The Israeli reoccupation of most of the Palestinian territories, once under Palestinian Authority control according to the Oslo agreements, has created some significant questions about what comes next.
Prior to the establishment of the Palestinian Authority and before the peace process, Israel controlled in practice and by force almost every aspect of Palestinian life. That included control over land, borders, legislation, administration and services such as education, health, and so on. At a certain point, Israel even appointed Israeli officers to act in the position of Palestinian mayors. When the Oslo agreements were signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, the areas of Israeli control were scaled back. The peace agreements began a process of territorial compromise, whereby the Palestinian Authority was controlling “A Areas,” while other parts of the territories remained under Israeli control. Further negotiations were to continue this transfer of territory from Israeli to Palestinian jurisdiction.
The Israeli Likud-led government headed by ideologue Ariel Sharon has very different ideas about the future of the Palestinian territories, on the other hand. Since the start of the Israeli occupation in 1967, it has promoted what has become known as “functional division.” Based on the ideology that the Jewish people have historic rights to all of Palestine, including the West Bank and Gaza Strip (which international law and Palestinians consider areas under belligerent occupation), the Likud opposes any territorial compromise. Now that it is in power, the Likud has regained direct military control over all of the territories, leaving for the Palestinian Authority the impossible function of daily administration. The Sharon government’s ultimate objective in this regard is either to force Palestinians to renegotiate for other arrangements that are based on functional compromise instead of territorial compromise–or simply to impose this division by force, which is what we are! living through now.
As such, the Palestinian leadership has been left with one of two very tough choices: to adapt to this situation forced on it by Israel, and try to care for day-to-day Palestinian needs while sacrificing its political and security role (which it is not able to maintain anyway because of the imbalance of power), or to refuse these arrangements altogether. That would leave Israel with the option of either taking on both security and administrative responsibilities or leaving both behind, i.e., allowing the situation to return to that in force before September 29, 2000, which resulted from the implementation of the Oslo agreements.
It is highly expected that the Palestinian people and their leadership’s continued engagement in rejecting and resisting Israel’s occupation will leave no opportunity for the Palestinian Authority to maintain its administrative role and accept Israel’s imposed functional division. That would require either adapting to the occupation or making peace with it, neither of which suit the inclinations of the Palestinian leadership and the Palestinian people.
Indeed, running services under the occupation is a recipe for failure. Eventually, the continuation of these attempts will lose the public’s respect and support and, ultimately mean political suicide. That is why the Palestinian leadership now appears to be giving Arab and international diplomacy a chance to bring to an end this madness and extremism, before it places itself squarely in the camp of resistance and rejection of occupation, rather than the camp of those ready to adapt to military rule.
Mr. Ghassan Khatib is a Palestinian political analyst and director of the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.