The goal of establishing a Palestinian national authority on Palestinian soil is one of the most important goals of the Palestinian people’s struggle. The establishment of the current Palestinian Authority in 1994 came to translate this goal into reality. Some considered this incomplete authority an attempt to abort the Palestinian national liberation struggle. But with the passage of time, all Palestinians dealt with the PA as, at least, an authority of the Palestinian people inside the occupied Palestinian territories and eventually almost all the political factions in these territories competed to join and control this authority.
It is well understood that the PA is incomplete, restricted and limited. The hope of those heading this authority was that it would gradually develop into an independent state with full sovereignty. But Israel continued to exercise control over the vital aspects of the lives of Palestinians and their authority, such as the borders, the crossings, the land, air and sea space as well as security. The failure of the final status negotiations in Camp David in 2000 brought back violence to Palestinian-Israeli relations.
In the years up to 2006, Israel worked on narrowing the space granted the PA not only geographically, but also at the economic, security and political levels. Israel intermittently halted transferring the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA according to the Oslo Accords and it put into action a systematic destruction of the majority of the security infrastructure of the PA. It destroyed many of the civil authority institutions and severely restricted the movement of goods and persons from, to and within the various parts of the PA territories. Finally, Israel severed any political dealing with the Palestinian leadership and considered it “irrelevant”.
Israeli measures impeding the work of the PA escalated even further after Hamas won the majority of the PLC seats in January 2006 and formed the government. Again, Israel halted the transfer of tax revenues and tightened restrictions on movement even further. The basic difference this time was the positions of the international community and the Arab world, which tried to compensate the Palestinian people but also chose to be part of the siege on the Palestinian government.
The Israeli measures have now reached a point where Israel is arresting elected PLC members as well as ministers in the government. This has prompted questions to be raised among Palestinian political circles about Israel’s aims and long-term goals regarding the PA and the Palestinians, the position of the international community and, finally, about the best means Palestinians can adopt to confront all of these challenges.
Is Israel really interested in the continued existence of the PA? Are Palestinians? If the PA should be dissolved, will Israel accept its responsibilities as an occupying power vis-a-vis the Palestinian people?
We cannot really analyze the situation and answer these questions without understanding the position of the international community, especially the US and Europe. The international community gave its blessing to the establishment of the PA and for years ensured its sustainability. Lately, however, it almost seems as if the international community has given up its position on the PA and has taken a position subordinate to the position of Israel.
The problem here is Palestinians cannot by themselves unilaterally determine the future of the PA because their choice depends as much on Israel and the international community, led by the US. Palestinians feel Israel is now doing one of two things: it is either bringing about an end to the existence of the PA or, by unilateral action, creating a new situation that will by force redefine the specific nature and character of the PA to something that is completely different from the original intention as envisioned in signed agreements between the two sides. By its measures in the occupied territories, Israel is already resuming some of the functions it fulfilled before the creation of the PA.
This leaves Palestinians with two options. Either we accept this de facto functional division of labor between the PA and the occupation or we let the PA collapse. Both options are extremely problematic. In the first case, the PA will be rendered an arm of the occupation and will have no possibility of developing into a full state. The PA will simply serve to save the occupation certain dirty responsibilities that should be the obligations of the occupying power under international law.
At the same time, a Palestinian authority was always an objective of the Palestinian struggle. To dissolve the PA and give up what authority remains over the little land the PA is still in charge of is not less difficult for the Palestinian side. It makes little sense that Palestinians would give this up voluntarily, especially since, in practice, this will worsen even further our daily lives. To give but one example, education and access to education for Palestinians improved significantly when that function was transferred from the Israeli civil administration of the occupied territories to the PA.
What choice is made depends on what role the various players intend to play. To this end there is an urgent need to discuss the future of the PA not only among the Palestinians, but with the Israelis and the international community, including the US. Palestinians by themselves will neither be able to create the kind of authority they aspire to nor are they in a position to give up whatever level of authority and responsibility is left them. Thus it is important that all the actors clearly determine what exactly they intend for the PA.
In this context, a third option might arise. This option would see a significantly increased international role to replace the role of the occupation. This could range from heavier international financial and development support in combination with international forces for security purposes to the possibility of an international trusteeship whereby a third party mandated by the UN would take over from the Israeli occupation all responsibility over occupied Palestinian territory.