addition, a further insult to the PA is the ruling by the Israeli foreign ministry endorsing calls by Israelis to sue the PA and seek compensation for damages caused by Palestinian suicide bombings. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Arye Mekel stated that the motion could proceed because the PA is not protected by the immunity extended to states when prosecuted in the courts of another country. Why? Israel does not recognize the Palestinian Authority as governing state body.
According to former PA Minister of Planning Ghassan Khatib, Palestinians are in “limbo” – “neither under a clear-cut situation of occupation against which they could be expected to resist and fight, nor is their interim authority leading them to an end of occupation and the establishment of an independent Palestinian state”. The Palestinians are in the midst of an uphill struggle for sovereignty, headed by a body unable to deliver or ensure their future because of the internal and external obstacles that surround them.
Under such circumstances, it was not surprising to hear rumors concerning President Abbas’ termination of the peace process, as reported by Ma’an News agency. Although the Palestinian presidency has now deemed this as speculation, there are those who have gone further, such as Dr. Ali Jarbawi, who advocate the PA being dismantled completely.
This is not a new idea but one that has been pushed by academics and analysts since Yasser Arafat was held siege by Israel in 2002, confined to the Muqata’a [the Presidential compound] during Al Aqsa Intifada. This event exposed the true nature of the Israeli/PA relationship in its purest form – the occupier laying siege to their occupied “peace partner”.
If the two-state solution is ostensibly suffering by preserving the PA, what are the alternatives? Would it not be perceived as admitting defeat? Faced with these questions, advocates of dissolution believe that for a defeat to be incurred there has to be a battle preceding it and as Israel presides over everything, the belief that such a conflict exists is a naive misconception. Under this paradigm, the PA would officially present the “keys” of the West Bank to Israel and the UN, absolving them of responsibility and accepting their occupied status.
Israel would be forced to address their responsibilities as an occupying power under the international legal guidelines set by the Geneva Conventions without having the luxury of exploiting the PA as a “administrative contractor or security sub-agent” [a phrase used by this organization in a 2004 paper on this topic]. Israel could of course reject this claim and refuse to recognize its obligations in which case the matter would be passed over to the UN. The parties involved could not ignore or neglect this statement of purpose, as it would risk attracting greater condemnation across the Arab world.
The hope is that by approving a motion to dissolve the PA, the Palestinians may indirectly adopt the most effective method of opposing the Israeli occupation. By openly submitting themselves to the will of Israel and begrudgingly accepting occupation, Israel will be faced with the possibility of a one state solution [the ramifications of which, even Prime Minister Olmert has expressed are potentially dire for the state of Israel]. With Israel unable to prevent comparisons with apartheid South Africa on the international scene, the one state solution would compel Israel to decide whether to “take it or leave it” – either to accept occupation and incorporate the occupied territories into their state thus destroying the dream of a Jewish state as well as placing Jews at the risk of being a minority, or Israel would have to seriously adhere to a solution where an independent state can be established. This is the plan Dr. Jarbawi is staunchly promoting. Israel will not be interested in a two state solution unless their “Jewness is threatened” and dissolving the PA would act not as a means to an end but the required step “to achieve” an end.
Although seemingly rational in theory, there are certain variables and unpredictable by-products a bold maneuver like this could create. Who would fill the void left by the PA? Would the Israeli government not find another impressionable partner? One of the major obstacles to peace is the current division between Fateh and Hamas and their reluctance to resolve their issues. An agreement with Hamas would come at the expense of the Palestinian moderates whereas a peace with the moderates cannot be completed while Hamas continues to threaten Israel’s security. Originally thought to be diminishing, Hamas’ influence is apparently almost equal to that of Fateh. According to a poll conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, Hamas’ de facto Prime Minster Ismail Haniyeh would receive 47% of the presidential vote compared to 46% for Abbas. With this highlighted, there is a chance that complete chaos could ensue if the PA was dissolved either between Hamas and Fateh, between tribal families spread across the West Bank, or a third Intifada targeted against the Israelis. The one deterrent for an all and out Palestinian civil war is that without the PA, the groups would not be vying for a position of national authority, a point that has often been a source of contention. With regards to Israel finding another compliant partner, if the aim of the general cause was recognized and understood, one would hope that the likes of Hamas and Fateh would be united under occupation and use their influence to prevent the establishment of an Israeli “ally” in the occupied territories.
Further still, there are the 200-250,000 people who are employed by the Palestinian Authority in various capacities from administration to security. Supporters of the dissolution draw parallels with the second Intifada where people demonstrated their willingness to sacrifice their jobs for the greater good. They attest that the same will be seen in the event of dissolution.
The same survey quoted above reports that 55% of Palestinians are dissatisfied with the PA government and believe it should be toppled. In 2006, this same debate over the PA was at its zenith. Hamas, who had just won the legislative elections, admitted that dismantling the PA might be the only way to combat Israel’s treatment of the PA. Furthermore, PLO spokesman Ghassan Al Masri asked, “Why shouldn’t Israel in its capacity as an occupation force, bear the expenses of our education, health and social welfare systems?” Even the current Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad said at the time that the “PA has almost no role in the political process. The existence of the PA frees Israel from its responsibilities as an occupation force”. These comments may have sprung out of opposition to Hamas’ victory or fear that their positions were in jeopardy. However, now that a Fateh based PA has been reinstated in the West Bank, the same fear of their future is present and opinions seem to now center more on PA negotiator Saeb Erekat’s assertions that the PA should concentrate on “discussing ways of reactivating our institutions”; restoring, preserving, reforming, redefining and emboldening them.
In 2006 there were feasible options available. Since then, democratic elections took place but the result wasn’t respected by the international community; a unity government was tried and failed; infighting between Palestinian factions escalated to an alarming degree with neither showing signs of surrendering power; PA revitalization and reform has been restricted and there have been no tangible results from the increased third party involvement or attempts to pressure Israel into a peace agreement. Israeli Knesset member Yossi Beilin states that Palestinians should wait until January 2009 [the projected deadline for a peace agreement] before doing anything – this goes without saying. All efforts should be made to exploit the need for US President George Bush and Prime Minister Olmert to salvage their reputations domestically. However, if nothing materializes out of this peace agreement, another avenue must be explored. At this juncture, the dissolution theory should be seriously contemplated as an alternative to a stagnant peace process.
(This article was originally published in MIFTAH: www.Miftah.org)