Be careful what you wish for

The Palestinian people and their leadership face a unique political situation, one often characterized by the integral relationship that exists between external and internal expressions of our crisis. Internal frictions, which saw an increase between the presidency and prime ministership (tensions that ended with the resignation of Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas) have been inextricably connected to the ongoing crisis in the implementation of the roadmap, the collapse of the Palestinian ceasefire and Israel’s resumption of its assassination policy. The recent Israeli decision to deport President Yasser Arafat–a decision that has no effective implementation as Israel’s ally the United States has not approved it–is now being perceived by Palestinians as one more step in the ongoing Israeli strategy of trying to effect change in Palestinian negotiating policies and positions by altering the composition of their leadership.

At this crucial time, it is important to try to put these dramatic developments in some strategic context. This Israeli right-wing government is composed of political figures and groups that formed the center of opposition to Palestinian-Israeli peace agreements from their signing through their implementation. These elements have found the current difficulties a golden opportunity to reverse the developments that resulted from the peace process they oppose. They also come from an ideological background that states that Israel should continue its control over the occupied Palestinian territories and therefore prevent the development of any Palestinian entity that might look like or have the faculties of statehood and independence.

For this reason, the current Israeli government has slowly and systematically worked to regain Israeli control over and occupation of the Palestinian territories, and has achieved this on all of the West Bank and much of Gaza. Israel is now in effective control of 90 percent of the occupied territories. A crucial element of this plan is to paralyze the Palestinian Authority and transform it in practice from being an agent of political expression (as the Authority perceives itself and the Oslo accords allowed for), into a bureaucratic facade for the Israeli occupation.

One might even venture deeper down this avenue to recall the historic strategic debate in Israel vis-à-vis the conflict. Israel’s current leaders always argued for the merits of a "functional compromise" to solve the Palestinian issue in the short term while maintaining the strategic vision of Greater Israel, instead of the mainstream leftist strategy of "territorial compromise," which negates Israel’s territorial expansion.

The Israeli government is creating through its practices a defacto situation where Israel is in control of all the 1967 occupied territories, while allowing the Palestinian Authority certain functions and responsibilities in populated areas. It is possible that one motive behind the efforts to change the leadership in Palestine, including threats to deport or assassinate President Arafat, is part and parcel of this Israeli leadership’s desire for a solution that will allow the status quo to become more permanent in a functional division that is acceptable to the Palestinian leadership.

This seems a good time to remind Israel of the many strategic mistakes it has made during the decades that it has occupied the Palestinian people and their land. In the mid-seventies, for example, Israel in effect raised the profile of the Palestine Liberation Organization when it encouraged municipal elections in an attempt to challenge the PLO, only to have the election winners immediately declared their loyalty to the official Palestinian leadership.

Subsequently, Israel tried to deport those mayors, and right-wing Jewish terrorists attempted to assassinate them, but neither act succeeded in stamping out the PLO’s political representation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The attempt to deport or otherwise "remove" President Arafat, the latest unabashed Israeli interference in the composition of the Palestinian leadership, is set to become Israel’s next strategic mistake. The political position held by Arafat is the political position held by all Palestinian politicians and groups of significance today. In a sense, all components of the Palestinian political leadership are Arafat.

Further, instead of contributing to the functional division that so attracts the Israeli government, an attack on Arafat may very well take us back in time to a scenario where there is no Palestinian Authority and Israel is a full-fledged occupier with all the resulting security, political, moral and international relations consequences. By now, there is a lot of debate in Palestinian society as to whether there is a need for the Palestinian Authority to go on if that Authority has no hope of developing into a state. Palestinians might very well be thinking that we are approaching the moment where Israel should no longer be allowed to occupy our country without bearing all the responsibilities of that occupation, especially when Israel itself keeps diminishing and threatening the offices of the Palestinian Authority.