Recently there has been much debate in political circles on the need for radical change in Palestinian politics to find a way out of the usual merry-go-round of contacts, negotiations and waiting around for opportunities. Specifically, a lot of interest has been generated by the call from some quarters to dissolve the Palestinian Authority.
The idea of dissolving the Authority is being put forth for a number of reasons. Such a move, or the serious threat of such a move, would, it is theorized, have a great impact on international and regional powers, and provide them with the necessary impetus to make a serious effort to move forward. If the Authority were dissolved, it is argued further, it would also serve to transfer responsibility for the Palestinian areas and people to the Israeli authorities, something that would be a major burden on its military and financial capabilities, and which could damage its international standing.
According to writer and analyst Adli Sadeq "the presence of the Authority is to the benefit of Israel because it gives the world an impression that there is a state warring with Israel rather than a people or a legitimate popular resistance movement." He argues that the dissolution of the PA would be detrimental to Israel because, "Israel does not want to bear the responsibility for a people who have legitimacy for their resistance against an occupation thereby granting Palestinians international support."
With no Authority, all the Palestinian territories would revert to direct Israeli occupation, and the issue would bounce back to the international arena as a case of occupation and the oppression and displacement of a people. Furthermore, Israel would no longer be able to blame delays in implementing its obligations or the continuing violence on the Authority.
Proponents of the idea also argue that the Oslo Accords have now become obsolete and with them has gone the raison-d’etre for the Authority. Lebanese-based Palestinian writer Khalid Hroub advocated thus for the idea in Al Hayyat.
"In practical terms, the Authority has no other choice but to dissolve itself," he wrote on January 9. "All of the initiatives, solutions and compromises over the past 12 years starting in Madrid have not brought any results on the ground that bring us any closer to the minimum acceptable fulfillment of Palestinian rights. On the contrary, Israel has reaped historical victories at the level of Palestinian and Arab recognition of its existence and the reduction of the percentage of disputed land to less than one fourth of historical Palestine. Israel has also succeeded at the level of establishing relations with a number of Arab countries, either official or unofficial."
Former PA minister for telecommunications Imad Falouji, however, strongly opposes the idea. "I reject any calls for the dissolution of the PA because the Authority is a national achievement that must be maintained."
Falouji criticizes the idea as a way of "escaping forward" which comes from a "fear of facing reality." In any case, he argues, Israel may take advantage of the absence of a Palestinian Authority to create a state of chaos and confusion.
"Israel may not reoccupy the territories. Egypt and Jordan would also not reclaim control of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and the result would be a political vacuum that can only result in chaos."
Some analysts believe that the existence of the Authority, with no sovereignty, does more harm than good, however. From a structural aspect, these analysts argue, there is no need for the PA in its present state, since the PLO could continue representing the Palestinian people. Indeed, goes the argument, this would be the preferable option since the PLO can speak for Palestinians inside and abroad.
So, what would happen if President Yasser Arafat one morning declared the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority? This was the question with which Israeli journalist Yehuda Litani opened one of his articles in Yedioth Ahronoth in October.
Wrote Litani: "Israel will be faced with a real problem. The Israeli army would be forced to remain in the West Bank and Gaza for an unspecified amount of time, and the Israeli authorities would have to take on the responsibility of administrating the education system, emergency services, transportation, electricity, water and municipalities. The immediate difficulty that will be faced by Israel will be finding funding for civil activities, estimated at tens of billions of shekels."
While Litany appears to be voicing the fear of most Israelis, his perspective is not the only Israeli opinion on the issue. Among the far right, there is strong support for a full reoccupation of the "entire land of Israel" and the dissolution of the Authority. A more nuanced version of this viewpoint calls for the PA to be replaced by a more obedient Palestinian leadership. Israeli journalist Amouna Alon is representative of this trend.
"Instead of reentering Areas A, the Israeli army should have gone in once and not come back out," she wrote in a recent article. "What is unethical is to speak about Israel leaving the territories because this will create an impression for the 1948 Palestinians that an escalation of terrorism will expedite an aspired withdrawal and, consequently, the liberation of what they consider their land."
Ali Jarbawi, professor of political science at Birzeit University, argues that while the dissolution of the PA is viable, first Israel and the world should be presented with the choice. "Instead of meeting with [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and constantly trying to reassure Israelis by offering fundamental concessions, the Palestinians – if they want an end to the occupation and the establishment of an independent and sovereign Palestinian state on the 1967 borderline – must unify their stance and give Israel a warning."
He suggests that any such initiative should aim at reaching a political solution to the conflict with Israel based on the two-state principle. In other words, in order to achieve the two-state solution, the one-state solution must be proposed. And for this to happen, the option to dissolve the Authority must be presented as both viable and likely.
"Israel should be given a six-month grace period to decide if it really wants a solution to the conflict based on two states. If after the six months Israel does not respond, this means that it is closing the door to the two-state solution. Then Palestinians must also permanently close the door to this option and start moving towards the one-state option."