The Palestinian Authority, initially hailed as the harbinger of an end to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the creation of an independent Palestinian state, is on the chopping block.
Significant elements in both Israeli and Palestinian political circles believe, if not for the same reasons, that the PA is long past its sell-by date, and that plans must be made to prepare for, or, among the more activist sectors, to create, a successor to the moribund PA and the era of nominal Palestinian self-rule that it represents.
The debate has moved to the centre stage of Israel’s political agenda in recent weeks, highlighted by a recent report in Haaretz that quoted the prime minister remarking that Israel “must prevent the Palestinian Authority from collapsing if possible, but at the same time, we must prepare in case it happens”.
The Jerusalem Intifada has brought into stark relief for Israelis the failure of the current system to square the circle by producing a new generation of Palestinians prepared to endure permanent occupation peacefully.
Palestinians, for their part, long ago despaired of the PA’s ability to be the midwife of sovereignty and independence.
Palestinian] leaders are incapable of satisfying their [young Palestinians’] political and economic demands,” said former PA minister Ghassan Khatib.
Palestinian politics “is at an impasse and incapable of reinventing itself”.
Israelis such as Naftali Bennett, the minister of education, who favour a dramatic departure are framing the debate, keeping supporters of the status quo on the defensive. As a first step to annexing the West Bank, Bennett wants Israel to extend Israeli law and administration to settlement areas north and south of Jerusalem.
“The time has come to say Israel is ours,” he explained. “To go from strategic defence to a process of initiating the implementation of Israeli sovereignty over the territories under Israeli control in Judea and Samaria.”
Advocates of such a radical departure remain a minority, however vocal. After all, the PA, whatever its many shortcomings in the eyes of both Israelis and Palestinians, was initially established as a reflection of what Israel and the Palestinians believed to be their essential interests. Statesmen and politicians of all stripes are understandably hesitant to repudiate their own handiwork, however soiled and dysfunctional.
The Oslo system
Israel continues to be the most important factor in this equation, as it has been for many decades. Palestinian dissatisfaction with the PA has been constant since its inception.
After all, measured against the standard promoted by all Palestinians – independence and sovereignty – the PA, indeed the entire Palestinian system for political representation and mobilisation in the modern era, has been a failure
If Arafat once offered Israel a legitimate and authoritative address for its demands, Abu Mazen’s loss of Gaza has left the PA administering only a shrinking rump of Palestine. Abbas also rules without a popular mandate. In addition, the diplomatic dead end and Abbas’ increasing willingness to confront Israel in international forums undermine, in Israel’s eyes at least, the original rationale that made Rabin’s deal with Arafat desirable.
Abbas’ advancing age – the Palestinian leader is 80 – is a far more prosaic factor in the current alignment of forces, but it may be the most important cause of the current Israeli rethink of its interest in the PA’s sustainability. The PA has proved no better than other Arab institutions in creating mechanisms for peaceful political succession. Arafat’s departure and Abbas’ elevation were exceptions to this general rule.
Jerusalem and Washington, which engineered Arafat’s peaceful ouster, are far less interested in Abbas’ unknown successor than they were when the reliable and trusted Abbas himself was the recognised heir apparent.
More than a quarter-century after the Oslo agreement established the partnership between Israel and the PLO, and after almost half a century of occupation and settlement throughout Jerusalem and the West Bank, it is clear that neither party believes any more that the PA is the best agency for the promotion of its conflicting interests. In this environment, it would surprising if policymakers, as they seek advantage for their opposing policies, decide not to revise their view of the best path to victory.
Geoffrey Aronson writes about Middle East affairs. He consults with a variety of public and private institutions dealing with regional political, security, and development issues.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.