Is the Palestinian Authority on its last legs?

Under the current circumstances, any scenario is possible.

November 18, 2016 16:09
Mahmoud Abbas

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. (photo credit: REUTERS)

With all the excitement over the recent elections in the US, relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority have been pushed aside, and for all intents and purposes, have been ignored these past few months. But one problem remains: Will the Palestinian Authority manage to survive for much longer? In recent years, and particularly in recent months, a number of power brokers have been actively operating below the surface in the Palestinian Authority in an effort to undermine the leadership of Mahmoud Abbas. Hamas, which has already taken over control of the Gaza Strip, has been energetically preparing so that it will be ready when the time comes to overthrow Abbas’s administration and establish Hamas control in Ramallah.

Abbas’s weak leadership abilities, combined with his failure to bring about any sort of economic success or political breakthrough for the Palestinian people, provide opposition forces plenty of opportunity to burst in on the scene.

Granted Hamas has tremendous support on the ground, but it is suffering from great financial difficulties now that its external funding sources have dried up. The Palestinian Authority is still very powerful in Gaza, but the Shin Bet has succeeded in thwarting many attempted attacks by Hamas cells in Judea and Samaria, some of which were intended to overthrow Abbas’s regime.

Fatah is still the strongest key player in the West Bank today, but even within his own movement, Abbas has had to stand up against a militant opposition that is currently being led by two individuals: Muhammad Dahlan and Marwan Barghouti, the latter of whom is serving a life sentence in an Israeli prison.

The Palestinian president has been making serious efforts for years now to distance Dahlan from all Fatah centers of power, and to prevent his supporters from usurping any strongholds Abbas has left. And yet, Abbas can no longer ignore the reality that is staring him in the face: Dahlan enjoys great support among many Fatah and Hamas supporters living in the West Bank and in refugee camps.

Abbas’s excellent relations with Hamas headquarters abroad on the one hand, and with senior local officials on the other, have helped him retain control. At the same time, Abbas offers an unreserved support of Barghouti’s leadership and has created an alliance with him aimed at undermining Fatah’s older leadership and creating a foundation for Barghouti to consolidate his position as the next leader.

Dahlan has been traveling between the capitals of many Arab and Western countries in an effort to build up relationships that he would need if he were to become the next leader.

Dahlan has also been investing quite a bit of money in these endeavors. To that end, he has agreed to a pact with Islamic Jihad, and has been putting tremendous pressure on Abbas through third-party Arab countries in order to place himself back on center stage so that he can be appointed successor.

Even locally, there are other individuals who consider themselves worthy of leadership, and have already had custom tailored suits prepared for the day after. One such person is Jibril Rajoub, now head of the Palestinian Olympic Committee and former head of the Preventive Security apparatus in the West Bank. He enjoys tremendous support among grassroots activists, and has begun articulating statements that are becoming more and more radical.

Another important figure who is hoping to fill the soon to be vacated seat of the Palestinian Authority leader is Majid Faraj, head of the Palestinian General Intelligence Service.

A Palestinian study that was conducted recently by over a hundred Palestinian researchers questions what will happen to the Palestinian Authority in the near future. In essence, it predicts that the Palestinian Authority will collapse and all but disappear mainly as a result of Israel’s policies, which have weakened the authority and prevented it from advancing any political initiatives. It foresees the vanishing of the two-state solution for two peoples, and a retreat backward into full occupation and military rule in the territories.

According to the study, if the Palestinian Authority breaks down, all the various Palestinian political entities – including Fatah – are expected to become even more radicalized, and they will most likely escalate their violent struggle against Israel. A number of Palestinian leaders have even openly expressed their desire to return to living under Israeli occupation, since their standard of living and employment opportunities are likely to improve. Others are promoting initiatives in which whole sections of the West Bank – especially in the Hebron area – could be annexed by Jordan.

In any case, it is clear to everyone that the stability of the Palestinian Authority is rapidly disintegrating. Everyone agrees that Abbas’s role in Palestinian history – if he ever really played one – has come to an end. In the absence of a natural successor combined with the current weak leadership, the various power centers are gearing up for the power struggle by forging alliances and preparing for the day after. It would not be unreasonable to predict that because no successor has been named, a civil war between contenders for the crown and their supporters might break out upon the departure of the current leader. Huge amounts of money are being funneled into the area, weapons are being amassed, and activists organized.

The fact that no one has any hope for a political solution has only aggravated the situation.

Under the current circumstances, any scenario is possible. Hamas might win control over Palestinian territories in the West Bank, which could instigate a civil war, as well as a full-blown intifada against Israel. Fatah, Islamic Jihad and Hamas might succeed in forming an alliance in which they jointly rule over the Palestinian Authority.

And if Marwan Barghouti were to be elected their leader, he would be hailed as the next Nelson Mandela. Alternatively, complete anarchy could reign throughout all the areas currently under Palestinian Authority control.

Rabbi Kook of blessed memory once said, “If a person does not try to rise up, then he will have no power to stop himself from falling very low.” This statement is extremely pertinent to our current predicament. The lack of action, combined with the absence of leadership on both sides, won’t just keep us stuck in the status quo, but will lead us deep into an abyss.

The writer is a former brigadier-general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).

Translated by Hannah Hochner.

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