Israel’s security cabinet on Sunday approved a measure submitted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to “act to prevent the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.” The Israeli declarative statement came with many demands that Palestinian officials have quickly rejected.
Those Israeli demands require that the Palestinian Authority (PA) refrain from moves against Israel in the legal and political spheres. Stop incitement in the media and educational materials. Stop payments to the families of those killed or imprisoned by Israel. Refrain from building in Area C, which comprises 62% of the West Bank.
For the PA to accept any of those conditions is suicidal. The Israeli demands would not “act to prevent the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.” Instead, they would hasten it.
This security cabinet statement came most likely at the behest of the United States government in its attempt to pave the way for establishing Israeli-Saudi relations. The Saudis do not seem to care much about US intervention in their affairs, nor can they disregard their role as guardians of the two holiest sites in Islam. Would Saudi Arabia relinquish its increasing influence in the Middle East and worldwide to establish ties with Israel?
The Saudis are making amends with Iran and gradually scaling back on their intervention in Yemen. They are also dictating the price of oil worldwide and have established closer ties with Russia and China, the United States’ nemeses.
Even to the most naïve student of politics, the PA’s existence benefits Israel on many levels. The security cooperation alone between Israel and PA security forces has averted hundreds of attacks on Israel.
The PA has taken on the burden of managing the day-to-day affairs of Palestinians, from healthcare to tax collection. Most important is its role as Israel’s protector from potential attacks by Palestinians sick and tired of an oppressive and illegal occupation.
Regarding Israel’s demand that the PA refrain from joining international organizations, that will not happen. Membership in these organizations gives the PA and Palestinians international legitimacy. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has also been pushing European countries to recognize Palestine as a fully-fledged state.
A self-serving statement
Regarding the issue of incitement, Israeli cabinet members Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich are the most notorious inciters. They have praised and justified Israeli settler attacks against Palestinian civilians in parts of the West Bank. Israel’s government seems to be delusional about who is inciting against whom.
The so-called PA payments to “terrorists and murderers” are not a good enough reason for Israel’s unilateral withholding of hundreds of millions of dollars from taxes collected on behalf of the PA. This violates the Oslo and Paris Agreements. No clause in these agreements gives Israel the right to withhold any of those taxes, regardless of the pretext.
Finally, Area C, which comprises 62% of the West Bank, is the most arable and water-rich area of the West Bank. Area C is Palestinian land occupied by Israel in a military confrontation during the 1967 War. Those lands are Palestinian, and Israel has no right to do anything with Area C beyond what an occupying power is permitted to do in an occupied land.
The irony of the Israeli statement purporting to want to prevent the collapse of the PA is that it serves Israel, first and foremost.
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have low regard for the PA and even lower regard for its president. Israel’s offer comes with conditions that will not be accepted either by the PA or by Palestinians in the West Bank. To add insult to injury, Israel’s offer to prevent the collapse of the PA does not come with a single practical offer, such as releasing tax funds held illegally by Israel.
The fact that the Palestinians are occupied does not mean they are stupid. Israel’s desire to prevent the PA from collapsing is not a welcome gesture. It is a stupid gesture by an occupying power. This offer is dead upon arrival.
The writer is the vice president of the US Palestine Council, a Washington-based public advocacy group, and a former editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem-based Al-Fajr newspaper. He taught at Harvard and was the associate director of its Middle East Institute. He also served on a Palestinian delegation on arms control and regional security.