Terra Incognita: The endlessly collapsing Palestinian Authority

The thing about bureaucracies like the PA is that once they are created, they don’t vote themselves out of existence.

Palestinian gunmen in Shuafat carry weapons during a funeral march for a Palestinian terrorist, shot dead by police after stabbing two Israelis in Jerusalem’s Old City (photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
Palestinian gunmen in Shuafat carry weapons during a funeral march for a Palestinian terrorist, shot dead by police after stabbing two Israelis in Jerusalem’s Old City
(photo credit: AMMAR AWAD / REUTERS)
"We don’t intervene in education, we don’t intervene in the incitement in their media,’ Immigrant Absorption Minister Ze’ev Elkin said in an interview last week. He claimed that after the “inevitable” fall of the Palestinian Authority, Israel should consider taking control of Palestinian media and education.
At his Bar-Ilan University speech the Likud minister, who is widely admired among his colleagues as insightful and thoughtful, claimed there was “no point” in trying to resuscitate the PA. “The PA will collapse whether we want it to or not – the train has already left the station. I’m sorry to say that at the moment, it seems that we have yet to internalize the new situation, and we aren’t preparing for it properly.”
Elkin’s comments were big on hospital references.
He said that for too long Israel had tried to treat the “terror wave” with Tylenol, when what was needed was antibiotics. The disease of incitement had to be confronted fully. Either way Israel should prepare a tombstone for the patient, the PA, he claimed. PA security forces General Adnan Damiri responded in an interview that Elkin was dreaming. “He’s forgotten that the occupation is the cause of all the problems in the area... [Palestinians] can solve their own problems on the condition that Elkin and the occupation will leave. We don’t want them on our land,” he said.
Damiri argued that Israel and Hamas both wanted chaos and anarchy in the West Bank, that would apparently be an excuse for Israel to reoccupy the Palestinian cities or expand its role.
This debate sheds light on the current position of the Israeli government and, to a lesser extent, the PA leadership connected with Fatah. In a speech marking two years since Ariel Sharon’s death Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed it was a mistake to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. “Giving the responsibility for governing Gaza to the Palestinians not only did not put us on the path to peace, but increased the armament of terror groups,” he said. At the same time, opposition leader Isaac Herzog has claimed that a breakthrough in peace negotiations is “not foreseeable” and that therefore Israel should physically separate from 28 Arab “villages” around Jerusalem and transfer more authority to the PA in areas outside large Jewish communities in the West Bank.
The divergent views on what to do with the West Bank and the PA among Israel’s political elites are mirrored by an equally divergent view of the role of the PA among commentators. An Al-Jazeera piece in 2011 claimed that “since the death of Yasser Arafat, Fatah’s policy of resistance to Israel has become one of collaboration.” A 2014 article at Dissident Voice by Jeff Blankfort claims that the Oslo peace agreement “came to the rescue of the PLO chairman [Arafat]... the price they [Palestinians] were to pay was dear: legitimizing of Israel’s presence in 62% of the West Bank... Arafat’s representative at Oslo who negotiated the accords that effectively signed away West Bank land to Israel and ended the first intifada was Mahmoud Abbas.”
Authors Ziauddin Sardar and Robin Yassin-Kassab claim that the PA involves a “degree of cooperation with Israel which verged on collaboration.”
Generally the narrative of “collaboration” is championed among the radical Left in the West who believe that only “resistance” – their code word for bus bombings and killing of civilians – can “liberate Palestine.”
In fact many supporters of Palestinians abroad are more pro-violence than Palestinian institutions. Even Hamas is sometimes characterized as “collaborating” with Israel by accepting short-term truces. No one can live up to the armchair intellectuals’ baying for blood.
On the other side of the coin many Israel supporters and commentators claim that the PA is the source of much of the “incitement” that encourages terrorism against Israel. Mort Klein and Daniel Mandel of the Zionist Organization of America wrote in The Jewish Press in 2012 that the PA has not fulfilled its Oslo “obligations to dismantle terrorist groups and to end incitement to hatred and murder against Israel in its schools.” Israeli political leaders from Likud regularly note that the existence of incitement means Abbas is no partner for peace.
Can all of this be true at the same time? The PA is both collapsing and Israel needs to divorce itself completely from many parts of the West Bank. The PA is both a source of collaboration with Israel that ensures security and a source of widespread incitement against Israel that encourages terrorism. The irony is that yes, all of this is true. The one thing that is not possible is that Israel can play any role in reworking the Palestinian education system or that increased Israeli rule in the West Bank can somehow reverse the trends of incitement or hatred of Israel.
With Israel’s military control of the West Bank set to pass the 50-year mark in 2017, the idea that somehow Israel can change the perceptions of Palestinians is a fantasy. Israel’s almost 50-year rule in Jerusalem proves that. Is there any evidence that Palestinians living in Isawiya or Jebl Mukaber like Israel more than Palestinians in Ramallah? Israel has been administering those annexed areas for generations, and succeeded only in alienating people. The real evidence is that many Arab citizens of Israel resent and hate the country and dream of its demise one day. Israel can’t manage to administer its own laws in the Negev or deal with its own Arab citizens who lack basic infrastructure and planning. The idea that Israel can expand its role in the West Bank and meet anything but anger and opposition is a fantasy. Consider the two Israeli soldiers who drove into Kalandiya and were almost killed, in a scene similar to the lynching of two Israeli soldiers in 2000. And someone thinks that Israel can just go set up shop in Kalandiya and “stop the incitement”? The incitement is never going to stop. The photos of martyrs are never going to come down. Withdrawing doesn’t decrease them, and expanding doesn’t decrease them. The PA has many institutions that mitigate its coming collapse, whether it is American- trained security forces or its various bureaucracies.
There are a lot of parties with an interest in not having it fall into chaos, not the least of which are economic interests. People must accept the Janus-like contradictions inherent in this future. The two-state solution may be “dying,” but it is the only solution that exists.
The thing about bureaucracies like the PA is that once they are created, they don’t vote themselves out of existence. Israel should plan for increased chaos in the West Bank. It should not consider any plan that envisions expanding its control over Palestinian people, and it should be wary of plans that envision stripping Palestinians, like those in Jerusalem, of their residency rights, without asking them. At the very least, someone should accept that the Palestinians themselves also have rights to decide what they want.