The Palestinian Authority was created as a result of the interim agreement stipulated in the Oslo accords. However, the nature and perception of this authority developed in a way that deviated from what Palestinians originally intended. This was partly a result of the vagueness of the original agreement and the contradicting understandings of the Palestinian and Israeli sides of those accords and their different components, including the nature of the PA.
Palestinians perceived the PA as a transitional authority that would develop into a full state. Different Israeli political parties, however, held different views on the future of the PA. The regular changes of coalitions in Israel thus affected the dominant Israeli policies vis-a-vis the PA. Since the assassination of Israeli PM Yitzhak Rabin, several Israeli governments were led by parties that did not necessarily believe in the goal of ending the occupation and establishing a fully sovereign independent Palestinian state. As a result, these Israeli government pursued policies aimed at preventing the PA from emerging as the basis of such a state.
The main strategic change after Rabin came with the government of the Likud under Binyamin Netanyahu and the adoption of a functional division strategy between Israel and the PA, i.e., that Israelis and Palestinians divide their responsibilities on occupied territories rather than along territorial lines, which was the rationale behind Oslo. Thus Israel kept certain controls over all the territories. Since then, Israel has continued a gradual change in its relations with the PA, narrowing the space in which the PA functioned, not only geographically but also on socio-economic and security levels.
This Israeli approach culminated during Ariel Sharon’s premiership when a situation was created whereby the PA was confined to performing certain functions relating mainly to education and health, while Israel maintained overall authority in terms of security, border control, control over movement as well as over natural resources, including water and land use.
This new reality, created unilaterally by Israel, discredits the PA in the eyes of its people and has left the Palestinian leadership with a dilemma. On the one hand, the leadership cannot accept this situation for any significant length of time because such a circumscribed authority has no potential of developing into a full state, its very raison d’etre. But nor can the leadership dismantle the PA because that would usher in the return of full Israeli control over Palestinians including in the social sphere. Furthermore, within the leadership there remains some hope that there can be a reversal of the deteriorating powers of the PA.
Nevertheless, we’ve reached a situation that reminds many of the South Lebanese Army, an entity created by Israel to promote and secure Israeli interests in its occupation of Lebanon. An example is the situation in Nablus where the PA wanted to resume security responsibilities in order to enforce law and order on an anarchic city and bring an end to the ongoing Israeli incursions. However, the Israeli army, while allowing Palestinian police reinforcements, continues its regular incursions into Nablus at night. Thus the Palestinian police patrol during the day, undertaking duties of traffic control and civil policing generally, while at night the Israeli army takes over the streets. This situation can only further discredit the PA in the eyes of its own public and strengthen comparisons with the SLA.
The Annapolis meeting and the subsequent negotiations may be a decisive moment for the Palestinian public. The direction and success of those talks could determine whether there will be any faith left that the PA can finally develop into a state and secure an end to the occupation or whether this peace process is simply another means by which Israel hopes to maintain significant control over fundamental aspects of Palestinians’ lives.
So far the signs are not good. The Israeli insistence to continue consolidating occupation and disempowering the PA will further alienate this authority from its own people. The ultimate outcome of this course will be to render the PA irrelevant and reinforce support for the only available alternative, the opposition led by Hamas.-