If the Palestinian Authority Disappears. . . .


Here is another contradiction for Israel to deal with: the collapse of the Palestinian Authority.  The Wall Street Journal reports:

Israel’s war with Hezbollah has overshadowed a looming crisis in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, where conditions have deteriorated to the point that some in the Palestinian government are exploring the prospect of its self-dissolution.

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An aid freeze by donors, initiated when Hamas won January elections in Gaza, has left the PA virtually penniless.  More than 150,000 public-sector workers have gone unpaid for the past five months, and some ministries have ceased to function.

That has prompted an increasing number of Palestinians to call for the dismantling of the PA and a transfer of its powers back to Israel, which continues to occupy the West Bank and controls Gaza’s borders despite last year’s military pullout.

Even Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh has hinted at the idea.  Following Israel’s arrest of parliament speaker Abdel Aziz Dweik last weekend, Mr. Haniyeh on Wednesday said, “All political elites, the presidency, the factions and the government are invited to discuss the future of the Palestinian Authority following this . . . attack.  Can [the PA] function under the occupation, kidnappings and assassination?”1

If the PA disappears, Israel has the responsibility under international law as the occupying power to administer and support the residents of the West Bank and Gaza.  Israel, of course, has brought itself to this point through its refusal to deal with Hamas and its subsequent physical destruction of PA offices and other Palestinian infrastructure, arrest of government ministers, and withholding of transfer payments.

Now Hamas leaders are threatening to make official what already exists on the ground: the formal dissolution of the PA.  What logically follows from this is the concept of a single binational state which, according to the WSJ report, is “gaining traction among Palestinians of many shades” — including Hamas militants.  As the Journal notes, “the idea of dismantling the PA was once a marginal idea, championed in the 1990s by left-wing intellectuals such as Edward Said, who advocated civil disobedience against Israeli occupation and a campaign for ‘one person, one vote’.  The model was the antiapartheid protests in South Africa that paved the way for black-majority rule there.”

The irony is that any time interest in a binational state has manifested itself in the occupied territories, it turns Israel into a fierce champion of an “independent” Palestine because of racially-motivated demographic fears for the Jewish character of the Zionist state.  Fatah has exploited these Israeli fears before to encourage it to negotiate around its program for a viable independent Palestinian state.  Now Hamas, which is not programatically committed to a two-state solution, but whose trajectory is in that direction, seems to be employing the same tactic to pressure the Israelis into releasing funds to the PA and agreeing to negotiate the terms of its withdrawal.  “Any breakdown in government could thwart Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s plan to withdraw unilaterally from large parts of the West Bank,” the report observes.

There is virtually no chance the Israelis would juridicially absorb the Palestinians into their own state, knowing they would immediately be confronted with an enormous Arab-Jewish anti-apartheid campaign along South African lines.  That is why they built a wall to retreat behind, threatening to leave the immiserated Palestinians to fend for themselves in an enclosed unguarded prison until they finally capitulate to Israel’s terms for a peace settlement.  But now the threatened dissolution of the PA, which the Israelis de facto brought about, ironically complicates their unilateral plan.

1  Guy Chazan, ” Chaos Could Doom Palestinian Authority: Leadership Void in Territories Would Put Onus Back on Israel, Thwart Withdrawal Plan,” Wall Street Journal 11 August 2006: A4.

Marvin Gandall is a former journalist and union negotiator who lives in Ottawa, Canada.

Richard and Marvin
Marvin Gandall (right) with Richard Fidler (left)