POMED Notes: The Future of the Palestinian Authority, Is Collapse an Option?
The Washington Institute for Near East Policy hosted an event Thursday (10/10) entitled “The Future of the Palestinian Authority: Is Collapse an Option?” The organization noted that while Mahmoud Abbas approaches what might be a last hurrah in terms of upgrading the Palestinian Authority’s U.N. status, talk among West Bankers has increasingly turned to the gloomy, fractious outlook facing the PA in the post-Abbas era. Panelists, Ehud Yaari, Lefer International Fellow at The Washington Institute, and Nathan Brown, political science professor at George Washington University, were asked to explore the uncertain future of the PA experiment.
For full notes continue reading, or click here for the PDF.
Ehud Yaari began, saying Palestinians are backing away from the two-state solution and the PA is undertaking administrative disengagement. In his opinion, “the Palestinian national movement no longer has the ‘oomph’ necessary to conclude a two-state agreement.” Yaari noted Palestinians no longer respect the PA, and routinely request non-interference in their daily affairs. The PA is in grave danger given the prospect of bankruptcy. Yaari cited World Bank figures estimating the PA’s debt at over $1.5 billion, while private banks prove unwilling to extend loans and Gulf states continue to withdraw their support. He pointed out 50 percent of West Bank GDP is comprised of donor funds and the economic growth model is not sustainable. However, Yaari said “the PA is indispensable to the two-state solution and it must be supported.” Yet, in order for the PA to succeed he recommended the PA’s jurisdiction be expanded to Areas B and C to allow strengthening and development.
Yaari said Mahmoud Abbas no longer seemed interested in the continuation of the PA or two-state solution. He pointed to Abbas’s recent U.N. speech as evidence that the PA president may consider dismantling the administration and hand power over to the municipalities. Fatah district councils seemed to favor this plan, arguing “Israel is being allowed to carry out an occupation in disguise” and should be held fully responsible for all administrative duties. “Some West Bank leaders compare the PA to the South Lebanon Army of the 1980’s,” Yaari said. He briefly discussed the various options being debated in the West Bank: retaining a PA de-linked from the Oslo Accords, a confederate system with Israel, a confederate union with Gaza, re-linking the West Bank with Jordan, etc. Fatah has become an unwieldy, demilitarized bureaucracy which lacks a grassroots presence. The organization will face a turning point at the moment of Abbas’s succession. Yaari offered a Palestinian quote which said, “Fatah lost its soul when it put down its guns.” He end by saying Hamas has decided to build a “Gaza fortress,” and the resignation of Khaled Meshaal means the military wing has taken over. Hamas’s goal now is to create a rival state in Gaza, while continuing to remain active in the West Bank.
Nathan Brown said the notion of a crisis is entirely true, but the PA had lost its legitimacy a long time ago. He offered the Palestinian view of what the PA represents: it was supposed to be the kernel that would lead to an independent state, while some argued it would lead only to internal authority but not a state. Many feel “the Palestinian people got all the trappings of Arab authoritarianism and corruption, without any of the benefits of a state.” He said the outbreak of the Second Intifada led to attempts at reform and revival of the PA, but ultimately resulted in the split of Palestine. Brown pointed out while Salam Fayyad had engaged heavily in institution building, Palestinians never bought into his brand of reform. Fayyad improved administrative capacities, but did not focus on “real” state-building. So long as there were no elections, Fayyad failed to gain legitimacy. Brown said time and money have run out for the PA, and although there are many options being debated, they ultimately lead nowhere. He noted a critical change from “What are we going to do?” to “What’s going to happen to us?” “The PA has no strategy for a way forward, and certainly not in the West Bank,” he said. Brown pointed out, “Hamas has become the movement their founders warned against.” The party is now governing its own province, while Palestinians outside Gaza see Hamas married to their political power. Hamas offers nothing to other Palestinians, except a wait-and-see approach. He ended by saying the Second Intifada was a disaster, but Palestinians are increasingly discussing when “popular resistance” will begin again.
During the Q&A session, Yaari suggested a Likud-Labor coalition in Israel could open the door to saving the PA. He was optimistic a deal giving 90 percent of the West Bank to the Palestinians, short of a peace treaty and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, would be possible. He said preserving the PA is key to keeping the two-state solution alive and Israel must recognize this. He was adamant “the time to act is now.” Brown said Palestinians weren’t interested in a perceived imposition of a final status agreement five years ago, and he remained skeptical about the prospect for the next Israeli prime minister to make bold moves. He said such a move “may resuscitate the PA in the medium term, but ultimately Palestinians would suspect a trap.” Brown was asked why there was no Arab Spring in the West Bank. He suggested a combination of reasons: exhaustion from the Second Intifada, an initial rallying attempt that failed to spark a wider movement, and targets that proved to be elusive. During the galvanization of the Arab Spring, he said, new movements arose in other countries because the political space was wide open, but in Palestine that space was already occupied by Hamas and Fatah along with a mélange of other parties.