It isn't bad for Israel if the Palestinian Authority collapses - opinion

Chaos in the territories poses a security problem for Israel, but is less acute if the Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other.

 PA PRIME MINISTER Mohammad Shtayyeh receives European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Ramallah, last year. The PA’s disintegration would be a public relations debacle for the Palestinians and reduce their appeal among naive Europeans, says the writer.  (photo credit: FLASH90)
PA PRIME MINISTER Mohammad Shtayyeh receives European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen in Ramallah, last year. The PA’s disintegration would be a public relations debacle for the Palestinians and reduce their appeal among naive Europeans, says the writer.
(photo credit: FLASH90)

One of the challenges of the new government is the potential for the collapse of the Palestinian Authority, bringing about a deterioration in the security situation. Mahmoud Abbas, the PA’s leader, seems unable to rule effectively, i.e., maintain a modicum of law and order in the territories under his control.

He lost Gaza to Hamas in 2007, and we now see the “Lebanonization” of the PA taking place in the West Bank: the emergence of a myriad of armed groups, with some displaying only limited loyalty to the PA, and others, especially the Islamists, trying to undermine the current regime.

In addition, the deteriorating economic situation resulting from years of declining international aid, unsustainable public patronage, and questionable fiscal policies have pushed the Palestinian government and banking sector to the brink of insolvency, further eroding the PA’s authority and legitimacy.

The PA increasingly fails to provide basic governance, leading to a widespread Palestinian perception of the ruling elite as corrupt and authoritarian. We may well see the breakdown of the PA into various sectors, effectively ruled by new local barons who maintain a monopoly over arms in their fiefdoms.

The PA may become a failed state, a phenomenon characteristic of other Arab states such as Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, and Yemen. A violent succession struggle following the death of Abbas only enhances the probability of such a scenario.

 Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a session of the Arab League summit, Algeria November 2, 2022. (credit: Algerian Presidency /Handout via REUTERS) Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a session of the Arab League summit, Algeria November 2, 2022. (credit: Algerian Presidency /Handout via REUTERS)

The premise of the two-state solution (2SS) paradigm, was that given the opportunity, the Palestinians would be able to establish a state and prevent terrorism against Israel, similar to Egypt and Jordan. Yitzhak Rabin hoped for a state “without the Supreme Court and B’Tselem” to govern effectively, while Israelis were led to believe that the Palestinians could establish a Palestinian entity that would have good neighborly relations with Israel. That did not work very well.

Yasser Arafat and his successor, Abbas, were unwilling to confront the armed opposition groups (Hamas and Islamic Jihad) which continued to engage in terror against Israel. They refrained from engaging in a civil war to secure the monopoly over the use of force, the required feature of a modern state. This avoidance led to the emergence of two Palestinian entities (Gaza and the West Bank) and the potential for further fragmentation.

Moreover, the PA does not show any inclination to compromise on its maximalist goals and live peacefully next to Israel. It still demands the division of Jerusalem, the relocation of numerous Palestinian refugees in Israel, and a withdrawal to the 1967 borders.

Its education system and media continue propagating tremendous hostility toward Jews, while blaming Israel for all Palestinian problems. Security cooperation with Israel primarily concerns apprehending armed activists from the Islamist opposition, as the PA often turns a blind eye to terrorist activities against Israel.

The desire to prevent the anarchical characteristic of failed states is understandable, which is the primary motivation for the attempt to save and strengthen the PA. Nevertheless, Israel should remember its limited capability for political engineering beyond its borders. Moreover, a belief that the Palestinians can change and behave reasonably, or that a vigorous PA benefits Israel is questionable.

IN SHORT, Abbas and his coterie are part of the problem and not of the solution. Jerusalem should thus think twice about promoting efforts to preserve the PA’s rule and prevent a descent into chaos, while rejecting the reoccupation of the West Bank.

Israel shouldn't promote preventing the PA from collapsing into chaos – it might not be bad

Chaos is indeed not a pleasant thought. Chaos in the territories poses a security problem for Israel, but is less acute if the Palestinian militias vying for influence compete with each other.

A succession struggle following the death of Abbas could divert attention from fighting hated Israel and prevent coordination in the low-intensity conflict against Israel. In addition, anarchy in the territories may legitimize a freer hand for Israel in dealing with the terrorists.

Furthermore, chaos might ultimately yield positive results. The collapse of the PA will weaken the Palestinian national movement, which heretofore has been a source of endemic violence and is a recipe for regional instability in the future. The PA has supported the policies of radical regimes such as Iran. It is also thoroughly anti-American. Moreover, it threatens at least two “status quo” states, Israel and Jordan.

The collapse of the PA and the failure of the Palestinian national movement to establish a decent state might reduce the appetite of the Palestinians for an independent entity. The disintegration of the PA would be a public relations debacle for the Palestinians and reduce their appeal among naive Europeans and Israel-bashers worldwide.

The dysfunctional character of the Palestinian political entity would become apparent to all and elicit a more robust understanding of Israeli fears over the destructive implications of Palestinian nationalism.

Disorder in the territories could be the incentive for fresh thinking on the Palestinian issue on the part of the Palestinians and elsewhere. More chaos in the Palestinian-ruled territories might open up new opportunities to stabilize the situation. The disappointment of the PA falling apart could bring a more realistic and conciliatory leadership to the forefront.

The internecine violence of the previous Intifada led to the acceptance of the 1991 Madrid Conference formula – an indication of growing political realism among the Palestinians. The failed PA experiment could be an additional factor to a more politically mature body politic.

For example, the Palestinians in Gaza may ask the Egyptians to return, while in the West Bank, the rule of the Hashemites may look increasingly favorable compared with the PA’s.

Despite its growing popularity, it is misleading to portray Hamas as the only alternative to the PA leadership. Indeed, the Hamas rule in Gaza is not a successful experiment; and the allure of Islamic radicalism is fading.

Chaos, as a temporary situation, is not necessarily the worst-case scenario. Israel should not shudder at the prospect of the PA taking a fall.

The writer is president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security (JISS).