Upon the establishment of the PA in 1994, it was hoped that an independent Palestinian state would be created in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip within five years. The PA also hoped to achieve a settlement of the 'final status issues' such as the future of the refugees, Jerusalem, the issue of Jewish settlements, borders of a new Palestinian state, and the scope of Palestinian sovereignty. Despite these aspirations, over sixteen years later there still exists no binding timetable on Israel for a final resolution on these issues, nor for its withdrawal from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
The failure of the PA in this regard was partly due to the fact that no binding international mechanism was created which could force Israel to fulfil its obligations. The lack of punitive measures which would ensure that Israeli obligations were fulfilled has resulted in a bizarre situation being created between the two parties. The agreement was binding on only one party, allowed for the consolidation of the occupation rather than its end, and put the responsibility of dealing with daily matters on the 'imprisoned', with the possibility of their being deprived, suppressed or destroyed, and their efforts thwarted at any moment.
<p " align="LEFT">For seventeen years, the PA has been running after the carrot of the final solution. However, it failed to realise any of the aspirations that were expected of it, and because of thisno good news concerning or emanating from the Oslo Accords or the Road Map could convince the frustrated Palestinians, Arabs and Muslims otherwise. <p " align="LEFT">Although the Palestinian people as a whole understand and see the deep crisis that the PA faces and finds itself in, there is a discrepancy amongst Palestinians in how to deal with it. For almost a year now, one such option has been to bring about the dissolution of the PA. Although there is increased talk about dissolving the PA, it is not more prominent than other options. <p " align="LEFT">'Down with the PA' <p " align="LEFT">Those who support the dissolution or toppling of the PA believe that it has run its course and that it no longer a suitable or feasible means for establishing an independent Palestinian state and for securing the Israeli withdrawal. They warn about the erosion of the PA's national role in a manner that serves Israel, especially Israeli security concerns. Hence, they argue, there is no choice but to dissolve the PA, especially when one takes into consideration the following factors:
- The necessity to end the futility of Oslo and the Road Map tracks, after it has become certain that these tracks are inefficient and incapable of binding Israel to its obligations.
- The establishment of the PA succeeded in ending Israeli military rule, but was not able to end the occupation itself. This is because the PA made the negotiations appear to be seem to be between two states or authorities rather than between the occupation and the occupied people. It engaged in managing the day-to-day matters of the occupied people, while the occupation turned into a 'clean colonization', or a 'deluxe' colonisation according to Israeli writer Meron Benvenisti, and the former head of Israel's military intelligence Major General Shlomo Gazit. While the PA takes responsibility of all the 'dirty work', the Palestinians themselves suppress the resistance forces; and while the ugly face of the occupation conceals itself, the occupiers enjoy a comfortable position and their colonisation persists ruthlessly through Judaization, confiscation of territory and the imposition of new realities on the ground. Hence, it is necessary to end the PA's functional role which serves Israeli agendas rather than pursuing national Palestinian ones.
- The need to make the Israeli occupation, rather than the Palestinian party, take full legal, political, economic, social and health responsibilities for the occupied Palestinian people. This will continue to be the case for as long as the Israeli party does not consider the withdrawal seriously but rather looks only for agents or cover for its occupation.
- The international community must be aware of its responsibilities. The peace process has failed, and the Palestinian people are still under occupation, but they have and maintain the right to resist,gain independence and to self-determination according to international laws and conventions.
- The PA is no longer an arm of the PLO, but has, instead, become an arm of the occupation. It has disarmed itself of its strategic means and alternatives through its renouncement of violence. Furthermore, it struck out at and persecuted the resistance, even though such persecution led to the erosion of national unity, and the rupturing of the social fabric of the Palestinian people. The PLO, meanwhile, turned into a pale shadow of its former self, and subordinated itself to the PA. However, since the PLO embraces the Palestinian national project and all the factions and influential people in the Palestinian society, it is necessary efficiently and effectively to revive the national role of the PLO.
- Clearing the way for the imposition of new political conditions with Israel, after the current conditions have proved their ineffectiveness.
- Clearing the way for the establishment of a new authority that exists under the occupation but forces the occupier to bear its responsibilities, such as the day-to-day affairs of the Palestinian people. Such an authority would give up attempting to create pleasant external appearances and would rather focus on challenging and ending the occupation, thus, following in the steps of the first intifada which lasted from 1987 to 1993.
- Ending corrupt practices occurring within Palestinian society, such as the PA's administrative and financial corruption, collaboration with the occupation, dependence on international aid, and seeking artificial comfort under occupation.
- Israel and the US will agree on a Palestinian entity in the West Bank only if it comes into being under the Oslo conditions. However, there are large sections of the Palestinian people – such as the Islamists and leftists – who reject such an entity. Therefore, the only way in which Palestinian politics can be ordered and true Palestinian national unity achieved is through ignoring the conditions set out under Oslo, and ignoring the conditions upon which the PA was established.. This will eventually put an end to the continuing schism within Palestinian politics and will result in the dissolution of the PA itself.
'Long live the PA'
On the other hand, those who support the maintenance of the PA, argue that it is too early to dissolve the entity. There is still some room to build on its numerous accomplishments, they say, and to reform its flaws, if any exist. The most significant and influential arguments put forward by such proponents are:
- The Palestinian people have succeeded in establishing many realities on the ground through the establishment of a national authority. The PA employs tens of thousands of personnel in various ministries and apparatuses that represent the infrastructure that would make up a future Palestinian state. The Palestinians gained both Israeli and American recognition of their right to build their own state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, (ignoring the issue of its area and jurisdiction). Moreover, the PA serves Palestinian interests according to a national agenda, and enjoys the recognition and cooperation of the international community. These gains shouldn't be wasted or overlooked.
