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A Sword of Damocles hangs over the PA

The US government has essentially bailed out the Palestinian Authority. In a recent story for The Electronic Intifada, my colleague Charlotte Silver detailed the case here.

A US "federal court of appeals threw out a verdict by a New York jury that found the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organisation liable for seven attacks that took place in present-day Israel and Jerusalem between 2000 and 2004," Silver wrote.

In an unusual move, the Obama administration intervened with the courts in order to limit the PA's financial liability. The US seems concerned that the PA should not collapse.

"The PA and Israel currently have mechanisms and channels for security coordination, helping to maintain security for Palestinians and Israelis living in the West Bank, and identifying and thwarting potential terrorist attacks in Israel," US Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken wrote to the judge. "The collapse of the PA would break this channel of coordination."

The case had been brought by Shurat HaDin, an Israeli "lawfare" group with strong links to Israeli spy agencies, including the Mossad, which is notorious for human rights abuses such as assassination, kidnapping and torture. Shurat HaDin operates under the slogan "bankrupting terror". It poses as a "civil rights" organisation but, in reality, it is basically a front for the Israeli government. The aim is to get human rights organisations, charities and public bodies around the world tied-up in spurious lawsuits.

Most of these have the intent, and sometimes the successful effect, of deterring any sort of involvement in or approval of Palestine solidarity activism, especially the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement. Many, if not most, of these cases, are later defeated or just collapse, because they simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

A US embassy cable, leaked by the whistle-blower Chelsea Manning and published by WikiLeaks, shows that Shurat HaDin is not the "independent" or "non-governmental" organisation that it claims to be. The document shows Shurat HaDin director Nitsana Darshan Leitner boasting to her US embassy contact that she "took direction" from Mossad and other violent Israeli government agencies about which court cases her organisation should pursue. In other words, the group's primary aim is actually to block, not to progress, civil rights.

One such court case was actually filed against the Palestinian Authority. Despite paying lip service to its people's demands for freedom, justice, equality and the right of return of refugees, the PA far too often acts as a willing subcontractor for Israel's military occupation. Much like Israel, it arrests and tortures its critics arbitrarily; it also cracks down on both non-violent activists and resistance fighters who dare to contest the occupation.

So why, then, would the Israeli government be so apparently intent on punishing the PA, all too often its own willing servant? The answer lies in a couple of factors. Firstly, Israeli elites are split on whether or not to trust the PA, despite a long record of "security coordination" with Israeli forces.

Those on the Zionist left are, generally speaking, likely (in theory) to see the PA more favourably than do the forces of the Zionist right, currently dominant in Israel's extremist government. This is partly a strategic question of which particular type of occupation is more in Israel's favour. Leftist Zionists are more likely to trumpet the benefits of indirect occupation, such as those represented by the PA (although the right too has experimented in this strategy, with the abortive "Village Leagues" West Bank collaborationist forces of the 1980s). For both ideological wings of the Zionist movement, though, the PA ultimately represents something unsavoury and unfavourable: the spectre of Palestinian self-rule.

Despite its primarily collaborationist character right from its inception in the mid-1990s, the PA has at times taken steps that Israel considers contrary to its interests. Perhaps the high point of this was during the second Palestinian intifada, when many armed PA police essentially defected to militias – often associated with Fatah – which carried out armed resistance against Israeli soldiers and illegal settlers.

After the second intifada spluttered out, the PA forces were consolidated, regrouped and indoctrinated more strongly in their anti-Palestinian mission by their trainers. US General Keith Dayton drummed into the Palestinian troops for whose training he was responsible, "You're not learning how to fight the Israelis, you're not here to fight the occupation, you're here to fight the forces of disorder… if you do your job properly, we will have a state."

So it seems to me that the US, by bailing out the PA from its troubles with Shurat HaDin, is playing Good Cop to Israel's Bad Cop. The message is clear: a Sword of Damocles hangs above the PA's head, ready to drop at any time should it choose to begin rejecting and changing its collaborationist character into one of resistance.

This applies not only to armed resistance; Israel, for example, refuses to tolerate even the prospect of prosecution in the International Criminal Court, even though any possible ICC investigation would look just as closely into alleged war crimes by armed Palestinian groups, as well as those by Israeli forces.

The prospect of any reversal of the PA's "sacred" security collaboration policy remains remote.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

ArticleInquiryIsraelMiddle EastOpinionPalestine
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