The Israeli cabinet has decided to deduct the stipends paid to Palestinian prisoners and the families of martyrs from the tax revenues collected by the occupation government on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. These payments amount to more than half a billion shekels a year, which is roughly $138 million. It has not yet been decided if this is going to be deducted all at once or divided and deducted monthly. Will the implementation of this cabinet decision, I wonder, lead to the collapse of the PA?
The PA had previously threatened not to take a penny of the tax revenues if Israel deducted anything from them. After this decision by the Israeli cabinet, though, it looks as if the PA has retracted its threat on the grounds that it will look into a proper response and announce it later. Things have become real now.
We should warn the PA that increasing taxes to compensate for the theft of Palestinian funds by the Israeli occupation authorities will have adverse consequences. Instead, the PA should impose an austerity plan that includes those on the government payroll who receive high salaries, privileges and expenses that they can easily do without. The PA should not impose new sanctions against the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip or touch the prisoners’ stipends and those of the martyrs’ families. We also need to warn against reactions such as refusing to take the rest of the tax revenues while not providing alternative income streams, because these are Palestinian funds and not Israeli welfare payments.
The PA can seek help from the Arab safety net and move at all levels — legal, administrative, political and public — to reject Israel’s piracy and aggressive policies. More importantly, the authority can develop a gradual plan to implement decisions of the National Council, in conjunction with other alternatives, instead of wasting time by talking repeatedly about arranging meetings or committees to develop plans to implement decisions that were taken by the Central Council in March 2015.
The Israeli decision could be temporary and linked to electioneering in a fierce campaign between the right and extreme right wings, each vying to see which is more hostile towards the Palestinians. If that is the case, then things could go back to normal after the 9 April General Election.
Another possibility is for this cabinet decision to be in line with the changes that accompanied Donald Trump’s election as US President and a more radical policy in support of Israel. Trump regards the racist colonial facts on the ground established by the occupation as the only reference point in any political process. He has no regard for international law and UN resolutions.
In this case, we will see a new policy to break the PA down, re-establish it and train it to accept or adapt to the demands of Trump’s “deal of the century”. This will be in addition to the adoption of the racist Nation State Law with all its implications for increasing the threat of Israel annexing the West Bank, or large parts of it, and putting the further displacement of Palestinians onto the agenda.
The Israeli goal is to end any remaining political role for the PA while maintaining its administrative security role as a mere agent of the occupation. Indeed, the occupation state aims to bury Palestinian rights and an independent state option in favour of its own sovereignty from the River Jordan to the Mediterranean Sea, and possibly take several neighbouring regimes under its wing.
From all this, I believe that what is required is to continue the process of changing the PA as it is, because if it does not adapt and continues to be stubborn — courageously so — Israel will seek an alternative. This process has already begun through the expansion of the role of Israel’s Civil Administration to include service provision to Palestinians and illegal settlers, increasing its staff, and activating the role of the Coordinator and his direct relations with the Palestinians, mainly families and clans. Steps also include the formation of the Judea and Samaria [West Bank] Chamber of Commerce with the participation of Palestinians, in addition to preparing residents for the active presence of the occupation security forces within Palestinian cities, as happened in Ramallah and Al-Bireh in December, making it look routine in preparation for what may happen in the future.
In parallel, there are numerous American attempts to encourage Palestinian individuals and groups, especially economists, to bypass the PA and deal directly with Washington on multiple levels. The White House has been saying that it will raise $10 billion to achieve economic peace as long as political peace is impossible. This means that the US will try to bribe the Palestinians to sell their cause. There are some who have started playing along with this, unfortunately, in preparation for the introduction of Trump’s deal which, according to US statements, will be announced after the Israeli elections.
It is worth noting that there are several Israeli plans agreed upon by Israel’s extreme right and new right parties, such as opposing the establishment of a Palestinian state; separating the West Bank from the Gaza Strip; maintaining Israeli security control from the river to the sea even after a final agreement; expanding settlements and legitimising them; keeping all of Jerusalem, especially the Old City, under Israeli sovereignty; and ensuring that no solution is found for refugees and removing the issue from the agenda.
In this context, Zionist scholar Mordechai Kedar’s call for the establishment of a “United Palestinian Emirates”, under Israeli control, comes into play. The plan calls for an emirate in each city based on family and clan relations, and the possible annexation of rural areas and Area C by Israel in case the PA fails to adapt to serving the purposes of the occupation, or collapses due to increasing pressure to do so.
If we look closely, we find that something similar to what is happening in the West Bank is being carried out gradually in the Gaza Strip. Serious consideration has been given to the formation of frameworks and institutions to replace the Palestinian Authority in Gaza under various headings: municipal elections, international aid groups, a new government in the territory with no factional participation, and a council of technocrats, civil society and independent figures. Participation will be dependent on being acceptable to the international community, in exchange for implementing large projects that are sometimes said to be located in Gaza, sometimes in Sinai, and other times in Israel.
This can be explained by the fact that separation between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip is deepening, and attempts by the Ramallah-based PA to return to the Gaza Strip have been unsuccessful. Hamas, meanwhile, despite being the de facto authority in Gaza is still rejected and on the terrorist list. If this is to change, the movement must agree to the Middle East Quartet’s conditions which focus on Israel’s right to exist and include security coordination.
Before Trump’s election victory and the rise of the extreme right in Israel, I was prepared to argue that the latter cannot give up the PA or allow it to collapse. I based this on the fact that, under the late President Yasser Arafat, the PA resisted the occupation and confronted it militarily in an attempt to break the Oslo restrictions, despite which Israel did not dissolve it.
Now, though, we cannot rule out the possibility that Israel will get rid of the PA simply because it has rejected the Trump deal and has suspended its political relationship with Washington. If it continues like this, it will be considered to have exhausted its role, and a more submissive administration will be introduced to replace it.
The PA should realise that maintaining the status quo and stopping the current deterioration using the same old policies, illusory solutions, tools or people is no longer possible. It will fade away unless steps are taken to stop the rot and help it to move forward.
In conclusion, facing up to the Israeli decision about the stipends cannot amount to a threat not to receive tax money; it requires a comprehensive vision to meet the growing challenges and threats to eliminate the Palestinian cause in every aspect. That vision must include, inter alia, a review of the structure, functions, obligations and budget of the PA so that it can serve the national programme of self-determination, return and independence and become a united — and uniting — arm of the Palestine Liberation Organisation.
In order not to be talking about illusions, we have to admit that the reality of the PA, the factions and leadership — how they think and what they are working for, all of which was demonstrated scandalously in the Moscow meetings — is far from what the Palestinian people deserve. The Palestinian Authority must change if it is not to collapse into obscurity.
This article first appeared in Arabic in Arab48 on 19 February 2019
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.