The recent speculation about the future of the Palestinian Authority, including its possible dissolution, arose as a result of discussions in Fateh’s Central Committee meeting two weeks ago. These discussions were not about dissolving the Palestinian Authority per se, but about the future of the governing body that has grown into numerous agencies and employs nearly 200,000 people. Fateh’s leadership sought to address the fact that the difficulty of transforming this transitional Palestinian Authority into a state has produced an uncomfortable–and even untenable–status quo.
The current status quo, including the parameters of the Palestinian Authority, is a product of unilateral Israeli policies imposing facts on the ground, not an outcome of the Oslo agreement signed between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization. During the mid-1990s, Israel refrained from implementing certain aspects of this agreement, including further redeployments from Palestinian land. In this way, by the turn of the century, Israel had actually reversed certain aspects of the Oslo accords. To give one example, the Oslo agreement called for the creation of a safe passageway between the West Bank and Gaza Strip, joining the divided territories. It is easy to see that this scuttled detail contributed directly to the conditions that exist today, where the Palestinian Authority is restricted in its operations in Gaza.
The sum outcome of these reversals is a functional division whereby Israel keeps for itself full security control over all of the occupied territories, including control over land, land use and natural resources. It has unilaterally left to the Palestinian Authority the job of providing services, despite a great deal of restrictions that make this job in fact impossible. (How does one provide water, when almost no wells are allowed to be drilled? How does one process sewage when permits are not granted for the construction of treatment plants? How does one meet a dire need for more schools when cement is not allowed to enter Gaza except under tight restrictions?)
For many years, Palestinians coped with this uncomfortable reality, hoping that eventually the Palestinian Authority would be allowed to develop through bilateral negotiations into an independent state. Now, however, the Palestinian people and their leadership–one as moderate as they come–have arrived at the conclusion that this approach is not taking us towards statehood, but rather towards the consolidation of the status quo. It is clear as day that Israel intends, through this status quo, to maintain its occupation and ultimately prevent the two-state solution.
The raising of this question–how do we prevent the consolidation of this status quo and develop the Palestinian Authority into a state?–has generated a public discussion. One of the options being discussed is that of dissolving the Palestinian Authority.
In my view, closing the doors of the Palestinian Authority is not an option for the Palestinian leadership. It is not even an option for the Palestinian opposition, not for groups in the PLO like the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine that opposed the Oslo agreements, nor for the major opposition faction Hamas. It has taken Palestinians in the occupied territories years to build (and rebuild) the institutions that make up the Palestinian Authority and provide law and order, health, education and other crucial services. To remove these in one fell swoop would hurt Palestinians for generations.
There are other, less damaging paths. The request for statehood at the United Nations, at its heart intended to engage the international community and press the world to play an effective role in finding a way out of this destructive status quo, is one of these. Redefining the Palestinian Authority is another.
Having said that, however, it is also important to say: if Israel is allowed to continue to apply pressure on the Palestinian Authority with impunity, it is quite possible that the Palestinian Authority could simply collapse on its own. Right now, the Palestinian leadership is perceived by its constituency–and even perceived by itself–as being incapable of delivering. The peace process is not moving us towards ending the occupation. The democratization process is being interrupted by ongoing political division. Even the economic situation is problematic due to Israel’s restrictions and a continued need for foreign aid.
For all these reasons, the debate among Palestinians regarding how to find a way out of this impasse will continue. We seek to maintain our achievements, including the Palestinian Authority, while changing the status quo that has been created by Israel’s illegal actions. An important element in this debate is Israel’s increasingly aggressive approach towards the Palestinian Authority and the ongoing expansion of settlements. They are making the current reality simply unsustainable.