It should not be surprising that the Palestinian Authority, led by Fatah, is not terribly popular in Palestine. Dodging elections, cracking down on political expression and agreeing to unpopular negotiations is hardly a way to hold the public opinion. Moreover, it is increasingly clear that the PA’s modus operandi – negotiations with Israel – has hit a dead-end, leaving the Palestinian government with few choices. Despite the bleak outlook for Abbas and Co., quasi-Prime Minister Salam Fayyad keeps fighting for his state building projects (although his project ignores the 60% of the country in Area C) and Abbas tries to convince the world that Fatah has a backup plan.
So Fatah’s popularity falling nearly as fast as the peace talks, the government needs to find a way to regain any sense of legitimacy. Yet, it is impossible to regain legitimacy and popularity when many Palestinians see you as subcontracted occupiers. Though Israelis brag about the small number of IDF troops in Palestine, this is possible only because the PA is doing the job for them. From Alex Kane:
According to the newly released documents from WikiLeaks, before assuming the prime minister’s office in Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly said that he wanted to “strengthen” the PA during his term. Amos Gilad, an Israeli defense ministry official, “noted that Israeli-PA security and economic cooperation in the West Bank continues to improve as Jenin and Nablus flourish, and described Palestinian security forces as the ‘good guys,’” and Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak attempted to coordinate the 2008-09 Israeli assault on Gaza with the PA.
All of these add up to one assessment: the PA exists to serve the Israeli occupation, and Israel is quite happy with how it’s doing. Instead of Israel’s footprint being all over the West Bank, they now have a subcontractor to do the dirty work of cracking down on dissent, making sure Hamas is weak and building an economy an “entire Palestinian economy…based on graft and patronage,” as Netanyahu candidly put it in a leaked cable from 2007.
[tweetmeme] Of course, Fatah has alternatives to blindly following a dead peace process and continuing the occupation. Jeff Halper, the director of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, predicts that in 2011, the PA will face one of two possibilities: unilaterally declare independence or dissolve, turning control of the occupation back to Israel. Of the two options, the later is by far the best. With 500,000 settlers in the West Bank and with Israel determination to maintain sovereignty over air, water, Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, it is difficult to image a two state solution that is viable, preferable or even fair to the Palestinians. The Palestinian Authority was created by the same agreement that created the basis for a two state solution. Now that the latter is dead, we must say goodbye to the increasingly authoritarian former.
With the US likely to shoot down a petition to the UN, it is hard to believe that a unilateral declaration of independence would go far in peeling back the occupation. It is possible that a number of countries (probably most) would recognize Palestine, possibly putting the US and the other ‘Israel-first’ countries in an awkward position. But without the teeth of the US and Europe, there is nothing in recognition that would stop the occupation. Israel has defied international law for decades – why would it start in 2011?
Yet if the PA were to be dismissed. It would need to reoccupy the streets of Ramallah, Nablus, Hebron and Jenin to ensure that Hamas doesn’t take hold. Tanks and Israeli soldiers once again on the streets of Palestinian cities would reinstate three critical aspects of the occupation that are currently lacking:
- It would resuscitate the general feeling of resistance of many Palestinians who have been placated by the cushy urban living created by Salam Fayyad’s economic plan (cushy urban living is only a problem when it removes many from the larger national struggle against oppression);
- It would force the Israeli public to once again take a closer look at Israel’s repressive and aggressive policy of apartheid as more Israeli soldiers would be needed in the territories;
- It would undoubtedly mark the death of the misleading two state path.
Unfortunately, I am not as sure as Halper that the PA would voluntarily dismantle in the upcoming year. Given that the PA is currently building an enormous prison in Nablus and a new government complex outside of Ramallah (further ensuring that the PA is helping Israel keep Jerusalem); that Salam Fayyad is repeating his claim that the country will be ready for independence in August; and that President Mahmoud Abbas has a nasty habit of threatening to resign and not following through, it seems as though the PA will be enabling the occupation throughout and after 2011.
While Halper displays a sense of optimism that 2011 will provide a “breaking point” in that the PA will collapse and the world community will step in to end the occupation, I am far less convinced. I find it much more likely that the enablers of the PA will continue to help along the occupation, deny political rights in Palestine and generally set the Palestinian cause back throughout 2011.
Photo from Life