By Dr. Hani Al-Masri
A full year has passed since some vital decisions taken by the Palestinian Central Council (PCC) were put under the microscope in what looked very much like a way to ensure that they are not implemented. This was suggested by the latest Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) Executive Committee statement which included only one sentence in this regard: “[We] discussed steps and mechanisms for implementing the PCC’s decision concerning cutting off relations with the occupation authority.” The statement did not say what has happened throughout the past year, though.
It is well known that leaderships, institutions, countries and governments always study matters before they take decisions, because once a decision is taken, it must be implemented; it cannot remain under examination for a whole year. Why has the PLO kept this under apparently perpetual examination until further notice?
The move may not have been accepted by decision-makers in the committee, but they did not stand in its way for fear of criticism. The committee also believed that the decision can be utilised to improve the relationship with the Israelis rather than re-examine the relationship itself and change it from links with a peace partner to a relationship with an occupier, which is what the PCC decision calls for. The PLO Executive Committee has found that the decision is like a rock that is too big to throw at anyone. It is stuck with the realisation that it can no longer discard it as that would be viewed as weakness; nor can it be used against the Israeli occupation, as it may not be effective.
In light of this, the Palestinian leadership sent a security representative to meet with his Israeli counterpart after Benjamin Netanyahu refused to sit with them. According to official reports, the Palestinian official told his contact the decisions of the Palestinian Central Council. In another, more credible, version of events, he told the Israeli that, “The Palestinian Authority is doing all it can to stop confrontations and military operations, including stabbing and car ramming attacks, and requests the Israeli side to ‘stop incursions of Palestinian cities and towns, stop field executions, collective punishment and provocative procedure at check points.’” Israel was also asked to release 3 or 4 billion shekels, to agree to the issue of a passport that reads “Palestine” instead of “Palestinian Authority” and to consider the Gaza Strip as part of the Palestinian jurisdiction and not to negotiate with any party other than the PA concerning the enclave.
When the Israeli security official checked with the politicians, he found that Israel only acknowledges an amount of 490 million shekels due to the PA. Israel proposed to begin by halting incursions in Ramallah and Jericho to see how things go, evaluate the situation and move on to other cities.
In the same context, President Mahmoud Abbas informed the PLO Executive Committee that the Fatah Central Committee has voted unanimously for Palestinians to continue security coordination in exchange for an Israeli pledge to stop incursions in Area A. The Israelis will be told of this at the next representative meeting. The president put the decision to the vote at the PLO body which would give Israel one month to announce its agreement. The move got a majority of votes although it contradicts the decisions of the PCC, which call for a complete end to security coordination as a step towards full disengagement with the occupation. This may mean that the one month time limit may be prolonged to several months, and it indicates a drop from the level of the PCC’s decisions to one that is even lower than what was accepted by Oslo, which prevents the occupation forces from entering Area A except in exceptional cases of “hot pursuit”. This has, in any case, not been respected by the Israelis since 2002, when their forces started to roam freely over all Palestinian land.
As a result of the current situation of the PA, it will not implement decisions taken by the PCC which were taken under pressure from developments on the ground and not as a result of firm conviction. The PA believes that security coordination is sacred, whether there is a peace process or not, because it is in the interest of its survival; that has become the goal as Israel continues to ignore Oslo and all other aspects of the peace process. “The PA, through security coordination, contributes 20 per cent to the prevention of operations against Israel, while Israel contributes the remaining 80 per cent,” said Israeli Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon recently. “If the PA stops security coordination, it will cease to exist, because Israel will not help it, and this will enable Hamas to take over the authority or to lead Palestinians without an authority.”
There are other reasons that explain why the PA may not sever its relations with Israel. These include the fear of collapse and security chaos, especially if there is a strong Israeli reaction; a belief that the peace process can be resumed; the fear of Israeli and US sanctions; the fear of Arab states getting angry, especially those which believe that they share an interest with Israel against the “Iranian threat”; and the presence of a complete economic, security and political infrastructure that created groups within the PA whose interest is to maintain the status quo under the cover of Oslo. Furthermore, the ongoing Palestinian division stands in the way of the search for alternatives, which are needed given that the PLO can no longer offer such an alternative, being weak and paralysed, with most of its leaders and institutions under occupation just like the PA. The organisation has lost its ability to manoeuvre, to be flexible and have more than one option at its disposal.
Security coordination and most commitments that were based on the Oslo agreement have led us to the catastrophe we’re living through; they must end. If that is not possible to do all at once, it can be achieved gradually. It is feasible to take other steps immediately that are less severe than cutting relations with Israel; reducing security coordination, for example, and cutting back on economic dependence through enhancing factors for resilience and the presence of Palestinians on their land. These steps can be followed gradually to the point of freezing or cancelling the Oslo Accords. They can be accompanied by withdrawing Palestinian recognition of Israel, or at least tying it to Israel’s recognition of Palestine.
The relationship between the two sides should be based on equality and reciprocity. If Israel continues to violate its commitments and invades cities, villages and refugee camps – as it always does — then the PA should stop coordination and intelligence-sharing; it should give the green light to its copious security forces to stand up to illegal Jewish settlers and occupation forces, especially in areas that are supposed to be under full Palestinian control according to Oslo. Guard committees which face up to settler attacks in various places, especially in Areas B and C, can also be reinforced, and relationships that include security and civil coordination (which is necessary for everyday life) can be limited to the political level, so that security heads no longer play a political role in the issue of links with Israel. In addition, the PA’s budget can be changed so that the allocation for security is reduced; it stands currently at up to 36 per cent of the PA’s total budget. The change could be handled by dissolving a security branch, with its members transferred to the civil sector; political tasks could be transferred from the PA to the PLO.
For all the above to be productive, there has to be a new vision that ends all illusions of reviving the so-called peace process. The leadership should also realise that without changing the balance of power dramatically, to the point that occupying the Palestinian territories becomes a burden to Israel rather than a benefit, it will not be possible to end the occupation, or to achieve independence and sovereignty of the Palestinian state, with or without negotiations. The latter are a way of managing the conflict peacefully but the outcome is linked to facts on the ground so they cannot be productive if they are not based on strong cards to put pressure on the other side, and if Israel is not willing to accept a deal that realises the minimum of Palestinian rights. Israel might feel compelled to accept such an agreement if rejecting it will lead to the state being in an even worse situation.
For those whose options have hit a dead end; whose land and rights are getting confiscated; whose infrastructure and institutions are getting old and losing legitimacy; and who see the gap between them and the people getting wider, there have to be new options built. They will not fall out of the sky. Taking one step at a time, with achievable goals along the way, progress can be made towards freedom, the return of refugees, equality and independence. This must be a transition period en route to a historic final agreement.