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Israeli perceptions on the danger of the PA’s collapse

March 5, 2019 at 1:58 am

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) during the funeral of former Israeli President Shimon Peres in Jerusalem on 30 September, 2016 [Amos Ben Gershom/Reuters]

The recent Israeli government decision to make financial cuts to the Palestinian Authority’s budget has led to some warnings of negative potential repercussions on Israeli security. Israel’s security establishment encourages continued support for the PA because it protects the Israelis.

The Israeli decision comes in the context of deteriorating Palestinian confidence in the PA and its security agencies, which are coordinating with their Israeli counterparts. This has caused the PA to gradually lose its legitimacy amid fears of an intensifying battle over the succession after President Mahmoud Abbas’s term.

The Israeli step can be seen as deducting a large percentage of the Palestinian clearance funds, claiming that it continues to pay allowances to prisoners, the wounded, and families of martyrs. This measure achieves some Israeli objectives. These include: presenting an electoral advertisement for the Israeli right-wing, which advocates for extremist action against the Palestinians; pressuring the PA against supporting prisoners and families of martyrs; and intimidating Palestinians who intend to carry out armed attacks, as they will fear that their families will have no one to support them if they are arrested or killed.

Among these objectives, we may find an implicit aim to bring down the Palestinian Authority, or to gradually destabilise it, as the cut funds threaten the PA’s general budget. The PA is already suffering from a suffocating crisis and cannot withstand further financial pressures.

The threat to the PA is not new, indeed Palestinians threatened to dissolve the PA was when President Mahmoud Abbas said in December 2012, “If there is no progress in the negotiations, I will call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and tell him: Dear friend, I invite you to the presidential headquarters in Ramallah, Al-Muqata’a. Take my place, take the keys, and take responsibility for the Palestinians!”

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However, the PA’s current structure and security function speak to an urgent Israeli need. Therefore, it is not yet time to turn its page, even in the eyes of the Israeli right wing, in light of the American preparations for the announcement of the deal of the century. Moreover, Israelis are also waiting to see the outcome of the upcoming Israeli elections.

The dimensions and aspects of the crisis foreshadowing the collapse of dissolution of the PA can be analysed through two important lens:

  1. Domestic: The lack of even a glimmer of hope for a reconciliation between Fatah and Hamas, as well as suffocating economic and financial conditions, which threaten dire consequences for tens of thousands of employees.
  2. Foreign: the Israeli arena is preoccupied with the elections and is moving towards imposing solutions on everyone. Meanwhile, the region and international community are preoccupied with more urgent issues, which puts the Palestinian issue on the back burner.

The Palestinians, who disagree on many things, can perhaps agree that the eroded PA has exhausted the national cause for which it was created. Instead, it succeeded in displacing the Palestinians and has cost them a lot both politically and financially. The PA burdened the people with unbearable burdens and exempted Israel from any price it should be paying for its control. Instead, its occupation has become the cheapest occupation in the world, even though the Palestinians are still a nation under occupation.

There is a growing need to discuss the danger of the collapse of the PA in the light of the decline of its central control, the sharp division between Gaza and the West Bank, the heated Palestinian differences and the stifling financial crisis. All of this raises real questions about the stability and viability of this authority.

It is ironic that the survival of the PA, just its survival, has become an Israeli, Arab and international priority. All three of these parties jointly believe that there are no reasons to end its existence, as Israel regards it as a partner for security coordination, the international community recognises and supports it, and the Arab regimes appreciate its importance of allowing them to excuse themselves from the deterioration of the Palestinian cause. Although the primary justification for the PA’s continued existence is purely political given its deteriorating conditions and the setback it suffered, it still gives a “deceptive” image to the world that there is a Palestinian state “being formed”.

READ: PA pays stipends to martyrs’ families and prisoners

The recent Israeli decisions regarding withholding Palestinian funds have provoked intense internal Israeli debate over the future of the PA, in the light of security assessments suggesting that the position and status of the PA and its president is significantly reduced due to its opposition to armed resistance and the reiteration of its security cooperation with Israel. The Palestinians have lost trust in their leadership, which has failed to make any political achievements.

It is worth noting that the Israeli political measures indicate that the security parties are concerned about the political measures, as they will cast a negative shadow on the future of the PA in terms of its existence, thus dividing Israel over whether or not to dry up the PA’s financial sources. While it is true that it is gradually seeking to free itself from any financial obligations towards the Palestinians, it still believes that the field reaction to the financial cuts may result in the outbreak of major confrontations in the West Bank.

Palestinian Authority (PA) employees demonstrated in Gaza City against a PA decision to impose drastic salary cuts for its Gaza-based employees, on 8th April 2017. [Images and video by Mohammad Asad]

Palestinian Authority (PA) employees demonstrated in Gaza City against a PA decision to impose drastic salary cuts for its Gaza-based employees, on 8th April 2017 [Middle East Monitor Mohammad Asad]

More clearly, the Israeli government and the coalition parties, believes that the Palestinians do not deserve the PA, while the security and military extablishment believe that Israel’s calculations of profit and loss favour the survival of the PA, not out of love for the Palestinians, but because desolving it may be more trouble than it is worth.

Financially, the economic and living burdens of five million Palestinians in the West Bank exhaust Israel’s capabilities, as Israel will be responsible for providing their daily necessities. This is a matter Israel has been spared since the establishment of the PA in 1994.

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On the security level, the Israeli intelligence and army have not hidden their overwhelming happiness as they saw that a major part of the “relatively” calm security conditions in the West Bank is due to the security performance and the intelligence coordination efforts made by the PA security agencies. This means that the absence of the PA will force the army to restructure its leadership by reinforcing its troops, deploying units, and intensifying operations, although Israel has no interest in re-occupying the West Bank and Gaza.

Therefore, the majority of Israeli predictions believes that the biggest winner in the PA’s collapse or dissolution scenario is Hamas because it will re-organise itself and its operations in the West Bank. It will also be able to build up its military power quickly, intensify its armed resistance against Israel after continually being pursued by the PA and Israel. At the same time, Hamas has maintained the calm in the Gaza Strip and has not carried out armed operations against Israel.

Israel’s recent actions against the Palestinian Authority coincide with major challenges and existing crises that threaten its existence. The first is the leadership crisis, as Abbas is 83 years old. He suffers from serious health problems. He may not live long before handing over his powers to his successor in the coming days.

The second challenge is the loss of economic and financial support from the United States and some parties in the international community, which has greatly affected the Palestinian economy. The recent demonstrations in Ramallah in protest against the Social Security Law are indicative of this. The third problem is the loss of Arab support for the Palestinian Authority after the recent normalisation rounds with Israel.

In spite of all these fears, Israel is aware of the limits of power that the Palestinian Authority may exercise, and therefore pressure on the PA will continue shortly and the PA, will remain between an anvil and the hammer due to the absence of a serious political path. This is a recipe for political paralysis.

This means that a careful reading of the nature of Israel’s behaviour toward the PA may take more punitive dimensions, especially in the financial and procedural aspects. It may deprive the PA of some special privileges, without causing it to be erased entirely or collapsed. All of this means that the PA will survive on life support, thus accurately and precisely applying Israel’s strong strategy based on the rule of “neither living nor dying.”

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