By Lamis Andoni, Al-Jazeera – 7 Dec 2010
In interviews and statements, as well as in private meetings, Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, has said that he is presiding over an authority without any authority and that the very existence of the Palestinian Authority (PA) has made Israel’s occupation “the cheapest ever”.
Abbas is simply reaching the same conclusion that many Palestinians have long understood: negotiations, under the prevailing conditions, will not lead to the end of the Israeli occupation, let alone the establishment of an independent Palestinian state.
In a recent interview with Palestinian state television, Abbas warned that if all efforts to establish a Palestinian state fail he will dissolve the PA and ask Israel to assume responsibility for the occupation. His threats are neither a manoeuvre nor a clearly planned strategy. They are rather an expression of despair and a reflection of the mood of the Palestinian people – who see the PA as merely facilitating the continuation of the Israeli occupation while removing the need for it to pay for its actions.
Disbanding the PA would mean a return to direct Israeli occupation and could be used by Israel as a pretext for escalating its aggression against the Palestinian people. But the Palestinians have reached breaking point. Seventeen years of talks have stopped neither Israeli land theft nor the displacement of Palestinians.
A battle of wills
The idea of dissolving the PA has many supporters – both inside the Palestinian territories and among the Palestinian diaspora. But this must not be a leap in the dark: the Palestinians must be prepared for the consequences of such a move and it must be undertaken as part of a clearly defined resistance strategy.
Neither Abbas nor his opponents, however, have indicated that they are developing any such strategy – for just as Abbas was expressing his despair, Hamas was indicating a greater degree of flexibility towards any possible outcome of, the currently stalled, Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. In a speech last week, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, said his movement was prepared to accept the results of a referendum if negotiations reach an historic compromise that includes the establishment of a Palestinian state on the territories occupied during the 1967 war.
It is not the first time that Hamas has signalled its willingness to accept a two-state solution, but its timing – when the talks are effectively frozen and there is no prospect for progress should they resume – is surprising. Haniyeh’s statement suggests that the two leaderships, in Ramallah and Gaza, have no idea how to recapture the initiative required to lead the Palestinian people out of the stagnant situation they are in.
Abbas has raised a couple of prospects. Firstly, he has suggested looking to the UN Security Council for recognition of a Palestinian state. This is mainly intended to affirm the ‘occupied’ status of the Palestinian territories and to thus block Israel from annexing Jewish settlements. Secondly, he has discussed handing responsibility for the Palestinian territories over to the UN. Both of these options would likely be obstructed by a US veto at the UN Security Council.
But any alternative option the Palestinians choose cannot succeed without first establishing national unity and mobilising popular resistance. A serious battle of wills will ensue, and the Palestinians must be prepared.
An international battle for recognition of a Palestinian state must be based on a clear vision and preparedness to confront Israeli actions. For international support alone will not lead to the creation of a Palestinian state. Regardless of whether Palestinians opt for a one- or two-state solution, they cannot avoid a battle to end the occupation under which they currently live.
Is the PA prepared?
The options Abbas speaks of would place the PA face-to-face with the Israeli occupation, so the question remains: is the PA ready for this? The answer would appear to be no.
The PA cannot be taken seriously as long as it accommodates Israeli terms and demands. Israel continues to prevent the movement of goods and people, to conduct raids and arrests in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and to strike at the Gaza Strip. Thus a prerequisite for any significant Palestinian move must be an immediate halt to security coordination between Israel and the PA.
Abbas’ justification for such coordination is that if Palestinians “behave” Israel can make no case for postponing ending the occupation. But the only outcome thus far has been the weakening of Palestinian resistance, while Israel has had a free hand to launch military forays into the Palestinian territories, to confiscate more land and to kill more people.
The next step for Hamas and the PA must be genuine unification – without this, disbanding the PA could result in a highly destructive power struggle – based on a joint agreement over an alternative to the now defunct talks. Dissolving the PA should be a significant consideration within this plan, but only once a political and economic strategy has been formulated.
The PA currently pays the salaries of 150,000 people, so disbanding it would have a huge impact on the economy. Before the PA was created, the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) contributed funds to help Palestinians stay steadfast in the face of the economic strains of occupation. A similar plan, involving all Palestinians, must now be devised – assuming that Arab states, as should be expected, will fail to offer the Palestinians financial support.
It is, of course, easy for those Palestinians in exile, with comfortable jobs, to call for an immediate dissolution of the PA – it is also very understandable as Israel will be under no pressure to end its occupation as long as it pays little or no cost for it. But, should the Palestinian leadership formulate a new resistance strategy, all Palestinians must be prepared to shoulder the responsibility for it. The onus is now on the PA to start this process and the only way to do that is to end all coordination and cooperation with Israel.
Lamis Andoni is an analyst and commentator on Middle Eastern and Palestinian affairs.
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