- To dissolve the PA would mean resuming Israeli occupation and its control over all aspects of Palestinian life. This would give Israel more freedom to pursue its agenda, and give it free and unrestricted power to do what it pleases.
- The dissolution of the PA would force the Palestinians to admit that they ultimately have failed to govern themselves. That would confirm Israeli claim that the Palestinians do not deserve an independent state as they are unable effectively to govern themselves.
- The PA represents a temporary and transitional means towards Palestinian independence, and the creation of a Palestinian state. Regardless of Israeli evasiveness, the international community, and even the United States, is eventually committed to establishing a Palestinian state. As long as there remain Arab, Islamic and international communities which support the adoption of a peace settlement, the process has not yet been exhausted. Hence, the door of opportunity must not be closed, for this could delay the building of a Palestinian state for years.
- Even if the PA is dissolved, there exists no other realistic alternative for the Palestinians to adopt that will also acceptable to the Arab and international communities.
- The very idea of dissolving the PA requires Palestinian national agreement, especially that of its two main pillars – Fatah and Hamas. It also requires the Palestinian political house to be put in order, to be able to bear the consequences of such a move, and to propose new alternatives. Without such agreement, the dissolution of the PA will not happen.
- To dissolve the PA means cutting off international aid worth millions of dollars. It will bring to a grinding halt many of the projects and works that are currently under-way, and tens of thousands of Palestinians will find themselves unemployed.
Fatah: 'Long live the PA, but...'
Although the PA still finds support in Fatah, some officials speak with bitterness about the dire situation the PA finds itself in. However, the statements which leaders of the Authority and Fatah have issued about the prospects of a PA dissolution can be understood merely as expressions of discomfort, threats, or political pressure. Ultimately there is no genuine or huge shift in the stances of Fatah.
Despite this, there is a state of deep frustration amongst the top circles of Fatah. This is due to the peace process having reached a stalemate, the Israeli repealing of many Authority roles, and Israel's maintaining the PA as a façade operating within frameworks that are acceptable to the occupation. Those who talk about the PA's dissolution option include President Mahmoud Abbas, Saeb Erekat, Nabil Sha'th, Ahmad Qurei', Muhammad Ishtayeh, Jamal Muheisen, and others. On the other hand, there are some officials in Fatah and the PA who insist on excluding the dissolution option, such as Salam Fayyad, Muhammad Dahlan and Jibril al-Rajoub.
Hamas: 'Down with the PA, but...'
Hamas had opposed and still opposes the Oslo agreement. Following on its opposition to Oslo, Hamas also opposed the establishment of the PA, which was a direct result of Oslo, and continued its resistance against the occupation. Although some leaders in Hamas called for the establishment of an authority that would commit itself to resistance and not to the Oslo framework, Hamas did not adopt a final and official stance that would call for the toppling or dismantling of the Authority in Ramallah.
As the PA became the de facto government of the Palestinian people in the wake of the Oslo Accords, Hamas decided to participate at the political level. This was decided upon as it wanted to alter the functional role of the PA, i.e., to cause the PA to be supportive to the resistance, while also fighting corruption and serving the interests of the Palestinian people.
Hamas made use of the legislative elections in 2006 in order to demonstrate the public legitimacy of the resistance movement, after it had demonstrated the legitimacy of its struggle during the al-Aqsa intifada. Hamas attempted to join and administer PA institutions through the tenth and eleventh government, but rejected the terms of the Oslo agreement, the recognition of Israel, as well as the notion of ending the resistance. The desire of Hamas to play the game according to its own rules led to the siege on Gaza, attempts to topple its government, the detention of its members of parliament, and the closure of its institutions in the West Bank
Despite the harsh blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip by Israel, Hamas used its public legitimacy and its military capability to impose its own terms on the territory. It exceeded the ceiling of the Oslo agreement and the ceiling that limited the PA's performance, while benefiting from the Israeli 'withdrawal' from Gaza. As a result, a regime was formed which did not abide by military rule or the occupation, does not depend on the foreign aid which have political and security conditions attached, and does not coordinate with the occupation. This regime settles internal disputes in cooperation with national factions, and adopts the choice of resistance. Thus, although Hamas is seen as having staged a coup against the PA within the Gaza Strip, it can be argued that it managed to transform the approach adopted by the Authority.
Hamas believes that because Fatah dominates the PLO and the PA leadership in Ramallah, it should thus be the main player in dissolving the PA. Further, Hamas believes that the Authority cannot be dissolved without national agreement, without which there would be internal strife and further complications for the Palestinian situation.
All the Palestinian factions (especially Fatah and Hamas) will find themselves, sooner or later, compelled to give clear answers to a number of questions that are related to the future of the Palestinian Authority. These include:
- With respect to Fatah and other factions in favour of a peace settlement, to what extent can they continue supporting an authority that achieves the objectives of the occupation more than it achieves national project objectives?
- With respect to Hamas and factions supporting resistance, if it turns out that a reform and transformation programme cannot be implemented under occupation, and that leading the PA in the West Bank is infeasible without halting the resistance programme, and noting that even if Hamas wins an election it will not be recognised by Israel, and blockades and persecution will be resumed, will it be suitable to repeat the same scenarios presented in the reconciliation papers, especially those related to the elections and administering the PA under occupation? Or should they reconsider the priority of putting the Palestinian political house in order?
- With respect to all Palestinian factions, how can they transform other alternatives into useful and viable ones, such as resorting to resistance, and forming a resistance authority, forcing the enemy to withdraw, or establishing a full sovereign Palestinian state?
* Dr Mohsen Mohammad Saleh is the Director of Al-Zaytouna Centre for Studies and Consultations based in Beirut.